It is deceptively challenging question: What was the impact of my content?
Some might answer by rattling off numbers about Facebook “likes” and re-tweets, or blog traffic or comments. Others might admit that they don’t have a clue, but reflect on the countless articles that they have seen on metrics and ROI and naively believe that there’s an easy way to find out.
The online world seduces us into thinking that a quick answer is just around the corner, and that there are ways to get the info that we want, given the right tools and know how. But this is not always true, e.g. see my column Trend Spotting in the Social Media Wild.
Of course there are many ways to measure social media and online content, at micro and macro, (i.e. aggregated) levels. But my goal with this topic was to go beyond the most convenient metrics and help readers better understand how to gauge the true impact of content, and answer questions such as: How many minds were changed as a result? Did you get an uptick in brand reputation from your content marketing campaign? Did the cash registers go ka ching?! (And does anyone really use cash registers any more?)
As it turns out, there are ways, some easier, others, more challenging. It all gets back to what we mean by “impact” and what results you are seeking. Below I share my thoughts on the topic, and input from a range of experts in the field of social media and content marketing.
A Classic PR and Journalistic Challenge
I first became fascinated with this type of question years ago when exploring the merits of various types press release distribution services. While it was possible to see which method resulted in more pickup – i.e. sites that posted the news pretty much unedited – it was much harder to know whether anyone actually read the releases or cared.
This is one example, but it illustrates some of the challenges of measuring content performance. Sure, there are many variables that can be tracked, but what do the data tell you? Why even bother, unless you can show some kind of real impact or result?
It is a question that journalists ask too. Their goals might be different, but they also want to know that their articles meant something to someone, drove change or otherwise inspired or swayed people. (the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is funding a research effort at USC to study this very issue and come up with new tools, see this NY Times article).
Content and social media marketers also want to be able to show that their campaigns are producing results. While the online world has brought with it myriad ways to measure, it is not always clear how to connect the dots.
There are the metrics jocks, the quants, who might say that there are many potential outcomes for content and social media marketing, and suggest a strategic approach that starts with setting goals and finishes with measuring results. It is hard to argue with this logic. But how far will it take you?
Soft vs. Hard Benefits, Scientific vs. Anecdotal Metrics
The good news is that there almost always is a way to get the information you are seeking, if you are willing to spend enough time and money. It basically gets down to assessing soft vs. hard results, and relying on measurements that are anecdotal vs. scientific.
Soft results are the most difficult to measure – they relate to intangible qualities like reputation or credibility, or reactions to content that don’t result in immediate traceable action. Hard results are just what they imply: incontrovertible things like inbound sales, leads, or conversions.
There are quantitative and anecdotal ways to understand the impact of content. The latter are not scientific, but do provide some strands of evidence to hold on to: someone comments or tweets that they loved your post. Or, your client tells you that they are getting a good reaction to a press release, more of their customers are talking about the great buzz in the market about the company; or perhaps the client reports that the campaign netted X new sales leads or brought in a major investor.
A more quantitative approach means throwing nice anecdotes out the window and applying cold, hard logic, the right measurement tools and the scientific method.
Don’t know what that great content campaign did for your brand’s reputation? Conduct pre and post campaign surveys. Want to know how many leads came in? Track referrals from social media channels back to landing page registrations. Wondering whether a social media release or traditional press release performs better? Or which headline will result in more social media shares? Run A/B tests to find out.
You can even go so far as to do marketing mix modeling, which attempts to parse the contribution from a specific campaign amidst other marketing and PR efforts (see my post Unleashing the Power of PR, which was about the book of the same name).
These are a few examples. But I wanted to run the question by others, to get their take and provide additional info. So I emailed the question to the following people; here are their answers.
“What do you mean by impact? You can measure any impact. Online. Offine. Conversion. Brand. Awfulness. Glory. You need to know what impact you want to have, then you ask what is the best way to measure it. 🙂 There are quantitative and qualitative ways to get the “brand in high esteem”. Let’s think of a brand. I constantly look for loyalty. Every single analytics tool helps you understand, with two minutes of effort, if the content is creating long term loyalty as defined by ‘getting them to come back and engage with me again and again over a lot period of time.’ Not sales, just getting them to come back again and again. I can then measure what content causes loyalty… one thing my content is trying to do: earn attention, measured via actual behavior, i.e. loyalty.
There are five other things I recommend from a quantitative perspective, see my post: Brand Measurement: Analytics & Metrics for Branding Campaigns.
Qualitatively, I love looking at things like ‘task completion rate,’ easily measured using very light, unobtrusive, surveys. If you are able to complete your task, I know you in some way are going to be pleased with the brand. Combined with things like Net Promoter Scores, easy enough to measure for $50 per year…”
“First, the content has to be relevant – that can be measured by the level of engagement, feedback (social media comments, reviews, etc.), social response or behavior (likes, RTs, other forms of distribution, etc.).
Second, content has to be actionable – does it ‘call for action’, can you convert from it? A typical example can be a review of a product that may be suggestive, if it comes from a credible or influencer resource.
Third, content quality has to be measurable as well. Is it a revered piece of art or just another post? Reviews and comments can measure that.
Finally, can content be optimizable; does it adhere to the SEO guidelines and does it produce great SEO and SEM results? That can be measured through a number of analytics and SEO measurement tools.”
As most people know, Joe runs the Content Marketing Institute and is one of the leading authorities on the topic. I emailed Joe and Robert Rose, CMI’s end user client consulting practice leader. Joe pointed me to this very relevant post that they had worked on together.
It discusses the benefits of taking an ROO (return on objective) vs. ROI-based approach, and advises: “Never show an analytics report to a CXO; they don’t care about all the details… your CXO only cares about three things: Is the content driving sales, saving costs or making our customers happier, thus helping with retention?”
It further describes COO measurements in terms of a content marketing pyramid that has the following sections, and the steps you can take to integrate this approach into your program:
- Primary content indicators: Primary indicators are the types of measurements that your CXO wants to know about (e.g., sales, costs savings, retention rates).
- Secondary content indicators: Secondary indicators are the types of measurements that help make the case for primary indicators (e.g., lead quality, lead quantity, shorter sales cycles).
- User indicators: These are the types of measurements that the content “doers” need to look at to help drive the secondary indicators (e.g., web traffic, “likes,” page views, search rankings).
As you can see, there are a range of opinions and approaches for measuring the impact of content marketing. What do you think? Have you tried to measure the impact of content, and if so, how?