Facebook, MySpace, Linked In, Flickr and Twitter are the most popular forms of social media today, giving members easy ways to connect with each other and stay updated based on their affinities and professional activities. But the activity taking place in social media is hard to measure, and there are still no clear standards on how to evaluate it before visitors show up on your doorstep, so to speak.
Better ways of measuring social media through Web analytics and search marketing are raising the bar on the quality of information small and midsize businesses can collect--and what they can do with it.
What Are We Measuring?
Until recently, measuring social media around a current or planned event, a brand, an advertising campaign, or a topic was confined to measuring how often the events, brands, campaigns, topics, and associated keywords were mentioned in mainstream media and on the Web. Measurement wasn't very precise and was similar to listening to chatter on the radio, with only indirect evidence, at best, that buzz around your brand, for example, did anything to increase sales.
How We Measured, Until Now
Most activity on a Web site can be measured, analyzed and optimized using site analytics (i.e., Google Analytics, WebTrends, Omniture Site Catalyst, Coremetrics). But it's much harder to tell what visitors were exposed to before they reached a site or what they did shortly after leaving. Web analytics, search marketing, and social media provide incredible opportunities to gain insight, but it has become increasingly difficult to learn from the information or to apply it practically. Plus, the expectations of small and midsize businesses are evolving and require more precision than what each platform provided.
New technologies are emerging to rescue us from the fragmented mass of data online. Here are a few examples:
Tealium provides social media measurement that is merged with Web analytics. Tealium's patent-pending technology lets you see the traffic to your site by those who've been exposed to your press, blog, or video coverage and integrates that information into your site analytics. For instance, you can track which visitors were exposed to videos or any other campaign connected with your business before arriving at your Web site. Visitors exposed to the marketing could be compared to those who were not exposed in terms of time spent on your Web site--an important indicator of how engaged a visitor is with Web site content. Using this information, business owners and brand managers can determine how effective their marketing is.
Radian6 is the market leader in measuring social media buzz about your brand or Web site. It's used mainly by public relations, communications, and marketing departments at agencies, and it's inexpensive, yet powerful enough to save a lot of work going into Twitter, YouTube, blogs, newsfeeds, and search engines. Radian6 can be tuned to measure a user's level of interest in news about your company.
For example, Pacific Sunwear, a leading lifestyle specialty retailer rooted in youth culture with 932 stores nationwide, rolled out the Radian6 social media monitoring platform to track trends and better respond to customers in the online space. The company uses Radian6 to find out what is being said as it rolls out a new product line, including sentiment analysis and what sources are more influential in conversations around the brand. Combining Radian6 with WebTrends can give you a more integrated view of how new products increase traffic to specific product lines on your business's Web site.
Rapleaf and Unbound Technologies provide social intelligence using a "house list" of e-mail accounts or customers to generate a detailed map of customer interests via social networks where the customers have accounts. Unbound Technologies' social monetizer will give a marketer a precise idea of what customers to target a specific campaign to. With these programs, it's possible to increase conversions by reaching the right customers at the right times, and represents a merging of internal and social network data. Saavn and Verizon used Unbound Technology to find Bollywood dance enthusiasts on sites such as MySpace and Facebook and invite them to participate in Bollypop, the first-ever Bollywood-themed online dance competition. The chances for success greatly improve if people are already interested or exposed to marketing about your business.
Searchmetrics, a popular search monitoring platform in Germany, integrates SEO page auditing, search ranking and Web analytics platforms. Searchmetrics is useful for businesses doing a lot of search marketing and SEO that want to measure the search engine rankings for selected keywords along with the traffic driven to specific pages of a Web site. Most ranking platforms don't provide an easy way to determine the traffic driven to your site as a result of its search-engine rankings. Because search engines pick up social media quite a bit, Searchmetrics could be used to measure how online buzz translates into SEO ranking which, in turn, results in traffic to a specific Web page.
Finally, Omniture's SiteCatalyst now imports Twitter data into its site analytics solution. Twitter Analytics, an SiteCatalyst plug-in, is a fully configurable feature designed to track brand popularity by capturing comments on a brand from Twitter into SiteCatalyst in real time and setting up alerts. Merging social media such as Twitter with site analytics can help you determine how conversations on Twitter about your brand or Web site affect traffic to your site, so you can act immediately on Tweets as they're posted.
While none of these solutions is able to provide a full view of a brand's data, Web analytics, search marketing and social media are converging rapidly, which opens up a wealth of needed information to entrepreneurs.
Marshall Sponder is a senior web analyst for a large IT services company based in the Northeast and an artist who maintains Now-SEO, his own search engine marketing consultancy with B2B and B2C clients.