Occassionally at conferences, a speaker comes along that is head and shoulders above the average. So it was this morning in Dallas, in delivery at least, listening to Scott Stratton. He started his talk hung over the back of a chair, with an “agony aunt” style discussion about his problems with social media. For a guy with over 50,000 followers on Twitter, I would imagine that his problems are different to the average. He had some very interesting things to say about Social Media. Of course, I thought I should share with you the one element I didn’t agree with.

Scott was extremely pragmatic about what Social Media is and what it is not. He started with the notion that talking about “ROI” in social media is ridiculous. He pointed out the obvious. In business, we all understand the power of networking meetings. Like minded people in the same room create chemistry. To put it another way – people do business with people they know and trust. Don’t expect to  make a deal with CocaCola for selling your new sucrose substitute unless you are already known in the industry – or at least you partner with someone respected in the industry. So offline, we all understand the power of networking. So why should it be any different online? It isn’t. If you are the person in a networking breakfast that pushes his business card onto everyone and collects cards, even though there is no common business to be had… that person exists all over the internet.

Now Scott suggested that you don’t go into offline networking measuring “ROI” – which I disagree with. Over the years, I have been able to demonstrate convincingly (to myself at least) the financial, qualitative and quantitative successes associated with me attending these conferences – which is my form of networking. Over half of Receptional’s clients would not be ours today if I did not attend conferences. That translates into some pretty impressive bottom line numbers.

But ROI aside, the approach to Social Media that Scott took started on a simple and key offline learning… relationships take time. Developing trust takes time. You need to be witty… intelligent… provocative… whatever makes you stand out… most of all you have to be noteworthy.

Please don’t feel I thought Scott was anything but brilliant as a presenter. He had some great insights and they are written up well by a good live blogger here.

The next presentation on the agenda, though, was a whole SESSION on measuring social media metrics which had those speakers and also Michael Gray who is always a good person to listen to. They showed all sorts of ways in which you could measure ROI on social media and also took the view that social media marketing needed more joined up tracking as the medium develops.

Receptional have a number of ways to potentially measure the effects of social media marketing, which you should ultimately be able to equate to a metric of meaning for you to have a good idea of ROI. For example:

Our Own URL Shortener

When web addresses are listed in social media sources, they are often listed using a short url system to take up less space on the screen. This is especially prevalent on Twitter, where any microblog post is limited to just 120 characters. Most people use a default shortening service. This is fine, but you lose ultimate control of the link to the owner of the URL shortening service. We therefore own a two letter domain of our own, so we can write urls like http://r3.ms/A . We retain ownership of the link and also we use this to count traffic. This is helpful, as it shows the reach and infuence that a social media post might carry. By using this simple system, then we can post a URL – then – when others also mention it (called retweets) the tracking effectvely moves with the retweet, so we ultimately most of the clicks that resulted from the original “tweet” or post.

Going one step further using Yahoo Web Analytics

The above tracking is far from foolproof. Some more advanced social media experts will also be measuring the effects of their own “reach”. When they re-tweet a post they may either use their own URL shortener to track clicks themselves, or they may link directly to the destination URL when they link from their own blog post, to help speed up the internet for their users. In this case you would lose the full scope of your efforts. However… all is not lost! In Yahoo Web Analytics, we can add a campaign tracking string… maybe “&source=social” to the end of the main story that we are looking to promote. So now the story above goes to http://www.receptional.com/blogs/seo/seo-evil-again&source=social which we can shorten again to http://r3.ms/2h. Now, even if another person or technology unravels our URL shortening system, this doesn’t matter, because they will shorten a URL which again unravels with this suffix. This is also a better way to track in any event, because now we can see the effect of our social media effirts alongside our other campaigns like PPC and display advertising, all from our Yahoo analytics interface and set up a report to email this information out to the account manager over time.

Going the Full Monty

By pulling the tracking into Yahoo Web Analytics, we now in theory have a joined up system. Yahoo’s tracking differs from Google’s, in that you can see the whole path that a user has gone through before completing an action. This means that even if they came to the site three times… once from Social Media, once from PPC and once from SEO – over a period of several days, then as long as they did not delete their cookies inbetween, we should be able to see all the “touch points” In theory you could also attach a monetory value to the conversion as well, but for now I think that we should all start to look more closely at setting up social media campaigns from the start using the a joined up tracking strategy. Then we should really be happy when we look at the results of a great social media idea.