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Creating a social media framework your CMO would love is a challenge on a good day, so what can you do when tasked with demonstrating the value of something seemingly flued like social listening? There are key performance indicators (KPIs) that are specific to your goal out there – understanding what they are and how to find them is the challenge.

Defining Diagnostic KPIs

Primary KPIs are fairly obvious and have become table stakes to track at this point. We have likes, retweets, comments, volume of impressions and so on that are readily available via any social platform’s ‘analysis’ dropdown. Understanding the value of these actions though is where the top players in each category differentiate.

Showing the value of these actions (likes, comments, retweets and such) requires a deeper dive – into diagnostic KPIs. These indicators focus on dissection of bit of data, from demographics, known and unknown segments, sarcasm, emojis, images, forums, reviews, news sites, and most importantly – the sentiment behind all of this data and all of these actions, and what it all means for your brand. It requires sentiment analysis informed by social listening and powered by next generation AI. And did we mention accuracy? Accuracy is paramount.

It’s a lot to take in. Let’s break down what counts.

So Much Data, So Little Time

There are endless amounts of data out there. The challenge is really twofold:

  • How do you get the right data?
  • And how to you communicate the impact of this data in a way that demonstrates its true value to your brand?

At the end of the day, your CMO is trying to sort out where can they shift their marketing dollars to have the greatest impact, and the more informed you are around where your target audience is interacting, the more valuable your work is to the team.

The path to purchase is no longer linear, assuming it ever was! But the reality is that consumers are all over the map in terms of how and when they’re getting information, and they can move back and forth pretty quickly, so we need to be aware of that and building out a system to understand – and track – that. And it feels impossible, considering the wide array of places these consumers can be from moment to moment, from trend to trend. As a result, we’ll find CMOs focusing on one channel or another and receiving data that supports that channel or suggests a new channel, but can’t accommodate the data gaps. Pretty much ignores them, really.

They recognize the data they’re gathering isn’t doing a good job of capturing the universe of sentiment out there, but they’re in good company . . . for now:

No one knows how to understand the world when you’re talking about more than one marketing channel at a time. But that’s the reality – that is where consumers live: everywhere.

And how do we market to consumers on a platform of “everywhere?” We don’t. That’s where the framework comes in.

Creating a Framework for Everything

We need something that’s an all-encompassing framework that organizes the business goals. And ultimately, those business goals need to connect down to the metrics of how we’re going to measure them. We need to lay out those metrics in advance. And there are four steps we need to take:

  1. Define success
  2. Connect attribution results to business results
  3. Align incentives
  4. Build a process for taking action

But it goes a little deeper than that:

Imagine taking a step back and starting over – your first question would be “who is my customer?” Defining success starts with the customer. There’s been so much evolution over the last two years, four years, 10 years in terms of how consumers are enjoying content, how they’re consuming media, how they’re using technology, etc. Understanding that customer base as it transforms is important – and it applies to whoever you’re trying to reach no matter what your business objectives are.

You need to understand your business objectives through the lens of your desired outcome, and doing that hinges on audience understanding – or, more aptly, understanding audienceS.

Different Strategy for Different Audiences

It’s one thing if you have one target audience for every business objective, but very often that’s not the case. Very often, you have loyalists that you’re trying to reach, and you’re also trying to convert new people. Those are two separate audiences and the business objectives for each might be different, which means the strategy you put in place must be different as well.

Listing out the things you can measure easily, the primary KPIs that feel advanced (and are, but are limiting) and leaving it at that is the first mistake less evolved organizations make. I’ll be speaking more to the social sentiment maturation model and how to evaluate where you are and how to make incremental change in a future piece, but for now just know that volume metrics are not enough. While offering very clear data, it does nothing to examine the elusive, interesting, game-changing sentiment that lies beneath.

As an example, if I’m trying to reach an audience and show a change in perception, I want to make people think of Brand X as being ‘more cool.’ More specifically, for a brand that has a legacy of business, I want people to say, “Oh, Brand X is doing cool stuff the way Google or Facebook or other organizations are.”

How would I do that? The typical answer might be surveys. We’d conduct a survey at the start, and again at the end. Very neat, easily interpreted data there. There’s survey bias, certainly, that we have to consider. And the cost isn’t prohibitive, but it is costly to run a survey.

Another thing that we can do though, which is more of a diagnostic approach is to look at what people are saying when they’re talking about Brand X. And look at specific conversations in context. Conversations a target segment is having online on a variety of sites, including analyzing comments on Instagram, conversations on Reddit, reviews on Yelp and an enormous amount of other aggregated sources, sliced and diced to the nth degree until we can say, definitively, “yes, Brand X’s perception has shifted. They are now viewed as cool.”

Viewed against what? We can look back to the previous month – to the previous 27 months actually, to create a baseline to measure against. Did we shift the perception of Brand X to being cool? Yes, we did. The numbers move up in the right direction. The indicators match up.

Survey Says – Don’t Rely on Surveys

This type of analysis reaches well beyond survey data and surface level volume metrics and offers a much higher level of accuracy. By looking at what’s been posted on social media and earned and owned media through the lens of social listening, we’ve eliminated survey bias. We’ve eliminated all bias. It’s all observational research.

We don’t have to sit and think through the right questions and interpret. We can see exactly what people are posting and get a lot of information and color in terms of how that’s being described. And that brings it all together, allowing us to say what the business objectives are and how we should be measuring success on those objectives. It feels circular, and it is as it’s constantly changing – but it’s also exceptionally accurate and actionable. That’s the take-away.

Diagnostic KPIs are strategic objectives that require active analysis and review. Checking a social listening dashboard daily for the latest sentiment analysis around a brand and the larger category is what top businesses are doing. Or it’s what they’re tasking consultants with doing for them, rather. So, whether you’re a brand that wants to continue to win, or you’re an agency that wants to show off its social intelligence chops to clients, sentiment analysis is the only way to get it done at the speed of change – at the speed of social.

Watch for my next post around how savvy brands and agencies are using social listening to create (rather than participate in) cultural moments – and how my agency, in particular, uses NetBase to aggregate converged media to capture the hearts and minds of consumers for clients.

Michael Fein, SVP, Strategy, Insights, and Analytics at PMK•BNC

A business builder with an eye for identifying opportunities. He consults on consumer insight-driven marketing, analytics and optimization across online and offline channels for brand building and direct response marketing.