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Now more than ever, brands want to be liked. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and many
other platforms allow brands to connect directly to consumers. Even traditionally B2B brands have
embraced social media. Increasingly, though, marketers have questioned the ultimate value of these
eorts, asking what is the value of being liked? Certainly, it is dicult to determine the return on
investment for social media interactions. Major brands from Coca-Cola to Nissan to MasterCard
have all admitted they dont know if their social media investment impacts their bottom lines. Be-
cause it is dicult to determine social ROI, general dissatisfaction with social as a marketing chan-
nel has grown.
By thinking about the problem purely in terms of nancial returnson what are usually relatively
small investments to begin with marketers shortchange the ultimate value of social and potential-
ly miss out on opportunities to meet many dierent kinds of important business objectives.
Key Findings:
The real value of social media initiatives is in developing and strengthening a relationship between
a brand and its consumers. Traditional ROI measurements and attempts to analyze direct impact
on sales are futile and misplaced.
Marketers should measure social initiatives in terms of branding and satisfaction metrics like Net
Promoter Scores, which measure both satisfaction and virality.
Measuring Success
in Social Media.
Jon Gibs, VP, Analytics / Ken Allard, MD, Business Strategy

Advanced attribution models, like Agent-Based Modeling (ABM), are the best ways to predict how
social media eorts might drive oine user activity that meets business objectives like increasing
sales or decreasing call center volume.
Brands cant measure social media success without
knowing their business objective.
Early on, too many brands rushed in to building a social media presence but lacked a cohesive strat-
egy that aligned with overall business goals. Social was and for many still is a silo, but its critical to
align social media KPIs with specic business objectives. Brands should establish goals before the
start of a social media campaign and determine what kind of tracking measures they need to im-
plement upfront. Goals may include generating revenue, reducing customer service costs, shifting
brand sentiment, improving operational eciency, cultivating customer relationships or gleaning
insight into target markets.
These objectives are not mutually exclusive. In fact, a social media program can serve more than
one goal. While increasing revenue and reducing cost ultimately align with nancial goals, it doesnt
mean that social media cant also assist in meeting PR, research or marketing objectives. Zappos has
used Twitter to conduct market research for new lines of business. Comcast has a dedicated custom-
er service Twitter account (@comcastcares) in addition to its main Twitter handle used for branding
and company news. DKNY deftly avoided a PR crisis by addressing a potential threat involving copy-
righted images used in a storefront by quickly posting an explanation and remedies on its Facebook
account. Dell has found success with its @DellOutlet account in driving sales for refurbished com-
puters, building to nearly 1.5 million followers and $6.5 million in revenue less than two years after
launching the account in 2007. Companies such as Ford and Starbucks are getting better and better
at integrating social media into multiple departments and business functions.
Getting beyond ROI to measure the true benefts
of social media.
The only thing certain about social ROI is the O. First, the investment made in social is typically
relatively low, even when paid social media eorts--i.e. sponsored storiesare included. It is easy to
ask a question like does Facebook drive in-store sales? But not only is it dicult to answer, (as we
elaborate on later), it is also the wrong question to ask. ROI is the wrong term to use. Instead, mar-
keters should accept that calculating a specic nancial return is not immediately realistic and focus
on measuring the overall impact a brands social presence has on its relationship with customers.
Marketers should ask three basic questions as they evaluate this impact of a social media campaign
on the customer relationship:
How many? How many impressions appeared in market? How many people were reached?
Who? Who were these people? Did they t the target?
Did it work? This is the most dicult to answer. By answering the rst two questions, however, it is
possible to get much closer to answering the third.
But while these familiar questions apply to social media, the third onedid it work?is complicated
by two unique attributes of social as a platform: (1) the communication in social is two-way, i.e. users
and brands talking to each other, making it more like a customer service model than a traditional
marketing one; (2) in its ideal state, social media is viral. Of course, the rst two questionswho and
how many?can be answered by looking at metrics from the platform itself or third-party analytics
services. But where to nd a metric that helps answer the third, given socials unique nature?
Brand metrics, like Net Promoter Score, are the best means
to determine whether social media efforts work to impact
the customer relationship.
Understanding how consumers who follow a brand on social media feel about that brand and how
that is dierent for those that dont is really what will reveal if an organizations social media eorts
are working.
While Huge does not recommend Net Promoter Score for standard brand tracking, we believe that it
is the KPI that best measures the impact of the true benets of social media. NPS is a measure that
identies how likely users are to recommend a brand to others. This measurement captures both the
customer service aspect of social (Zappos, for example, has always had an extremely high NPS due
to its well-known customer service), as well as its potential for virality. The uniqueness of this metric,
and the ability to access it from many syndicated studies make it a strong option for social media
branding analytics.
This is not to say other metrics have no importance. For an e-commerce brand, tracking conversion
and optimizing to conversion is clearly important. For an ad-supported site, knowing what types of
content drives the highest levels of time on the site is central. Both of these cases, however, involve
optimizing metrics for near-term success, not KPIs used to measure the overall health of an initia-
Advanced attribution models, such as Agent-Based Mod-
eling (ABM) are the best way to determine whether social
media efforts drive sales or decrease call center volume.
Finding the connection between social media eorts and oine metrics are much more dicult to
establish. Increasing sales and decreasing call center volume can be goals of social media marketing.
Measuring the impact of social against these business objectives is best achieved by using a variety of
modeling approaches, such as media and market mix modeling. These approaches are hampered by
the fact that social as a channel encompasses both the prompts from brands that might drive users
to act as well as users actions themselves (whether prompted or not), making it dicult to establish
causality. In addition, paid television media can easily overwhelm the impact of social initiatives.
Further, social media is frequently new for a business, meaning the historical trends required for
traditional modeling are probably non-existent. Finally, social also requires quick optimization,
which is a weakness of models that can only be delivered three months after a campaign is over.
Because of these challenges, we recommend using Agent-Based Modeling (ABM) to best read the
impact of social on oine behavior. ABM is a system of dynamic simulations that relies on creating
rules for the ways that agents operate in a virtual space. The agents are then replicated to match
the target population. They are exposed to stimuli, in this case varying types of social media inter-
actions. Oine behaviors are also fed into the model. Through historical simulations the model can
be built to replicate the past. As a result it can be used to predict the future of how social will impact
users, and therefore what the oine outcomes are likely to be.
A high-wire act: Balancing paid and owned content to
stoke virality and drive ROI.
While most brands have moved beyond the build it and they will come mentality, they must bal-
ance multiple, mutually reinforcing tactics to optimize and monetize the social graph.
Acquiring fans with paid media: Simply creating a Facebook page or Twitter account is not
enough. To build an audience, paid media is still an integral component to developing reach. On
Facebook, even with a signicant fan base, brands still need to spend in order to guarantee their
content is seen. Likewise, Twitters Promoted Tweets expand a brands visibility with potential
audiences. Like other digital media campaigns, optimization for social media is continuous.
Engaging users and going viral: In addition to paid media, brands need to keep users engaged
through owned media as well. This requires not only a stream of compelling, shareable content. It
also means keeping users involved with the brand through continuous interaction. An extension
of this is more elusive: positioning the brands social presence to maximize serendipity in real time
and achieve true virality.
A thirsty Senator and Poland Springs missed viral opportunity. While no amount of preplanning can
guarantee viral success, brands should position themselves to seize serendipitous opportunities as
they arise. During his response to the 2013 State of the Union Address, Senator Marco Rubio became
parched and famously reached for an o-camera bottle of Poland Spring. Social media erupted, yet
the brands Twitter account had been idle since 2011, and it didnt acknowledge the buzz until a day
later on its Facebook page. Commentators contrasted the delayed response to Oreos now legendary
You can still dunk in the dark tweet during the blackout at the Super Bowl the week before.
Balancing acquisition and engagement to avoid alienating fans: While it is tempting to buy fans
with paid media and then consider the resulting large number of followers success, the reality is
that brands often lose the interest and loyalty of followers immediately by not following up with
engaging owned content. By analyzing Facebook and Twitter data for 50 randomly selected brands
across, retail, travel and CPG data we found a negative relationship between change in positive
brand sentiment and rapid fan growth. In other words, those brands that grew fastest tended to
have fans and followers that progressively liked them least. It is inherently true that as a brand
gains followers beyond a core of diehard fans, its overall popularity will become diluted. But our
hypothesis is that some of that fallo in brand sentiment is due to brands failure to keep new fol-
lowers engaged with compelling owned media. By allocating resources to sharing that content and
positioning for viral opportunities, brands can preempt some of that inevitable loss of sentiment.
Tying results back to business objectives: In terms of driving ROI, marketers need to map their so-
cial media goals to specic metrics. For instance, an airline may use Twitter as a customer service
channel so an ROI framework should assess reduced call center volume as a key metric. For an au-
tomotive brand, the metric measured may be increased brand favorability and loyalty rather than
net sales, assessed via surveys. The nal stage in the framework discussed above is demonstrating
how paid, owned and viral eorts supported the original business objectives.
Three factors drive social media investments.
While there may not be a single formula for social media success, there are three major dynamics a
brand should consider before choosing to invest in a given platform:
Channel: The sheer scale of Twitter and Facebook has made them essential platforms for any ma-
jor brand. Investing in a presence on second-tier social channels, though, should not be automatic.
Marketers should consider the strengths and weaknesses of each platform and how they aect
overall social media goals. For instance, Facebook may not be a great awareness driver without a
substantial investment in building a fan base but can be a strong platform for deepening fan rela-
tionships. For some of these channels having a paid presence is key in order to grow a fan base.
Industry: The ways users interact with brands dier from category to category. Consumers usually
behave dierently when dealing with Citibank than they do with American Airlines, for example.
Additionally, industry regulation can aect how a potential relationship between a user and brand
is structured. For instance, Twitter added an age verication feature for liquor companies to weed
out minors. For publicly traded companies, the SEC has provided recent guidance on how to dis-
close material information to investors. A brands position relative to its competitive set may also
aect its social media strategy. For instance, a brand that is number two in its category may lack
awareness but have an extremely passionate fan base. In that situation, perhaps the goal is deepen-
ing the relationship to these fans, and encouraging them to evangelize on behalf of the brand.
Objective: As mentioned previously, the social media strategy should align with the overall busi-
ness objectives. For example, a company with a reputation issue may focus its social media eorts
towards shifting brand perception. Awareness may already be high, but if sentiment is negative,
social media can help change that. Brands can also have multiple objectives, and need to keep that
in mind when measuring impact.
Not every social media platform is right for every brand.
We ranked social media sites across several criteria: the ability to target by demographics, lifestyle
and location; the diversity of content forms available; and their reach.
This framework is merely a tool to guide social media investment. Audience demographics and us-
age should also impact a brands decision on which social media platforms to develop a presence on
and how. For instance, while Instagram scores relatively low for its ability to slice and dice its users
by demographic, its audience is overwhelmingly female, (at 68 percent) and young, with 89 percent
of users 35 year old or younger according to mobile measurement company AppData. It is also pop-
ular among African-Americans, Latinos and urban residents, according to the Pew Research Cen-
ters Internet & American Life Project. For brands seeking to reach these demographics, building an
Instagram following may be more critical than Vine or Tumblr.
Controlled experimentation can help inform investment
in social media.
Unlike other forms of digital media, testing a social media platform is more complicated. While in
most other forms of digital media, a brand can control its presence, turning it on and o, or testing
with a small subset of subscribers, in social media a brand cant invest in building a presence, grow-
ing a fan base and developing content only to abandon the platform if it isnt working. Once you
have a presence and a community, you cant just shut it down, warns Senior Product Strategist Tyler
While orchestrating a perfect controlled experiment in social media is impossible, smart marketers
understand the need to spend their budgets on the most impactful channels and platforms. Exper-
imentation requires analytic expertise to do well statistical skills and experience in research de-
sign and scientic methodas well as executive level support. It also requires understanding of the
environmental variables in play on dierent social media platforms for not just your brand but also
competitors and the overall industry ecosystem. With those pieces in place, its possible to design a
controlled experiment that allows a brand to expose audiences to a media mix, measure variances in
outcome and calculate the incremental eect of a particular social media strategy.
A simple approach for this analysis is to implement a pre/post study. The starting point looks at the
NPS for customers who are also fans of a brand, as well as customers who are not fans. Compar-
ing the change in both groups over time allows a brand to understand how fan interaction with the
brand on a given social channel is impacting NPS. Additionally, comparing the dierence between
those two groups against other competitors in the space can help the brand benchmark its growth
against natural growth in the marketplace. While this framework doesnt provide a specic ROI
metric, it does measure the impact of social media eorts on the customer relationship, allowing the
brand to better track successes and correct mistakes.
The chart above analyzes data from LoudDoor to better understand the impact that being a fan of
a brand has on its customers. Using LoudDoor data we calculated the NPS for customers of a brand
who were Facebook fans over the course of a month. We then looked at customers who were not fans
and tracked the same metric and compared the results. We analyzed data from the overall popula-
tion, as well as two segments, Soccer Moms and Millenials, focusing specically in the automo-
tive category.
Some key insights emerged from this data. First, there is enough change in consumer mindset over
the course of a month to use this as a means to determine the value of social media activity. Further
experimentation is required to determine the value of social media interactions. Second, specic in-
dustries dier from the norm. The changes we observed in the automotive category were much more
pronounced than those across all industries. Finally, demographic segments dier greatly from each
other in their responses, telling us that just measuring the overall impact of a social campaign may
hide important variations among dierent groups.
Getting to social ROI isnt easy. The number of platforms, the diversity of metrics, the lack of curren-
cy, and socials hybrid role as content channel, PR platform and CRM tool makes it dicult to come
to a single solution. This is further complicated by the fact that most platforms have limited (though
improving) analytics tools that are not designed to speak to each other. By moving beyond tradition-
al ways of understanding and measuring ROI and comparing outcomes against specic business
objectives, brands can tap into the real value of social. Using a combination of brand tracking mea-
sures, such as Net Promoter Scores, and applying advanced attribution techniques, such as Agent
Based Modeling, can help a brand optimize its eorts through the social channel.
Further, brands must understand which platforms are right for a specic goal and also how to bal-
ance paid media aimed at acquisition and owned media aimed at engagement and virality. Experi-
menting with reducing and increasing paid media to understand its impact can help brands nd this
balance and has minimal risk.
With Marissa Gluck, Director, Huge Ideas, and Tom OReilly, Director, Huge Content.
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