There are three reasons most social media measurements fail to impress executives. It's too broad in its attempt to quantify likes, followers, and fans. It's placed in a vacuum, without considering the interdependence of all marketing and communication. It's too direct response oriented, attempting to count clicks even if consumers respond to the social conversation in different ways — like visiting a store and actually buying something or bookmarking a link for future reference.
The reality of social media is the need for integration.
New research published in the Journal of Marketing Research successfully creates a better understanding of the symbiotic relationship between traditional and social media. For 14 months, Andrew T. Stephen from the University of Pittsburgh and Jeff Galak from Carnegie Mellon University studied sales and media data provided by Kiva.org, an online company that facilitates small loans between individual investors and people in underdeveloped countries.
The authors considered a loan a sale, and categorized mentions of Kiva in newspapers, magazines, TV, and radio as traditional earned media, and mentions of Kiva on blogs and online social networks and communities as social earned media. In doing so, they found that each mention of Kiva in traditional media had the largest per-event impact on sales.
Over the time period studied, each unit of media publicity from a traditional media organization generated 894 additional sales from new customers and 403 additional sales from repeat customers. A blog mention, by comparison, generated 90 additional new sales and 63 additional repeat sales. A mention in an online community generated 99 additional new and 48 additional repeat sales.
The authors say the disparity between media forms is not surprising because traditional media typically has a much broader reach than social media. However, since social media mentions were much more frequent than those in traditional media, the authors found that when this was taken into account earned media in social channels had a substantially larger impact on sales than traditional earned media did.
The study also found that social earned media helps drive traditional earned media. "Conventional wisdom is that traditional earned media makes a large mass of people aware of something and then gets them talking. However, our findings suggest that the reverse may be more likely than previously thought," said the researchers.
Marketing, public relations, and communication needs to be integrated.
You can find the study published here. But there is something else to consider. While awareness is frequently considered for its horizontal value (total impressions or reach), it has vertical value too — how deeply it penetrates, how long it will be remembered, how likely people will talk about it included.
When anyone mentions the Coca-Cola advertisements featuring polar bears, people respond with warm, affectionate, and almost nostalgic remembrance. This cultural penetration success story has very little to do with the total number of people reached times the total average of impressions per impression. Sure, those numbers help. But there are plenty of ad campaigns that never took off despite having the same numbers.
What made the Coca-Cola bears brilliant was the company's use of advanced animation (at the time) of the right characters at the right time while maintaining a hardwired connection to the fuzzy brand Coca-Cola wanted to reinforce. (Let's not forget that they did the same thing to Santa Claus.) It's pre-social success.
How this fits into social, though, is still pretty apparent. If an organization has a following on a social network, do you think those people will be more likely to see and remember a new ad? Or, perhaps, do you think people who see a new ad will be more likely to visit a social media outlet? Or, perhaps, if they share something related to the organization online do you think they might be sharing it offline too?
The point is that great communication doesn't confine itself to a medium. It's what gets in our heads or our hearts. Numbers alone will never do it. Because if it was all about numbers, every campaign would win.