I tweeted sometime last week that I thought part of the problem folks face with social media measurement and determining performance against metrics like ROI is that they don’t know how to create measurable objectives in the first place.

So let’s do a (bit of a long) drilldown of what measurable objectives look like, and all the parts around them.

Goals vs. Objectives

First, a quick definition clarification. Goals are your general intentions, the big picture aims. Your objectives are the outcomes that represent achievement of that goal. Things you can actually observe. In order to be classified as an objective, something has to be measurable.  You need a way of defining whether or not you have completed them successfully.

Strategies are the action plans you’ll execute to reach the objective. Tactics are the pieces and parts of the strategy. So that’s the hierarchy:

Goal >> Objectives >> Strategies >> Tactics.

If you’ve actually written a clear objective, it’s measurable by definition. (So the term measurable objective is actually rather redundant). We good on that? Okay.

An Imaginary Scenario

Let’s say we’re a widget company of some generic stripe, and we’re going to write down some social media goals and objectives. They might look like this.

GOAL: To increase our company’s US brand footprint through participation in social media.

So, that’s the general end game you want to achieve. It’s big picture, and there can be any number of components that go into achieving that goal. Honestly, this is where a lot of people get stuck. They haven’t sat down and done the hard work to think about what it is they want to achieve and why.

A good way to write goals that have impact is to ask whether or not the goal you’re setting will somehow drive to goals that are up a level or two from your area of responsibility. So if your company has a vision that includes growth into, say, an international market, your marketing goals should be written with that at least partially in mind. If you’re in a specific marketing channel, like online or digital, your goals will want to reflect the overarching goals of the entire marketing or communications area.

That takes us to objectives.

OBJECTIVES:

  • Increase our blog subscribers by 15% in 6 months
  • Produce 12 episodes (one per month) of Widget.TV and achieve live viewership of 75 for each episode
  • Grow our LinkedIn Group to 250 members (a 25% increase) by the end of the year
  • Establish a Facebook Fan Page with 500 fans within 6 months

All of these items follow the SMART methodology, which means they’re Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Timed. But the key is that they outline what you want to do, how you’ll quantify it, and what your deadline is.

Note that for each of these, it becomes immediately apparent what you have to track. You need mechanisms to measure blog subscribers, evidence of produced TV episodes, membership tracking for your LinkedIn Group, and ways to tell how many fans you have on Facebook. And for the ones that have growth implied, like the first one, you need a baseline measurement so you know where you’re starting from, and can tell when you’ve achieved that 15% growth number.

If you say you want to measure something but you don’t have a process in place to do that or aren’t yet, go no further. If measuring success is something you’re serious about, you have to solve the measurement mechanism problem first. If you want to increase customer retention but don’t know how you’re defining or calculating that metric now, that’s the place to start.

STRATEGIES:

Once you have the objectives written, you develop a strategy or set of strategies for each one. It’s like the roadmap for how you’ll get there. So let’s take the first one, increase blog subscribers by 15% in 6 months. Your strategies might include:

  • Designate a blogging team to contribute posts to the blog
  • Develop an editorial calendar to post three times weekly, and rotate assignments
  • Create a list of other relevant blogs in our industry and share with the team
  • Require each blog team member to leave 3 comments per week on other industry blogs
  • Improve blog subscription options on our main blog page and website

These are all the elements you’ll need to put in place to  make the objective happen. Then, it’s time for the nitty gritty.

TACTICS:

Tactics are the actual down and dirty execution steps you’ll need to take to support the strategy. It’s the detail work, really. So, for the first strategy above:

Designate a blogging team to contribute posts to the blog.

Your tactics might include sending out an email asking folks if they want to write for the blog, setting a meeting with your manager to select the contributors, setting up their profiles on the blog platform, and holding a training session for folks on the blogging admin tool. It’s all the actual execution steps you’ll need to take at the most fundamental level in order to make each strategy come together.

Measurement and ROI

Note something important: ROI is one metric. Boy have we really warped this one in social media discussions.

Not everything you do has a return in itself that’s measurable in terms of dollars (which the root of the ROI equation).  So if you’re looking for, say, the ROI on your blog, you’d have to figure out how it contributes directly to your revenue stream in order to measure true ROI. That would require mapping your blog traffic or subscribers to your lead pipeline and conversions in terms of dollars, and tracking how much you’ve invested in time and capital toward the effort.

Measuring success, however, can be different than ROI. You can have successful outcomes that are not measurable in terms of dollars. Qualitative ones like awareness and reach, and quantitative ones like website traffic, media placements, or even things like Net Promoter Scores.

This is why you’re far more likely to be able to accurately and effectively calculate the ROI of your marketing or customer service efforts as a whole, but why it’s going to be much more tricky at a granular level, say, the ROI of your Facebook page alone. All of the successful outcomes, collectively, impact the likelihood of sales growth.

But WHAT Do I Measure?

Sorry, no shortcut answer here. What you measure is entirely dependent on all the bits above, most especially your goal.

If your goal is better customer service, you measure things that indicate customer satisfaction like reviews, sentiment, positive comments/feedback, decreased “incident” reports from the call center. If your goal is brand awareness, you measure things like website traffic, share of conversation, media placements, volume of online chatter, or even standard market survey results.

Not every metric applies to every company or situation. And don’t try to measure every possible combination of factors. Pick three solid metrics that are relevant to your objectives and worry about those. Measurement is about tracking progress or lack of it. Not analyzing things to death.

See where I’m headed? The goals, if well considered, will guide you right to the kinds of metrics that are applicable. And heck. Create your own metrics. As long as they tangibly illustrate progress toward the goal you’ve set, they’re perfectly valid. Not every metric that’s been used for decades is bulletproof, anyway.

That’s The Crash Course.

The hard part is that I or anyone else can only ever give you the framework. The messy work of considering goals and doing the planning and measurement is yours alone. But that’s why you get paid the big bucks.

So does this help? Will it help someone you know or work with? Can you better articulate what you’re aiming for to your boss? Does it get you thinking a bit about how you can make your efforts – social media or otherwise – a bit more tangible?

Sound off in the comments.

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