TakeFive with TweetReach – Laura Beck

Welcome back to TakeFive with TweetReach, our ongoing interview series with notable members of the social media analytics and measurement community. This week we’re delighted to welcome Laura Beck, Founder of stripedshirt.com and a 20-year PR professional, where she has consistently focused her energy on helping create awareness and buzz for early stage technology companies.

TweetReach: Welcome Laura! Let’s start with talking about how you got started using social media. Can you describe you first “ah-ha” moment?

Laura Beck: I’ve been on LinkedIn since mid-2008, and always have and continue to think of that as more my online rolodex; my contacts database. But, I got hooked on Facebook early, and hard, and it’s been consistent. I joined a year prior, in mid-2007 more for personal networking, keeping in touch with friends, planning high school and college reunions, seeing regular snapshots of the lives of the people I care about. But, my ah-ha moment on social media, I guess, was CES (the Consumer Electronics Show) in January 2009, when my hand was forced to join Twitter: some press friends were scolding me for not being on yet and threatened to make @fakelaurabeck and tweet away. I had to defend my Twitter turf, get my handle, and start to participate. And, while scary at first, holy cow to a fantastic way to engage with people in quick, direct ways.

TweetReach: How important was measurement in your initial strategy and how has that evolved?

Laura Beck: Initially, Twitter was play time and wasn’t about measurement at all. It was a science experiment — to see if you could reach someone, if they’d respond, if people would pass on something you tweeted. That quickly has evolved to Twitter being as critical and legit a communications channel and an information channel as blogs, online publications, even print publications. So along those lines, when you are doing public relations these days — for a client or for yourself — you best know the impact of every hit, every mention. That includes Twitter, blogs, even LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr — IF you could measure all these, and figure out the impact, the reach.

TweetReach: Let’s talk about consistency in measurement. Agencies and marketers have had to use a variety of tools and metrics to analyze the performance of their social media efforts, resulting in inconsistent results. How important is the ability to measure and report on social media results in a consistent way to you and your clients?

Laura Beck: Holy cow, it’s the holy grail. Even being able to measure and report at all with some sort of metrics, even if inconsistent, not apples to apples. Anything at all is something. We’ve been talking about this for years — and now it’s 20 years later. We’ve never been able to crack the code, get beyond “ad equivalency” or circulation as a basis for value, for the worth of a hit or a mention. And those approaches have been archaic for print publications for years, let alone online outlets, let alone blogs, let alone a tweet. This is the holy grail, but no one’s found the cup yet.

TweetReach: Olivier Blanchard and others have 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?

Laura Beck: For the past 2-3 years, I’ve considered all things social media “just another channel.” Seriously. My business always, ultimately is PUBLIC relations. Not press. It’s about reaching and influencing the publics, a company’s targets (whether customers, or partners, investors, employees, etc.) positively, and moving them to action. A blog post, a tweet, a Facebook update, a YouTube video — any of these may do the trick. They are another channel to positively reach a target. Therefore, all things social better be part of the whole marketing mix. And therefore, all things social should be measured, considered, and factored in along with all business measurement. Something social may just directly create a sale, and you can be darn sure all things social indirectly affect sales, awareness, perception of a company, a brand, an individual — positively or negatively.

TweetReach: Traditionally media success has been measured using reach, impressions, exposure. How important are these metrics when looking at social media campaigns? What else to you need to measure?

Laura Beck: I think these measures are just as important in social as in any marketing campaign. But again, holy heck are they hard to measure, quantify, and value. Overall impact is still both a volume and a value game, and hopefully we are getting to a world where it’s the value that matters -– reaching the right people, versus thousands of people where you hope something sticks with a few. So while sheer reach and overall exposure are important — blog readership, twitter followers, how many times something was retweeted — again, with social, where you can be laser-precise, I’m hoping we are getting to a place where the measure of success of a marketing campaign could be clearly tracked down to who was reached and what action they took. Literally, really measuring “conversions” versus just impressions. Whereas PR has almost always been air cover for sales, with social, we have the opportunity to be the ground team, too.

TweetReach: Let’s talk about the measurement of reach – how do you weigh the importance of the quantity of a campaign’s reach – the overall size of the potential audience – vs the quality of that reach? Both are important, but how do you help your clients understand the difference and the impact?

Laura Beck: This is what I’m getting at above, a bit. And my personal theory, at least in Twitter, is that ideally a brand wants to find, mine and engage on an ongoing basis with 100 true fans. Period. If you can find the right people with the right power of influence, and mine them (get to know them, get them to know and care about your brand), and then engage with them on an ongoing basis, have real conversations — boom — you have success. They are brand advocates, they pass on their love for your brand to their networks, and it’s genuine, and pure, and “third party.” This is what I think the future of social COULD be, and wow, would it be more valuable, time efficient, respectful to all and end a lot of the echo chamber stuff we have flying around right now with just volumes and volumes of information and the same content recycled. But, we have to all work together to prove it out, and have some case studies and examples of it working. THAT will help companies believe and take on this approach as well.

TweetReach: Thanks for your thoughts and time, Laura!

After 18+ years working for PR agencies, Laura Beck is focused on independent marketing and PR consulting as well as running her own commerce business, www.stripedshirt.com. Until May 2010, she ran the Austin Texas office of Porter Novelli for nearly 10 years, opening it at the very end of the dot com bubble in 2000 at 29 years old. Under Laura’s leadership, the office grew to staff 16 people and serviced upwards to 25 clients at a time. Laura’s focus for the office and personal passion has been largely technology start ups, working with entrepreneurs to bring their dreams to life, gain critical visibility, create positive buzz. That continues now as an independent consultant.

Laura’s expertise — and love — lies in client counsel, project management, strategic program development, media relations and staff development. Laura prides herself with being active on the press front lines every day and loves nothing better than successfully placing a good story, which she still does regularly, all the way up the line to New York Times profiles, and Wall Street Journal reviews. In fact, Laura was named one of PR Source’s 35 Top Tech Communicators of 2008, as so voted by the media.

Prior to her 10+ years with Porter Novelli in Austin, she was with the Boston office of the agency. Before that, Laura was with Lois Paul & Partners. She began the 18-year agency stretch at Weber Group, now Weber Shandwick. Laura is a decade-long Austin Texas resident now, but her Boston roots will always run deep with love for her Boston College alma mater, and the Red Sox, so much so that one of her two little Texas-born daughters sports the middle name Fenway. You can bet all these Boston colors, and many more, are represented by stripedshirt.