Examining social media data can burn a hole in your pocket

Whenever switched-on marketers and digital agencies gather you can bet your bottom Facebook credit that talk will turn to measuring social media and extracting value from data.

Branwell Johnson

So it proved at last week’s ISBA conference when three agency representatives took to the stage for a panel with the wide-ranging brief “Social Media – The Issues”.

The panel were in agreement that clients were now more rigorous in asking their agencies to measure “what matters and be precise” but as Jamie Kenny, chief strategy officer for Jam pointed out, “the problem with social is that there is so much data – there’s 40 or 50 data points that you can measure and you have to figure out whether they are important. Some of those measurements are fundamentally not important.”

And there Jamie nails it. The debate over how to analyse social media metrics and the value of such data as a Facebook ‘like’ has rumbled on since the last decade. And overlaying that discussion is how to find a standardised metric across different platforms, such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, so you can identify which strategy has worked best on which platform.

James said that his agency applies the “so what?” test when presented with data and that sounds like a good place to start. What’s the value in this data and what is it measuring? Amplification? Sentiment? Conversion? And probably most important for marketers, the action that is actually occurring.

It’s a lot easier for retail brands directly selling from their websites and other digital platforms to correlate social media data and financial return. It’s tougher for other brands in sectors from telecoms to film distributors. There is no silver bullet to solve this challenge, the only consensus is that it will take rigorous analysis of a huge amount of data.

Leading on from this is the cost of running an effective analytics team. To really dive into the information gathered a company can’t just trust in automated systems – particularly when looking at a measurement like sentiment. The panel agreed that even the best automated systems are only 50% accurate on sentiment and that human eyes are needed to link data with the real world and uncover its relevance.

For a marketer, it’s something of a bottomless well – you could pour endless amounts of money into social media analytics via your agency or in-house resource. To keep perspective, marketers should make sure they have a good idea of the volume of data needed to extract meaningful ROI insights and that they can actually access that data, if it’s held by the social media platform owners and/or agencies.

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