Measuring the impact of online advertising used to be relatively easy. It was all about analytics: Unique Visitors, Page Views, Cost per Clicks – safe, measurable, defined metrics. But those engaged in social media must now attempt a way of measuring not just the online advertising within social media, but the framework surrounding that advertising: a difficulty akin to playing three dimensional chess with moving chess pieces.
This is where the IAB's ‘Social Media Ad Metrics Definitions’ have gone some way to filling the gap. They provide a clear framework by which advertisers can gauge ad effectiveness across three main social media: social media sites, blogs and widgets/social media applications. The document divides social media into three distinct categories and defines the metrics specific to each type:
‘Evaluating the most important measurement terms will help marketers, agencies and publishers quantify the value added by consumers as they distribute the content throughout their personal networks, one of the defining characteristics of the platform’ (IAB press release).10
What this means in effect is that the IAB has clearly defined each platform, and then provided metrics by which the effectiveness of each might be measured when planning a campaign. In other words, how to judge where to place your ad in order to obtain the best ROI. The metrics include the following:
Social media sites: Unique Visitors, Cost per unique visitor, Page views, Visits, Return Visits, Interaction rate, Time spent, Video installs, Relevant actions taken.
Blogs: Conversation size (number of sites, links and reach of a conversation whose content includes conversation phrases relevant to the client), Site relevance (Conversation density, Author credibility, Content freshness and relevance).
Widgets and Social Media Applications: Installs (number of applications), Active Users, Audience Profile, Unique User Reach, Growth, Influence, Installs (number installed per user).
The IAB's definitions have so far met a mixed response. Some had high praise for the idea, such as Catherine P. Taylor, on the Social Media Insider: ‘In other words, compared to old-time metrics like reach, frequency and the click-through, these metrics are deep, not only measuring whether people are engaged, but how they are engaging. It's like being able to measure the temperature with a thermometer rather than opening the front door and declaring it either hot or cold […] imagine that you’re an advertiser who sorely needs to understand social media. Then imagine yourself suddenly finding that you can not only monitor discussion around a certain topic near and dear to your brand but that you can also mention the number of people talking about it and their level of passion. Suddenly, social media goes from a huge, indefinable blob of conversations into something that has contours around which you can engage, plan and buy. That's huge.’11
However, others weren’t so impressed, picking up on the fact that the qualitative aspect of social media measurement was sidestepped entirely. Augie Ray was one such, writing on his blog, ‘Perhaps one of the most concerning aspects of this report is that a reader might get the idea that every action is equal. The report suggests that “Comments posted” are worth measuring, but it says nothing whatsoever about sentiment within those comments. In the entire report, the following words do not appear even a single time: “Sentiment,” “Attitude,” “Rating,” “Positive,” and “Net Promoter Score.” Apparently the IAB thinks that all comments should be tabulated in aggregate, regardless of whether they are disparaging or complimentary.’12
In a further blog post in The Customer Collective, Augie puts forward his own four ‘dimensions’ by which clients should analyze a blog's suitability for their brand: ‘Evaluating which blogs are right for your brand requires consideration of factors that include reach, relevance, and credibility. Reach refers to the audience for a blog, including total number of readers, subscribers, and visits. Relevance concerns the extent to which a blog's content and audience is appropriate to the brand; this can be determined by evaluating the number and frequency of blog posts on a given topic, the blog's organic search results for desired terms, and the percentage of readers or visitors that match desired demographics. Credibility, the third dimension that determines if a given blog is right for a brand's outreach or sponsorship, is perhaps the most difficult to ascertain. Reach and Relevance can be determined by quantitative measures, but Credibility is more qualitative’.5
According to Ray, blog Credibility has dimensions, including Independence, Affinity and Transparency. ‘These four attributes – Independence, Affinity, Transparency and Presentation – are important determinants of a blog's credibility. These are not the only factors that enhance or diminish credibility, but they are among the most important. Other factors that may be important, depending on the blog and brand, include Blog Attribution (the more frequently sites and blogs attribute their sources, the more credible they will be received [to be]) and Blog Reputation (presence of awards, Diggs, etc.).’5