Social media metrics: No magic answer, but useful tips

I’ve been to three sessions so far at South by Southwest that had as part of their summaries something about measurement in social media. It’s a big theme (for me, but also, it seems, for a lot of people) this year.

I was disappointed in the first two, which seemed happy to stay on the level of “there’s no one good solution.” Of course there’s no one good solution, and of course you should tailor what you measure to your specific goals and strategies. But I don’t want to talk about that for an hour. There’s a nice quick recap of one of those sessions here.

I hit gold, however, with the third. “Analytics and Social Tools in Practice” was presented by Chris Traganos, a web developer at Harvard, and Sean M. Brown, online manager for the MIT Sloan Management Review.

You can see the Twitter backchannel at #mitharvard, and the slides on Slideshare.

Chris laid out immediately what we were going to learn, and kept it specific. No magic solutions, but tools and strategies we could walk out and use. (Thank you, Chris.)

I won’t recap the whole session, but here are a few tools I’m psyched to be walking away with.

Facebook Open Graph (which I need to learn more about) is better than simpler sharing options because it provides Facebook with metadata about your specific content, rather than having them just scrape for it.

Chartbeat monitors traffic and behavior in real time (for $9 a month, says Chris) and will even send text alerts if there’s a problem or newsworthy data to share.

QR codes need to go to a quick-loading, mobile-friendly sites. And, their density is determined by the length of your url, so you’re better off using a shortened url to create the image. (How did I not know that? Judging by the backchannel, I wasn’t alone.)

Social Flow scans for info about followers, and tweets specific content at the opportune time. Given my large preference for personal communication, this doesn’t seem to offer much for truly engaged newsrooms, but I’d like to learn more.

Sean talked about three levels of analytics capabilities — aspirational, experienced and transformed. His department, like lots of us, are between the first and second, he said. I loved what he contributed because he talked about really specific goals. I’ve heard over and over this year that if metrics are too general or broad, they don’t do much good, strategy-wise. Here are some of Sean’s tips:

Put google analytics campaign tracking to work with links, so you can break traffic out into which social media channel they came from.

When analyzing google alerts results to see what’s worth paying attention to, pay attention to the referring sites’ page ranks.

Set up goal funnels in analytics. For example, if you want to see how many people complete your registration process, take a look at how many people who make it to your signup page get to the thank you page. His department discovered 46% were not. Worth knowing, eh?

I’m so grateful to these guys for offering specific tools while avoiding oversimplification.

UPDATE, added after a day of reflection:

Here’s my big takeaway so far about the whole idea of an “ROI for social media,” at least in journalism: There isn’t one. It’s not a dollars thing. We don’t ask for an ROI for cops reporting or an investigative series, or an ROI for a community partnership or event sponsorship. We talk in general terms about why it’s important and what we get out of it, and I can talk all day about social media in those terms, too. But a specific ROI? It doesn’t make sense, and I’m over it.

This was originally posted on the blog of the Reynolds Journalism Institute, where I am a 2010-2011 fellow.


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