I've been thinking a lot about social media measurement lately – for a number of related reasons: social media is playing a bigger and bigger role in marketing every hour; I'm spending more of my time doing social media work for clients and they want things measured; and since I'm doing more of this type of work, I have a personal desire to know it's valuable.
Social media, social platforms, social marketing – whatever you call it, it's still evolving.  But it's not just the platforms, tools and their applications that are evolving; we're evolving too – in how we interact, how we think, how we understand the world around us.  And how do you measure evolution?  You can't, really, except in hindsight, because you don't always know where you're going.

Brian Solis has an interesting post on how quickly and how broadly the business world is changing – "The Evolution of Social Media and Business."

Tempering enthusiasm for and commitment to social media with the realism of one who knows the pace of organizational change, one of the clients I've been working with has said insightfully, "We'll crawl before we walk, walk before we jog, jog before we sprint."

I think this parallel to human development is an apt metaphor for social media measurement because it indicates different thresholds of accomplishments for different stages of an evolution.  With an infant or toddler, each word, each step, each new motor skill is a major accomplishment.  Even if your goal was for your child to be an Olympic miler, you wouldn't use quarter-mile splits as a yardstick from the get-go.
This is not to say goals are unimportant.  Quite the contrary.  Goals are of the utmost importance when using social media for any business purpose.  However, in thinking about measurement lately, I've come to the conclusion that metrics (and expectations) must incorporate both the end goal and the stage of the evolution.
To bring this back to a business example, if your goal is to drive 5% of sales through social media, but you have no presence, it's foolish – not to mention demoralizing – to measure progress against that goal in the first weeks and months you're working toward it.
While there's a great deal that's been written by various thought leaders and analysts on the different stages of social media participation, I've found little that ties those stages to metrics.  I'm still mulling over what the different stages might be, but here are my initial thoughts, with just a few divisions.
1. Baby Steps – Measure activity
When you're starting out, every effort that goes into laying the future success is important.  If you've only posted one update on Twitter, you're second one is a 100% improvement.  Examples:

  • # of Tweets/blog posts/comments posted (by you)
  • # of people within your company using social media

Use anecdotes – a new relationship formed over Twitter, a customer discovered on Facebook – at this point, qualitative measurements of real experiences can help ensure buy-in and continued support.  Success breeds success, but you have to define it differently at the beginning.

2: Making Progress – Measure initiative and reaction
At some point after an individual, group or company gets started with social media, there's a stage where more quantifiable metrics are available and telling.  Examples:

  • # of followers/friends/fans/group members
  • # of Twitter @replies or direct messages
  • # of Web site visitors referred from social media sites

3. Making it Matter – Measure Desired Outcomes

There's a great risk in dwelling too long on the types of metrics in stage 2, I think, because they don't map to goals.  If your business goal is to increase sales through social media, it doesn't matter if you have 100,000 followers who visit your Web site.  If the final metrics don't match your goal, they're useless.  Once social media runs in the blood of your organization you can measure how you're using it to impact real business results.

Examples (representing different business goals):

  • Revenues from sales closed through social media
  • Customer support issues discovered/resolved through social media
  • # of new hires initiated through social media

Every business will find a different mix social media metrics to fit their goals.  Here are a few additional resources to give you a few ideas:

Take a look at the links above, and feel free to share your thoughts on which work best with different stages of social evolution.
Contributed by Catharine Morgan.  Follow her @c_morgan