October 13, 2011, 10:45 AM

Marketers miss the target in measuring social media

Online marketers lag in measuring the brand impact of social media, study says.

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Online marketers in the U.S. and the United Kingdom are falling behind in measuring the effect of social media on their brands, even though they cite brand equity as an important objective, Forrester Research Inc. says in a new study.

In the U.S., 36% of online marketers say one of their social media goals is to build their brands, but only 18% try to measure the brand impact of social media campaigns, Forrester says in the study, “Social Media Measurement Proxies That Work.” The study was authored by Forrester analyst Nate Elliott, with input from Forrester analysts David Truog and James McDavid.

The void in measuring the effect of social media on brands is even wider in the U.K., where only 10% of online marketers try to measure brand metrics in social media, even though 30% say building brand equity through social media is an important objective, the study says.

This lack of measurement is not new. It stems from the difficulty marketers have in directly measuring the effect that social media campaigns have on getting consumers to interact more with their brands, Forrester says. With many social media marketers suffering from a lack of resources, and with Facebook and other key social networks refusing to run third-party surveys or ad tags, that track the performance of online advertising campaigns, Forrester says, it’s been difficult for many marketers to directly measure the impact of social media exposure on metrics like increased sales or the acquisition of new customers.

Forrester cites as an example food and beverage marketer PepsiCo Inc., whose Pepsi Refresh Project “generated as much social engagement as any social media program we’ve ever seen,” Forrester says. But though the Pepsi campaign generated 3.5 million Facebook fans and more than 80 million votes, the brand still lost market share during the campaign, Forrester says.

To improve social media measurement, Forrester contends that marketers can use carefully constructed proxies that can substitute for sales lift metrics and brand recognition surveys. For example, it notes that Converseon, a social media marketing agency that works with Pepsi, has had more success with using a proxy based on information gathered from consumer posts on social media sites. By focusing on posts that indicate a consumer owns the particular brand being studied, Converseon has compiled more meaningful data on how social media exposure has impacted consumers who buy the brand’s products, Forrester says.

In another example, Forrester cites the efforts of online stock trading site TradeKing.com to tie trading volume to consumer engagement in its Trader Network social media site. TradeKing noted the frequency with which individual clients traded before joining Trader Network, then compared that with the frequency of their trades three months after joining. By dividing clients into those who only observe social media conversations on the network and those who shared trading data in online conversations, it was able to determine that the former group increased its trading by 29%, while the latter group increased its trading by 70%.

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