Social media reporting: how to make it meaningful

SocialMediaWordcloudbigstockHow many times have you found yourself in the following situation: you’re in a meeting – no, worse – you’re on a conference call, and everyone’s talking about social reporting. On a screen in front of you is the first of an unforgivable number of slides. On every slide is a graph, allegedly showing you something different to the graph before; shifts in follower count, engagement rate and reach. (Only the last slide is different, it’s the one that says, incongruously: “Thank you.”) These reports are a bit boring, but they’re important, right? If only you gave them your full attention, if only you ‘got’ the metrics a bit more, these reports would be Super Meaningful… right? Maybe. But in my experience, the majority of social media reporting is almost completely devoid of meaning.

Today, no serious brand would overlook the importance of social media marketing; but unlike campaign reporting for any other channel, social media reports focus too much on platform functionality rather than anything truly needed by a business. You don’t measure the success of a TV ad by the number of times someone loses their remote, and yet when it comes to social media reporting we’re obsessed with minute percentage shifts month on month. The majority of social reporting that takes place isn’t useful, because the focus is still on what can be measured and not what could be learned.

And there’s so much to be learned, like what customers think about your brand. What they really think, not just want they think when they’re in a room with a conspicuous mirror and a bowl of crisps. Seeing real-life customer opinions in a public forum, in writing, makes lots of marketers over-excited about social channels being all about advocacy but over-egging social as a channel for advocacy means we’re still missing the point.

It’s about honesty. Real people are going to share their opinions on your ad as soon as they see it. They’ll tell everyone about your store staff as they’re queueing at the till. They’ll probably be tweeting about your call centre music while they’re on hold. Social media channels form the world’s biggest, fastest, most honest focus group – and we’re still trying to turn this into a series of bar charts. Instead of obsessing about tiny percentage shifts in your page’s engagement, you need to focus on harnessing that honesty to inform strategic insight and drive change. Marks and Spencer recently redesigned a popular dress with more variations in sleeve length than I have limbs to put in them – because they listened to their fans and followers on Facebook and Twitter. Of course their fans were engaged – they kept commenting on the page. And of course the page had decent reach – M&S invest money in social. Instead of staring at the stats, M&S analysed the conversation that was taking place to refine their product offering, to great acclaim.

I’ve read a few articles lately suggesting that since there’s so much data now available to us, marketers need to think more like analysts; they need to get closer to the data and make it part of what they do. Marketing is about established truths, behaviours that we all recognise and that have been part of the way humans interact for thousands of years. If we’re forcing marketers to think more like analysts, I’d challenge the analysts collating your social media reports to think more like marketers, and turn data into insight before the report is presented to you. The fact is, monitoring social data is a bit like lifting weights. In theory, it’s a good thing to do. But if you do it wrong it  takes ages to see results, it’s hard work, and will probably result in an aneurysm.

Liza Bate is a senior social strategist at Work Club. Follow them on Twitter @workclub or on Google+.