helping brands make perfect sense of social media, from IAB UK’s social media council

By Amy Kean, senior PR and marketing manager, IAB.

columboLast week some of the IAB Social Media Council hot-footed over to     Barcelona to host a session at IAB Europe’s Interact Conference. Featuring , Tom Smith, , and , our job was to take some serious social media stats and decent case studies to cut through all the waffle surrounding social media, and present stuff with substance.  We were given the brief to talk about ‘social media and brand-building’ and this delivered, from Brad’s latest research results with Facebook to Tom’s Skinny Cow case study and Robin’s work for Marmite.
I won’t go into too much detail about the presentations because they’re all available to download from the website, but what struck me as most interesting were the questions upon questions that followed the case studies shown during the session, largely from other agency folk:
“What was your ROI to the nearest decimal place?”
“How does the amount of friends correlate to the amount of products sold in the month of June last year, before the campaign ran?”
“That may have worked for your brand of washing powder, but there’s no conversation about my brand of washing powder, so where do I even begin?”
“What the hell would you have done if someone said something rude on Twitter?”*
*not the actual questions asked, but you get the picture.

Part of my role requires me to attend social media events on a regular basis and I can confirm that these were not exceptional circumstances. Social media case studies are subject to a type of scrutiny that I haven’t quite seen in the rest of digital, which is perhaps why you see so few of them of the public eye.  I think there’s 4 reasons why this happens.
1. We’re pretty critical in social media. Anyone immersed in the industry will appreciate the way the social media industry works, and it’s not that different to the rest of the world, really.  There are more critics than creators, and a RT with a little ‘I agree’ addition is much easier to do than write a while blog post yourself. My Uniqlo piece a while back was inspired by the fact that everyone thinks they can do social media better than the person tweeting next to them. People are fantastic at talking about theory, with charts and graphs and insights into consumer behaviour, but in practice what we really need at the moment is tonnes of great examples to prove that we’re on the right track. I’d like to see much more celebration of great social media work in the future, so that agencies are less reluctant to shout about what they’ve been doing.

2. Some of us still aren’t quite agreed where ‘social media’ sits.  Different departments within a client organisation will generally require different types of stats to justify the budget. PR practitioners like me have happily coasted along with the trusty AVE by our side for years, because an area like public relations is treated slightly differently by the board than marketing. (I’d also argue that getting a director’s name into the nationals is sometimes considered ROI enough, but that’s the age-old perceived valued of the PR profession for you.) 

I have agency friends who openly state that depending on whether their client is a marketing manager or a PR manager they’ll be asked for far different forms of evaluation, and – quite simply – the client gets what they ask for. Social media CAN be different things… sometimes it’s more about getting attention, other times it’s about changing opinions and occasionally it’s just about giving people money-off vouchers. This means that your activity will be more relevant to different departments at any one time, depending on your objective.

The trick is to be totally honest up front, and not pretend that you’re executing a different kind of ‘social media’ to what you actually are… If your campaign sits on the (dare I say) shallower side of social media and you’re just looking to achieve a burst of tabloid press coverage then why not say so, because then you won’t have any awkward conversations about your lack of sales statistics at the end.  But if the objective really is about leads, referrals or sales, then this needs to be clearly communicated in the case study and followed through.

3. In digital we’re obsessed with numbers anyway. This is a point that I hear quite often, and of course it’s true – online has been a victim of its own accountability with ‘the click’ and the fact that we’re able to measure everything doesn’t mean we should.  But it’s going to take a while before people stop asking! You can understand why advertisers would look for a little more reassurance with online compared with media they’ve been using throughout their entire career, but now it’s a far more relied-upon medium we’re sure to see less of an obsession with numbers and more of an appreciation of how it can build brands in the long-term.

4. People still HAVE lots of questions! If you work in social media all day every day, talk about it all the time on Twitter and then in the evenings go to the pub and talk about it some more (I’m not being snobbish, I do it too) then it’s easy to forget that some people just don’t know (or don’t want to know) as much as the rest of us. The questions we at the IAB still get asked about social media from brands remain quite broad, and some people still need that ‘introduction to social media’ presentation that we thought we could ditch 12 months ago, because they’re too time-poor to read articles about each lunchtime. As an industry we can’t forget the fact that some advertisers are still working out what the hell they should do with this, if at all, and there’s no harm in sometimes talking about social media in a simple way.
Charlotte at NMA wrote a brilliant piece this week about the need for brands to be more open about their results, and if this happened it would be a massive step in the right direction.  However, when the results are analysed to such an extent at an industry-level, I can see why as an agency or brand owner it may just be easier to keep your cards to your chest.
As a solution, I’d suggest that as spectators maybe we need to ease up a bit on the intense Columbo-style questioning and just enjoy it, without proclaiming that social media is the source of world peace and answer to all society’s ills. We should be inspired by the fantastic ideas at the heart of every strand of social media activity, and then worry about whether our own work is delivering the goods.

And in the mean time, PLEASE GIVE US YOUR CASE STUDIES! We promise that all we’ll do is love them.

Matt Rebeiro
June 22, 2010

Couldn’t agree more with points 2 & 3! I often think about it in terms of any given social media activity having one “blue sky metric” – the one metric upon which the activity should be measured (and ultimately deemed a success or a failure).

That’s not to say however that the other numbers aren’t useful or worthy of making it in to the case study. In combination I reckon these secondary metrics are good set of trend indicators i.e. if the secondary metrics look good then it can serve to further boost a case study and show that the activity was more holistic in it’s approach.

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