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Can You Justify Your Existence…or, better yet, Your Social Media Budget?

According to the latest Generally Accepted Practices survey, a study of more than 600 senior corporate communicators taken in 2012, the work of people responsible for managing the marketing and public relations of major businesses has changed considerably over the last few years — and not all for the best.  Budgetary responsibility for what the survey called “marketing/product PR” is now held by just half of senior corporate communicators.  In 2009, 61 percent of respondents in a similar survey said that they held the marketing purse strings.

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Writing in Communication World, an industry magazine, Jerry Swerling and Bughardt Tenderich, two academics who oversaw the study, put the reason for that loss of control down to the decline of the traditional media and, of course, the rise of social media.  Some 70 percent of communications departments said that they now had budgetary responsibility for social media monitoring and 66 percent for social media participation, a growth of 17 percent and 13 percent respectively since 2009.

But they also noted something else.  At the same time that senior communications professionals were losing control over their companies’ marketing budgets and being given more control over funds spent on Facebook, Twitter and even wiki sites, they were also being asked to account for that spending.  The budgets allocated by corporate PR departments to measurement and evaluation have doubled since 2009, from 4 percent of the total budget to 9 percent in 2011.

Companies are shifting their promotional efforts away from the press and traditional advertising, and moving to social media, but they want to be sure that that money is being well spent.

How Do You Measure a LOL?

That brings up a major challenge.  While it is very easy to draw a clear line from a click on an AdSense unit to a purchase on a website, it is much harder to show the benefits of an ongoing Facebook presence or to put the value of a Twitter page into numbers the company’s accountant can recognize.  Pointing to follower figures is helpful only when you can be sure that those followers are both genuine people and likely customers.  The number of comments and views a post or a photo receives might be impressive, but as a measurement of the success of a social media campaign, it only goes so far.

Facebook and other social media sites with their eyes on businesses do what they can to help, of course.  Facebook’s Insights provide a wealth of graphs that track activity and provide a measurement of reach — the ability of your content to move beyond your circle of followers to their circles of followers.  LinkedIn makes much of showing the size of even free users’ networks and the number of times they have turned up in search results.  Twitter gives some figures back to the advertisers on its site.

Wrong

Those are all numbers that we need to know not just how to use, but how to use properly.  We need to know why follower numbers are ticking up or leveling off, and we need to know not just how many people are commenting on posts, but how many are commenting positively and offering helpful feedback.

We need to be able to justify our social media budgets if we are going to keep them growing.  ROI can be finessed and measured in almost every area (and not “BS’d”) if done right.

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