There are lots of ways to measure the effectiveness of social media campaign, but only one right way to start. Before you start a Facebook Fan Page, or open a corporate Twitter account, the one mandatory step you need to take to be sure any of it is worth your time is to identify the key performance indicators (KPIs) of your business, and measure them first. You might use the data, you might not--but if at any point down the road you need to measure exactly how much social media engagement has added to your bottom line, you'll want to know exactly where you were when you started. A small additional expense, perhaps, but you'll thank me later, trust me. Take this recent survey for a Houston-based bakery/cafe chain called Dessert Gallery covered recently by Harvard Business Review. The company wanted to measure the business impact of maintaining a Facebook Fan page, so they first surveyed their email database to collect baseline information, and then began their engagement. After three months of constantly updating their Fan Page with promotions, reviews and other content, they resurveyed their list to measure a variety of key metrics, including Net Promoter Score, average price per ticket, and average visits per month--three of their KPIs.
Almost all of the results reported in this survey can be tossed into the "correlation does not imply causation" bin. The chartjunk-y graphic on the page highlights differences in the Net Promoter scores between Facebook Fans and others, but this can easily be explained by the fact that becoming a restaurant's Facebook Fan probably meant that you were already a Real Life Fan--in other words, whether or not you are a Facebook Fan is little more than a trailing variable, and recording that datapoint merely provides another way to segment out the most passionate members of your existing database.
Similarly, Facebook Fans reported a greater level of emotional attachment to Dessert Gallery than did others, and were more likely to choose it over other establishments whenever possible. Again, none of this proves much besides the fact that people who sign up for your company's fan page are probably already fans. And, if all they had done was survey customers at the end of the process, that's what they'd be left with--an expensive way to segment an existing user base.
Except...there is one other data point in this survey, one that should have been the focal point of the accompanying graphic, and one that is impossible to dismiss as easily. By surveying customers before the campaign, and after the campaign, they had measurements from customers who had completed both survey instruments (easily trackable through cookies or email analytics). Those customers who had completed both surveys (and I do wish the article's authors had included the sample size there) and became fans reported an increase in store visits per month. That's apples-to-apples, friends--and and the clearest indicator in the whole article that the social media engagement may have actually moved the needle on a KPI, and not merely been associated with a needle-move.
Are there still possible explanations for this behavior change that don't rely on Facebook as a causal variable? Sure--there is the Heisenberg effect of simply being surveyed, which heightens your awareness of being an important customer, especially if those customers were made aware after Survey 1 that there would be a Survey 2. That's just one of several possible confounding variables. But in this study, you do have a very clear sense of a way forward in measuring social media ROI. If you can measure a population pre- and post-engagement, and show changes in the same sample based upon the variable of social media engagement, you've come a long way in proving or disproving the case for continued expenditure of resources.
And none of it would have been possible without the initial survey. Is it an additional commitment of your talent and treasure to measure before and after your social media initiatives? You betcha. Do you think Dessert Gallery questions that expense? Or questions the time and effort they put into their Facebook Fan page now? Not a chance.