Though one caveat I'd give is that in my experience those social media efforts that include customer service or product marketing research typically have a great return on involvement in social media and online community. Why? In addition to reaching customer support and product innovation goals, those activities are great content strategies that turn ordinary customers into evangelists (for an example, take a look at my case studies at from the Corporate Blogging Survey at my old company Backbone Media).
[A List of Goals and their Measurement Strategies](1) Sales - Goal conversions, some identifiable increase in conversions through social media. In the Boston AMA we've seen increased retention rates among members involved in social media.
(2) Higher SEO Rankings - Build a list of keywords and monitor the rankings as you develop content and an outreach program around those keywords.
(3) Crisis Communications - Conduct sentiment analysis to determine the overall opinion of your brand in the community, and how it moves up and down. Dell discovered in 2006 that they had a negative sentiment rating of 49% in the blogosphere, over an 18 month period they managed to get that down to 18%.
(4) Thought Leadership - Here's a combination of metrics, sales, higher seo rankings, and sentiment rankings.
(5) Customer Service - Does social media reduce your expenses in customer support? Typically in a forum community members will support other community members. Outsource your customer support to the community. Intuit has done this with their online products, reduced expenses, and increased product innovation by building a customer advisory board.
[Is Measurement A Realistic Goal?]
I was thinking that aiming for measurement goals in social media may be unrealistic because you are really dealing with relationships. And that the path to success in social media is not through a focus on obtaining sales, but rather a focus on building and maintaining those relationships. The danger of only measuring sales related goals in social media is that those goals may drive the wrong strategy for success in social media. I think there's some basis in that argument, in that its difficult to measure the enthusiasm for a brand on the part of customers, or the strength of a relationship.
One way you can measure a customer's commitment to a brand is through the Net Promoter Score, this is a measurement of the likelihood a customer would recommend a company. It is possible to ask customers their opinion on the whether they would recommend a company or product. Often important community members may not be customers, I think it unlikely that such non-customers would answer a net promoter score survey.
Really this goes back to my caveat about measuring social media goals, the path to success comes through engagement on topics that seemingly have little to do with direct sales, but have a lot to do with building the value a customer perceives provided by a brand. How a company provides customer service, the pace of innovation for product marketing, and operational excellence; these are not direct efforts to sell products, but they are factors that have an influence on the opinion by customers of a brand. Rather than abandoning measurement goals for sales. I think its important to track such data, but also at the same time keep an eye on indicators for community building.
[Measuring Participation by Community Members]How do you measure the success of your online community? I think you determine the amount of participation by your employees who engage in social media, and the level of involvement and sentiment toward your brand by community members. Involvement could be if community members comment on your blog, or if they write about your brand on their social media platforms.
Success in increasing community member participation will probably increase if you conduct an outreach strategy or develop a reward system for involvement. Rewards in social media don't have to be monetary (ethics dictate that you don't compensate with hard money, or if you do the person receiving the compensation reveal payment), rewards can take the form of recognition perhaps by ranking participants for their level of involvement or by giving community members a platform for building their brand within the community.
Measuring participation and sentiment levels when combined and balanced with some of the measurement strategies I've outlined above will I believe help a company to achieve success in social media. Part of the reason I think this is from conversations with Richard Binhammer at Dell, Frank Eliason at Comcast, Wendy Harman at the American Red Cross and many other brand social media strategists and online community managers within brands.