Can so­cial me­dia be measured?

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The short answer is yes.

The long answer is a bit more complicated. The question was the focus of this week’s Third Tuesday Toronto (which actually took place on a Tuesday!). A panel of experts in social media measurement and web analytics assembled to tackle this contentious issue: how do you measure something that is so fluid and, as yet, undefined?

The experts were: Katie Paine, president of KD Paine and Partners, a company that helps its clients measure the success of their communications campaigns; Marshall Sponder, a senior web analyst at Monster.com, member of the Board of Directors of the Web Analytics Association (WAA) for Social Media and The Analytics Guru; and Marcel Lebrun, President of Radian6, a company that provides monitoring and analysis tools for social media to PR professionals.

This is what I took out of the discussion:

  • Before social media can be measured, you have to decide on your business goal. Does it involve improving customer service? If so, focus on the number of comments on your company’s website, perhaps, or what is being said about you in the blogosphere. If your goal is to increase sales, find out how many people are flogging your product or service; you could try to correlate that with your advertising or marketing campaigns.
  • There is no standard, no “magic bullet.” Social media is in its early state and remains undefined. Sponder identifies a need for standards among social media measurement to enact best practices and benchmarks. (This is similar to the MRP standard for traditional media monitoring.)
  • Traditional measurement criteria, such as tone, circulation and prominence, are difficult to apply to social media; different parameters are needed. If PR is about building relationships with audiences, and social media facilitates this, then it follows that we should measure the conversations that are happening. Are they positive?
  • In Paine’s experience, boards of directors are driving the demand for social media measurement. They are losing control of their brands to their customers and want to prevent DellHell-like incidents from happening at their organizations. The most important way to measure is to listen – to your customers, your competitors, the industry. Learn from being engaged.

The basic premise is to measure social media for the relationships, not the numbers. Find out if your audience is talking about you, what they are saying and how many people are joining in the conversation.


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Impacting the world, one event at a time

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(The following is a profile I wrote for my Public Relations Writing course. It was originally published on The Word, the blog of the CC+PR program at Centennial.)

Kate Millar found herself at a crossroads following her stint in Centennial’s Corporate Communications and Public Relations program.

She wasn’t sure what kind of career she wanted, but knew event planning had to be a part of it. It was only after interning at the York University Foundation that Millar found her true calling.

“A fundraiser is the perfect time to interact with your donors and really understand how your organization is impacting the world and the local community. You get to tap into the people who have a real love for [the cause].

“I then realized I am more of an event planner than I am a PR person.”

Following her internship, Millar was involved in planning a run for 10,000 people for the Mississauga Marathon, another not-for-profit organization and a cause close to her runner’s heart. She also worked in the development department at McMaster University before ending up at the Toronto International Film Festival Group (TIFFG), a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to transform the way people see the world through the moving image.

As the development assistant for special events at TIFFG, Millar’s role includes planning stewardship events and planning the film festival’s staff and volunteer appreciation party. But it is managing the relationships with sponsors that she finds the most challenging and most rewarding.

“It’s getting these people on board and pitching it in a way that says, ‘You have to give it to us for free.’” Her passion and experience in the not-for-profit sector have made Millar very successful in maintaining strong partnerships with TIFFG sponsors.

Millar credits her successful career to the comprehensive nature of Centennial’s program, and uses the knowledge she gained to this day. “It gives you a great base of solid skills. You can start off in one area in your career and a couple of years later come to another sector where you have to start drawing on different skills.

Millar believes she learned the most from the Event Management course. “It taught you how to go out into the community, really focus on the vision and reason you are throwing an event.” She is also grateful for the writing courses and advises current and future students not to take them lightly. “Even if you don’t take a heavy writing job, you still need to be very vigilant about your messaging and how you communicate.

“There will be courses you really enjoy and there will be courses you don’t enjoy,” she says, “but you just have to do the work; you never know when you will have to draw on the skills they teach you.”


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Musings

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Forgive me. It’s been two months since my last post. My mental energies have been devoted to school, school, school. Now that the worst is over, I can return to my musings.

Here are some from the past few weeks:

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I attended an IABC seminar a few weeks ago (All-Star Social Media). Shel Holtz gave a great presentation on the communicator’s leadership role in integrating social media tools into their communications plans.

I spoke to a former colleague afterwards who remains unconvinced about social media. And he’s not alone. There are a few holdouts in my class, my family. And these are the very same people who have Facebook accounts. The irony alone kills me.

I’ve been privy to both sides of the argument. On the one end, you have the “social media as a fad” faction; on the other lies the rabid social media juggernaut. I plant myself somewhere in the middle, and here’s why:

Social media is not for everybody. Communicators should not jump in and acquire social media tools without some intelligence-gathering beforehand. Find out how your audience likes to receive your news. A publicly traded company may have a more conservative audience in their investors and should keep to the tried-and-true methods of communication (eg. newswire, mailings, e-mail distribution). There are also regulations surrounding the dissemination of material news; there must be some level of control so it is best to tread wisely in this area.

Use the force wisely. The road to social media is littered with companies who have attempted to reach out to their audiences using social media and failed miserably. (I’m looking at you, Wal-Mart.) It’s akin to a middle-aged man dancing in a nightclub filled with twenty-somethings and trying to look cool. (I’ve seen this; it’s funny and sad at the same time.) You have to know the rules before you enter the blogosphere; it’s already filled with detritus of johnnies-come-lately who jumped on the bandwagon then quickly jumped off once they realized that a) they don’t really have anything to say or b) it takes a long-term commitment to keep a blog. (My colleague, Mike, calls this Noodle Code – blogs with no planning or direction.)

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I saw this article on “wedding wikis” on Wall Street Journal’s website (www.wsj.com). It works like this: a couple are planning their wedding, a very personal event to celebrate their union as man and wife. They create an online polling site where they ask their prospective guests to help them decide on such mundane matters as, “Should I wear my hair up or down?” (if the groom-to-be is asking this, then it wouldn’t really be mundane, would it?) or “What song should we have our first dance to?”

Have we become that connected to each other that we must share every minute detail of our lives with each other? It is socially acceptable to ask your guests to help plan YOUR wedding? I’m already paying for the priviledge of attending, is that not enough?

As a singleton, weddings are not my favourite events to attend. I mostly go for the food and try to avoid catching the bouquet. (It’s simple – stand at the back, don’t put your hands up and steer clear of the rabid bridesmaids who will gladly wrestle each other for a few gladiolas and roses.) The one joy I get is to see how bad or great a wedding can be. I want to be surprised, so that I can regale my co-workers or classmates with funny stories (e.g. my aunts dancing to Strokin’; the flower girl lifting her dress up over her head during the ceremony). Spontaneity is the key to life and having everybody in on the fun is, well, not fun.

Again, you also have to do your research – how many of your guests are social media savvy? Is it going to come down to a few deciding on behalf of many? And is this a matter of the couple really trying to tailor their event for the pleasure of their guests? Or is it just an attention-getting manouver for a Bridezilla? As the author of the piece suggests, the true nature behind a wedding wiki is how faithful the couple will be to the choices of their guests. If polling results favour an erotic wedding cake, I wonder how many brides would honour that. If I set up a wiki for my wedding, I know I would.

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A previous post was devoted to Tina Fey. I am a Fey-natic and looked forward to her movie, Baby Mama. I saw it and was disappointed.

Have you ever walked out of a movie and rewrote the ending in your head? And was the rewrite much better than the drek on the screen? I walked out of the theatre dejected. Tina, I thought, how could you do this to me? The movie ended up another paean to domesticity. Literally. The last scene heading into the credits is littered with babies and families. What happened to the single woman who wanted a baby on her own terms?

I will forgive her, however – she didn’t write the movie, just starred in it. I will wipe this movie from my memory by watching back-to-back episodes of 30 Rock and old episodes of SNL.


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Have a happy period” — how (oxy)moronic.

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Below is a letter from one Wendi Aarons, a frequent contributor to literary websites such as mcsweeneys.net, to one James Thatcher, brand manager for Proctor and Gamble, regarding their Always feminine products. It was sent last year (and was voted PC Magazine’s 2007 editors’
choice for best webmail-award-winning letter) but I posted it now because: one, it still resonates; and two, it’s a good example of brands and the emotional ties people have to them, which is a topic I recently studied in class. It goes to show you that no matter how good your product is, your brand should be better. Read on for a great laugh; my comments follow the letter.

Dear Mr. Thatcher,

I have been a loyal user of your Always maxi pads for over 20 years, and I appreciate many of their features. Why, without the LeakGuard Core™ or Dri-Weave™ absorbency, I’d probably never go horseback riding or salsa dancing, and I’d certainly steer clear of running up and down the beach in tight, white shorts. But my favorite feature has to be your revolutionary Flexi-Wings. Kudos on being the only company smart enough to realize how crucial it is that maxi pads be aerodynamic. I can’t tell you how safe and secure I feel each month knowing there’s a little F-16 in my pants.

Have you ever had a menstrual period, Mr. Thatcher? Ever suffered from “the curse”? I’m guessing you haven’t. Well, my “time of the month” is starting right now. As I type, I can already feel hormonal forces violently surging through my body. Just a few minutes from now, my body will adjust and I’ll be transformed into what my husband likes to call “an inbred hillbilly with knife skills.” Isn’t the human body amazing?

As brand manager in the feminine-hygiene division, you’ve no doubt seen quite a bit of research on what exactly happens during your customers’ monthly visits from Aunt Flo. Therefore, you must know about the bloating, puffiness, and cramping we endure, and about our intense mood swings, crying jags, and out-of-control behavior. You surely realize it’s a tough time for most women. In fact, only last week, my friend Jennifer fought the violent urge to shove her boyfriend’s testicles into a George Foreman Grill just because he told her he thought Grey’s Anatomy was written by drunken chimps. Crazy! The point is, sir, you of all people must realize that America is just crawling with homicidal maniacs in capri pants. Which brings me to the reason for my letter.

Last month, while in the throes of cramping so painful I wanted to reach inside my body and yank out my uterus, I opened an Always maxi pad, and there, printed on the adhesive backing, were these words: “Have a Happy Period.”

Are you fucking kidding me?

What I mean is, does any part of your tiny middle-manager brain really think happiness—actual smiling, laughing happiness—is possible during a menstrual period? Did anything mentioned above sound the least bit pleasurable? Well, did it, James? FYI, unless you’re some kind of sick S&M freak girl, there will never be anything “happy” about a day in which you have to jack yourself up on Motrin and Kahlúa and lock yourself in your house just so you don’t march down to the local Walgreens armed with a hunting rifle and a sketchy plan to end your life in a blaze of glory. For the love of God, pull your head out, man. If you just have to slap a moronic message on a maxi pad, wouldn’t it make more sense to say something that’s actually pertinent, like “Put Down the Hammer” or “Vehicular Manslaughter Is Wrong”? Or are you just picking on us?

Sir, please inform your accounting department that, effective immediately, there will be an $8 drop in monthly profits, for I have chosen to take my maxi-pad business elsewhere. And though I will certainly miss your Flexi-Wings, I will not for one minute miss your brand of condescending bullshit. And that’s a promise I will keep. Always.

Best,

Wendi Aarons
Austin, TX

There is really not much I can add to this. It’s brilliant.

My question is: What kind of focus groups did they run? Was it made up of five-year-olds? Men? I kind of understand the logic behind the HAHP brand – they are trying to make a negative experience into a positive one. But having a menstrual cycle is like going to war. You don’t want to do it but you know it must be done. You grit your teeth and trudge into battle, Advil in one hand, chocolate in the other. There is nothing happy about it, P&G. Just give us the equipment we need to fight and wish us luck. Would you wish a soldier a happy war? I didn’t think so.

(On a side note, I enjoy the camaraderie menstruation creates between women, even if they are strangers to one another. All you have to do is mention you are having your period and no words need be spoken – a simple roll of the eye and nod of the head is confirmation that yes, they feel your pain. It’s like Lee Marvin telling John Cassavetes about the shrapnel in his leg and Cassavetes just nodding, pointing to his own leg and handing Marvin a cigarette. It’s a bonding experience.)

I guess Aarons’s letter didn’t have the intended effect. If you visit the website for Always, the greeting is still there, wishing you and yours a very happy period. The US site even has games, recipes and tips on throwing a HAHP party. (What would happen if you get a group of menstruating women in one room? You wouldn’t stick around long enough to find out, that’s what would happen.) If a box of Always products  had a voice wishing you a happy period when you opened it, it would probably be very cloying and aggravating, the same voice that tells you your call is in sequence and will be answered by the next available customer service agent.

That is why I no longer purchase Always products. It was a hard decision, as they do have some great offerings. But I do not like to be patronized by my feminine products. It’s bad enough I have to pay the GST on them.


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Spin this! I challenge you.

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Being a student of PR I now see life through a different perspective. For example, if I came across something so deranged and unbelievable, I would have simply laughed and e-mailed it to all my friends, creating a viral joke that would have lasted, oh, perhaps a day and led to a few minutes of decreased work flow. Then I would have forgotten about it and moved on to the daily Dilbert or the Will Ferrell video with the cussing baby.

But now I see something like this and I think to myself, who’s the poor sap who has to do PR for this?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SjoYjvS75ys]

Introducing the Breast Massage Robot. Created by one misguided Dr. Wang Wei, who saw a greater need in the world for this than, say, a cure for cancer.

After I laughed and e-mailed it to all my friends (some things never change) I started thinking about possible media plans for the Breast Massage Robot. What would the objective be? To increase sales? Attract investors? Make all women very, very afraid?

We are currently learning about media plans in one of our classes so I’ve come up with possible key messages for the Breast Massage Robot. Feel free to contribute your own.

Key message #1: You must, you must, you must increase your bust! (Apologies to Judy Blume.)

Key message #2: I, Robot. You, keep very still.

Key message #3: Klaatu barada nikto!

Dr. Wei’s business proposal is included after the jump, for those investors interested in “corporating” with him. (Source: Gizmodo.com)

(more…)


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