TakeFive with TweetReach – Tim Wilson

We’re excited to launch a new interview series on the TweetReach blog – “TakeFive” – to provide insight and commentary from notable members of the social media analytics and measurement community, with the goal of facilitating an ongoing conversation around all things measurement. We welcome your suggestions for interviewees and questions. Look for a new post every Wednesday!

We’re proud to have Tim Wilson, a veteran measurement and analytics practitioner and blogger at gilliganondata.com, kick off the new series.

TweetReach: Welcome Tim and thanks for kicking off our new series! Let’s start with talking about how you got started using social media. Can you describe you first “ah-ha” moment?

Tim Wilson: Me, personally? I was on LinkedIn pretty early on, and I started a personal/family blog in early 2006 (to replace a static web site started in 1999), but I really started to get into social media in 2007. I was working at a small B2B marketing agency, and my boss, the CMO, pretty much decreed that everyone needed to get on Twitter and start fiddling around. His rationale was that he didn’t know exactly how marketers would wind up using it, but he was sure that, without joining and playing with it, we wouldn’t have a chance of figuring that out. Of course, I didn’t just join Twitter. I also joined Facebook…and Second Life and MySpace and Plurk and del.icio.us and Ning and Digg and Reddit and StumbleUpon and Friendster and Friendfeed and…(you get the idea). On a whim, I also created a professional blog. It was overwhelming, but it was also intriguing. Our HR Manager actually drove the “ah-ha” for me, as she was a natural when it came to integrating social media into her daily activity, and I watched her rapidly grow a meaningful network of contacts to whom she could reach out for content, references, or support. It was pretty obvious that the ability to rapidly make and maintain personal connections was going to shake up the way people behaved, and it was a no-brainer that this, in turn, was going to impact how marketers needed to work.

TweetReach: How do you think about the mix of different social media networks when designing your campaigns? Are you trying different approaches with the different networks? How important is measurement with each?

Tim Wilson: The mix is important, and it’s totally driven by three things: 1) where the consumers the campaign is intended to engage are, 2) what the campaign is intended to do, and 3) where the consumers the campaign is intended to engage are. Hmmm. Do two of these seem awfully similar? We do a lot of research when developing a social media strategy, including looking at where the relevant conversations are already happening, where the target consumers already are (and what they’re doing there), and what channel(s) support the type of message and interactions that the campaign is driving.

As for measurement, it’s critical regardless of the channel. We use our measurement planning process to ensure we have alignment across the stakeholders involved in the campaign. For each tactic or channel, we try to make sure we’re all in agreement on the answers to two questions (we actually call these “the two magic questions”): 1) what is the tactic supposed to do? (these are the objectives for the tactic) and 2) how will we know if it did that? (these are the key performance indicators). Obviously, we’re constrained by the physics of the channel, but making sure everyone is aligned on the logical framework that is driving the campaign is critical, even if the measures wind up being rough proxies. What we don’t want to have happen is roll out a campaign on Twitter designed to engage brand advocates…and then, after the fact, have its performance measured based on directly trackable revenue from the channel.

TweetReach: Olivier Blanchard has written about the need to look at social media measurement in the context of a broader business measurement strategy. What do you think? Is measuring social media success useful by itself?

Tim Wilson: Olivier’s on the right track (and, if you listen to podcasts, you can get a good dose of his perspective on the measuremob.com podcast). Marketers tend to operate with a hefty level of cognitive dissonance: on the one hand, touting the importance of multi-channel marketing that has congruent and complementary messaging…and then asking, “What’s the value of a fan of my Facebook page?” With the growth of digital and social media, the consumer’s experience has become increasingly fragmented. 50 years ago, consumers were exposed to TV, radio, and print advertising. They couldn’t time-shift their TV, and they couldn’t just punch a button to easily hop over to another radio station in order to “skip” radio commercials. They were a fairly captive audience for advertising. Today, the impact of traditional mass media is diminishing (but it still has a significant impact), but a consumer’s perception of a brand is the culmination of their own direct interactions with the brand, combined with a thousand micro-touches, some of which were “controlled” by the brand, and many more that were not (brand or competitor references made by members of their extended social graph).

All that is to say that companies absolutely need to think through where social media fits in their overall business strategy and, in turn, their business measurement strategy. This is more “art” than “science” though (attribution modeling champions notwithstanding), and will continue to be in the near term. Companies should think through to what extent social media will amplify, supplement, or support their other channels (and vice versa), and measure (as best they can) the extent to which it does that.

TweetReach: Is ROI for Twitter campaigns really achievable? There are many different ways to measure activity, but how do your gauge your success, or help your clients do the same? Anything missing from the equation?

Tim Wilson: “ROI” is a wildly overused term…and yet there are some really smart analysts who put it at the forefront of their approach to social media measurement. I’m not such an analyst. For one thing, most marketers who use the term do not really understand the true finance-based definition of ROI. One analyst I know points out that marketers very seldom actually have a grip on the “I” – the true costs, including human resource investment, that went into a campaign. And, the fact that social media investment has a cumulative effect with a component of the return being longer term than “one week after the campaign ended” is pretty key.

When I’m presented with a, “You must prove the ROI of our social media investment!” decree, I tend to redirect slightly and ask the requestor if what they really want to know is, “Did I efficiently and effectively invest in this effort and garner meaningful, quantifiable results from that investment?” If I can get agreement on that, then we’re ready to tackle the two magic questions I referenced earlier. In my experience, “ROI” gets used as shorthand for “measurable results.”

It’s easy to criticize “number of followers” and “number of replies/retweets” as measures of Twitter performance. But…I like to use both in many cases (although I usually look at the number of replies/retweets per thousand followers to normalize that metric). My case for that is that, while I can’t guarantee that there is a meaningful business impact of having 10,000 followers on Twitter, I can guarantee that the financial impact is near zero if you have no followers! Twitter, in particular, is an interesting platform for expanding a brand’s reach to a new audience (through the social graph of the brand’s existing audience) and for having meaningful engagements with current and potential customers. Measuring followers and retweets/replies are a couple of reasonable proxies for that. There are lots of different, viable metrics for measuring Twitter…but I think I’ve already over-answered this question!

TweetReach: What’s your favorite example of a successful social media campaign? How important was measurement of the metrics around the campaign to its success?

Tim WIlson: I’m going to pick two. To me, Old Spice’s Isaiah Mustafa campaign was a clear winner. And, I say it’s a clear winner knowing that it is perhaps the most debated campaign when it comes to social media measurement. It was successful, in my mind, because it planted a positive and whimsical perception of a fairly boring product in the minds of millions of people. Did it drive a near-term increase in sales? It seems like the data showed that it did, if not a massive step function. Did it buy 2-3 years of association of “playful and funny” in the minds of millions of potential customers? Logic alone (combined with the raw measures of video views and tweets) says that it did. Old Spice will continue to reap the benefits of the campaign for several years to come – it may not have the legs of the “Give the world a Coke” song, but it was impactful. And the incremental cost of extending the TV ads to a very successful social media experience, one would think, were miniscule.

The second one I would pick is not so much a campaign as a strategy (which is actually another key point – social media is forcing marketers to operate with more of an “always on” mentality than a “discrete campaign” mentality), and that’s Best Buy. Specifically their creation of @bestbuy and @twelpforce as two clear and separate Twitter presences. With @twelpforce, they provided a direct link from a large portion of their workforce directly to consumers. They gave up some control of their messaging to do that, but it was a signal to consumers of the openness and transparency of their brand.

In neither of these cases can I point to specific, hard, published measures. But, I count these initiatives as being successful. That’s a conundrum!

I was at a conference early last year when Andrew Keller of Crispin Porter (before he was named CEO) described a number of their more notable social media campaigns. When asked about measurement, he looked a bit sheepish and then said (I’m paraphrasing), “We were clear on what we were trying to do with these campaigns, but we didn’t really set hard metrics for success. Look, compared to what these brands are spending on TV and print, these campaigns were a drop in the bucket.”

TweetReach: Where do you go for measurement and analytics-related news and insight – any particular website, blogs, forums, etc. that are of particular value?

Tim WIlson: Why, to Twitter, of course! The #measure hashtag, by definition, has a bevy of analysts who are trying to figure out social media measurement. There are ~40 blogs that I try to stay on top of – combined into a single Google Reader feed. Jim Sterne’s Social Media Metrics book had some good high-level thoughts, but the book I’m most eagerly anticipating this summer is John Lovett’s Social Media Metrics Secrets followed by Marshall Sponder’s Social Media Analytics.

TweetReach: Thanks for your insight, Tim!

Tim Wilson is a Director of Measurement and Analytics at Resource Interactive. He has been working with myriad dimensions of marketing and customer data for over a decade, ranging from business intelligence, data warehousing, and customer data management to digital and social measurement and analytics. From running the BI department for a $500 million high tech B2B company to driving initiatives to clean up customer data at a major insurance and financial services company, to his current position with Resource Interactive, where he helps consumer brands ranging from Hewlett-Packard to Purina to Victoria’s Secret effectively decipher and act on their digital and social data, Tim is a marketer-friendly data geek. While his heart remains in Austin, Tim has been based in Columbus, Ohio, for the past five years, where he started and continues to run monthly Web Analytics Wednesday and where he blogs about measurement and analytics at gilliganondata.com.