Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Twitter Metrics? Why Bother?

There sure is lots of buzz these days about how to measure Twitter. One recent question submitted was typical… “How do we measure the value of the tweets we’re producing every day?”

Wrong question.

The right question is “SHOULD we measure the value of the tweets we’re producing every day?”

For the vast majority of companies out there, I think not.

It seems to me that Twitter is a productivity tool. You use it to efficiently communicate messages to people who have indicated a desire to hear them. In doing so, you also benefit from their willingness to re-tweet along to others they may know with similar interests.

As such, the inherent value proposition of Twitter is to REPLACE higher cost avenues of reaching interested parties with LOWER cost avenues. Consequently, the financial value of using Twitter for business is the cost savings of reaching the same people more efficiently and/or the now-affordable opportunity of communicating deeper into the universe of current and prospective customers. All of which is, to a reasonable degree, measurable.

So why am I skeptical about measuring tweets?

First off, there are no platform costs for tweeting. No software to buy. No hardware to install. Just use any web-enabled keyboard and you’re off. Everything you need to get started is free. If you’re not adding staff, and/or you’re not keeping staff to tweet when they would otherwise be expendable, then you have NO incremental cost. If this is your situation (and for most of you I suspect it is), then why bother measuring something that comes at no cost? Save your marketing measurement energy (and that of your management team) for bigger, more expensive issues with more meaningful marketing metrics.

But if you add or divert headcount (staff or contractor) to tweeting in a way that adds to cost, you should be prepared to forecast and measure the impact.

Your Twitter business case for adding additional headcount (aka “Chief Tweeting Officer”) is based on the premise that more/better tweeting will drive measurable impact on the business in some way. So you would compare the incremental headcount cost of the tweeters with the expected incremental impact on the business in terms of:

A) Incremental customer acquisition;
B) Incremental customer retention ;
C) Incremental share-of-customer;
D) Incremental margin per customer or transaction;
E) Improvements in staff or channel partner performance;
F) Accelerated transactional value; or
G) Early indication of problems and the resulting benefit of acting quickly to fix them.

Each of these could be determined through a series of inexpensive experiments intended to prove/disprove the hypothesis that tweeting will somehow result in economically attractive behavior. Some might happen as a direct result of the tweeting. Others may be indirect results in association with combinations of additional marketing tactics (e.g. paid search or display advertising). Define your hypotheses clearly and succinctly, then monitor tweet consumption…

Anyone rolling their eyes yet?

Bottom line is that tweeting, like all social media activities, are engagement tools. We use them to try to engage current/prospective customers in further dialogue of investigation of the solutions we can offer them. So from a measurement perspective, that suggests we focus on what specific types of behavioral engagement we are trying to drive, and what economic impacts we anticipate as a result. Measure changes in those two elements and you’re well on your way to success.

There are always ways to measure marketing effectiveness. Everything in marketing can be measured. But the first and most important question to ask is “what would I do differently if I knew the answer to the question I’m asking?” Only then can you decide how to PRAGMATICALLY balance measurement with action.

My friend Scott Deaver, EVP at Avis car rental is fond of saying “don’t bother if you can’t weigh it on a truck scale.” I think that applies very often to twittering away time measuring Twitter.

Pat LaPointe is Managing Partner at MarketingNPV – specialty advisors on measuring payback on marketing investments, and publishers of MarketingNPV Journal available online free at www.MarketingNPV.com.

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