Show Me the Stories: How to Measure Social Media

It’s the $64,000 question. Your boss—and her boss—are always asking you for ROI reports. Strangers buttonhole you at parties. Your mom has no idea how to explain what you do for a living. What’s worse, sometimes you feel as if you’re faking it. The question: how do you measure social media? After all, if you can’t measure it, you can’t market it.

My advice: instead of reaching for the familiar—namely, numbers of likes and shares and retweets and pins and so on—put the numbers in human terms. Tell a story.

For example: last month, a coalition of business executives, evangelical groups, and prominent conservatives flew 600 people to Washington, DC, to lobby Congress on immigration reform. Here’s a snapshot of our social media stats:

  • 10,000 mentions on Twitter
  • 3,250 views on Scribd
  • 5,000 views on SlideShare
  • 2,500 views on LinkedIn

But are these numbers good or bad? 10,000 sounds like a lot, but what constitutes a “mention”? How many mentions are negative? Without greater context, it’s hard to judge whether this was a success.

By contrast, what if I told you that President Obama retweeted the coalition’s news release? And that he did so from his official account, @BarackObama, which, with 40 million followers, is the fourth most-popular in the world? That’s something people immediately grasp is a big deal; elaboration is unnecessary.

So, stop settling for big, vague metrics. Start contextualizing them by expressing them in terms even your mother—and your boss—will appreciate. In other words, start telling stories.

Addendum (12/29/2013): A timely quote that captures my thesis:

Terence Winter said that when he was writing the script, he was forever trying to explain even the limited Wall Street terms The Wolf of Wall Street uses, like IPO, before finally concluding that it didn’t matter. “People don’t care,” he said. “The techno-speak goes in one ear and out the other. What they’ll remember is that in the Madden deal, Mr. Belfort made $23 million in two hours.”

Addendum (12/30/2013): In February, I’ll be delivering this presentation at PRNews’s Digital PR Summit.

Addendum (1/21/2013): For a memorable take on the foolishness of big numbers, check out this video from Adobe, “Click, Baby, Click!”: