Benchmarking: If You Don’t Know Where You Are, How Will You Know Where You’re Going?

LEADING THOUGHTS In a recent post, we discussed the importance of tracking and listening to social media. As a follow-up, I’d like to take a stab at attacking measurement. Although both listening and measurement stem from tracking social media, there are differences between the two. In one of my articles for Mashable, I wrote about these differences. The short of the story is that the main difference is intent: for listening, the intent is to discover what people are saying in realtime and prioritizing for follow up. For measurement, however, the intent is to recap metrics, track performance over time and against competitors. In this post, I discuss the steps you can take to successfully measure social media. To recap, these steps are:

  1. 1) Have a goal
  2. 2) Align your team members, other teams, and leadership
  3. 3) Always consider context
  4. 4) Select platform wisely
  5. 5) Conduct a social media audit
  6. 6) Dig deeper
  7. 7) Do A/B testing

In this post, I want to address benchmarking, without which metrics is meaningless. Benchmarking provides the context that you need in order to make metrics meaningful. Imagine you start measuring social media, and you discover that you had 1,000 social media mentions in all channels. Now what? Is that good or bad? I have no idea! To really understand this, you need context. What’s customary for a product like yours? How much buzz is the product category garnering? How does it compare to your own performance? Let’s dig in and figure out what you should be benchmarking against.

1) Benchmark against your own performance. This is why I always recommend by starting with a full social media audit (see #5). The levels of your social media performance across various channels will become your benchmark. As things progress, and your social media levels become drastically different (presumably larger, not lower), you should reevaluate your baseline — do this at least once every 3-6 months. As you are comparing baseline to the current time interval (whether you measure weekly or monthly — I recommend both, in fact), note any deviations. Pay attention to dips and increases, taking care to identify their causes. Does a sudden rise correspond to a killer piece of press coverage you received? Bravo! Does the dip map to a lull due to your competitor’s shiny and new product release? You better find out! Regardless of what your baseline is, you should strive to grow at a consistent rate of increase month over month. Weekly deviations will happen, but your aggregate monthly volumes should grow. Don’t forget to correlate your spikes and troughs to success indicators, such as website visits, signups and sales revenue.

2) Benchmark against competitors and industry. Your performance doesn’t exist in a vacuum. If you had 1,000 mentions last month, and 800 mentions month prior — congratulations! You are on an upswing! But is that good or bad for your industry and your type of product? Just like you are tracking your own volume of buzz weekly and monthly, you need to be tracking the same for your competitors and an industry as a whole. For example, if buzz about cloud computing is on a rise and grows steadily by 20% month over month, and yours only grows by 15%, try to identify the cause and step up your game. Also note growth trend among your competitors — are they growing by anything close to 20%? Who are the fast risers? Who is losing momentum? In addition to tracking the trend, you need to understand what portion of the mindshare across your competitors belongs to each one. I love “share of conversation” graphs, which can be obtained automatically by measurement platforms, but can also be manually plotted if you know how many mentions each competitor had over a certain duration of time. Quick caveat: make sure you don’t blindly rely on volume. Understand what’s driving the buzz — is it positive or negative? Are the right people talking about you?

3) Benchmark across channels. In addition to looking at overall buzz volume trends of yourself and your competitors over time, you also need to do this analytical work for each channel in which a significant volumes of conversation are occurring. For example, for us at Nimble, blogs and Twitter are the biggest channels. When we launch publicly and users start posting issues and questions in external forums, we will be tracking that too. Take a look at your own share of conversation by channel – what % happens on Twitter, what % is on Facebook, what % is in the blogosphere or forums? Once you benchmark this proportion, make sure to also track it weekly and monthly. As with every finding, take the time to understand changes and what’s driving them. Make sure to compare your performance in a channel to your competitors’ performance in that same channel.

Was this helpful? How do you measure? What indicators do you look at? How do you benchmark?

Photo credit Darren Hester