Planning and Measurement Lacking in Social Media (Other Than That, Everything is Great)

A few months ago, I attended a pair of events in Boston: BlogWell, in which several large brands presented case studies; and the Society for New Communications Research (SNCR) Symposium, an annual presentation of research studies focusing on social media and other new platforms. While there were several great ideas and lots of useful information disseminated at both events, I came away with two painful but enlightening truths: companies still do not put enough planning into their social media programs and campaigns; and fewer companies than you might think actually measure their efforts.

At the SNCR symposium, among the many enlightening presentations was one I always look forward to: the annual study of social media adoption among Inc 500 and Fortune 500 companies, conducted by Nora Ganim Barnes of UMass Dartmouth. While tool adoption is always fascinating (apparently, blogs are not “dead,” as the prevalence of blogs among both groups of companies has grown to its highest levels in the last several years. 34 percent of the Fortune 500 now have corporate blogs, a new high-water mark (see the embedded presentation, below).

What was more interesting, and potentially alarming, however, was that the number of companies (among the Inc. 500) that actively monitor social media decreased to 63 percent – a majority, but marking a steady decline from 70% two years prior. Additionally, respondents to the survey generally said that marketing departments are in charge of social media planning (which sounds logical), but it was apparent from the presentation that respondents may have been making a best guess, and weren’t themselves directly responsible for planning.

This last point suggests the possibility that there is a gap in planning; that companies know they should use social media and have established presences, but aren’t necessarily attaching this to an overall plan. How do marketers get buy-in for these ideas from management? The sexiness of social media as new platforms will wear off, and I would think that more planning will be needed if to continue programs and conduct more campaigns – why it is not required now is a bit bewildering.

The other end of the planning chain is measurement, which brings me to things I heard a few weeks earlier at the BlogWell event in Boston. This series of events specializes in presenting real case studies from brands. While I will not name the companies involved, I will share this: invariably, audience members asked about results and metrics from their social media programs and campaigns. More than once I heard a version of this reply: “We don’t measure.” I found that astonishing; how can a program be accountable if they don’t measure their efforts? How can they sell a continued program or a new campaign? It is clear from the audience that some sort of success metrics are expected, much more perhaps than in the past – after all, what is a case study without a happy ending?

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It is clear that part of this issue is that in some aspects companies treat social media as experimental, when in reality it can be, and often is, a seamlessly-integrated part of a holistic communications program. As with planning, it is hard to imagine a future in which social media programs get continued support without demonstrating their success against business goals.

I saw these as “painful truths” as I heard them (I hope the look on my face as I realized what I was hearing didn’t give too much away); however, what I really think is that they are opportunities. Companies need guidance in connecting their programs to business and marketing goals, both from the outset (planning) and the results (measurement). Either way you look at it, there is still plenty of work to do at both ends in order to ensure success and provide accountability.

Photo credit: Measurement A” by Ktow on Flickr