Social Media Audits Balance Art and Science

Considerable evidence exists that social media is rapidly evolving from the shiny new marketing toy to a standard part of the media mix.Nowadays almost every campaign at least considers doing a YouTube video or a blog or a Facebook page. What sometimes gets forgotten is the post-mortem – was using social media worth it? Where do we go from here? That’s where a social media audit comes in.I’ve long held the belief that communications is as much art as science. Yes, I try to maximize reach and frequency and lower cost per thousand impressions for my clients, but that doesn’t capture the art of conversation, or even persuasion. There is no formula that says how many interactions it takes for me to enlighten, engage, educate or persuade you. Yet typically that’s what we communicators need to do.I used to think the word audit meant a precise accounting of assets and holdings. Then my accountant friends enlightened me that even in a profession as buttoned down as accounting, interpretation plays a large part. Had I only known 20 years ago when applying for student loans!A social media audit, then, is essentially the process of sifting through a bunch of raw data to try to determine if the social media program is “working” or optimized, according to the original goals of the program. You did have clearly stated goals, right?Numbers in isolation only tell you so much. The classic mistake is to proudly report something like “we have grown to 10,000 Twitter followers,” which says nothing about whether these are the right people to be communicating with, whether they are listening at all and, even if they are listening, if you are having any impact.Like a forensic auditor, it’s best to take a number of measures and then correlate the results to see what impact your program is having. You might consider gathering raw data on several different variables, such as reach (fans/followers), frequency (adherence to publishing schedules), engagement (conversations, comments, retweets, likes), influence (Klout score, Twitter ratios, blog score, pagerank) and sentiment (positive, negative or neutral brand mentions).For example, let’s say you have oodles of Twitter followers, but you broadcast only, talk only about your company, rarely or never chat with anyone and never get retweeted. It’s safe to say people are tuning you out. If your goal was to tick the social media box on your performance review, great, you’re done, but assuming you set out to actually do something useful, this is not it.
When I conduct a social media audit it necessarily starts with the question what were you trying to achieve?Without knowing where you intended to go, I can hardly assess if you are en route. Let’s say your objective was to increase positive mentions of a big project. The very word increase means you need a baseline measure – how many positive mentions did we have before we worked our magic, then how many positive mentions after we worked our magic. Did it increase? If yes, good, if not, why not? Good research is a critical companion to good communications, including social media. Some art coupled with some science is a powerful combination.I recommend a hub and spoke publishing system to my clients, where your website/blog is the centre of your media empire. Therefore, a critical data source for a social media audit is web analytics, usually Google Analytics.Google Analytics can tell you things like sources of traffic, entrance and exit points, time spent on the site, bounce rate and more. It really helps to know if people generally come to your site from Twitter but then run away screaming within 30 seconds. OK, Google doesn’t measure screaming (yet) but you get my point.All these things provide clues to the success or failure of your content marketing. And content marketing is at the heart of social media.Other tools such as Website Grader, Twitter Grader, Twitalyzer, Facebook Insights, YouTube Insights and more provide a plethora of data points with which to evaluate your social media efforts.To be useful, someone has to aggregate and assimilate all this data and draw conclusions from it. Hard work, but it beats chasing meaningless fans and followers, and it balances the art of communications (which can be tough to defend in the boardroom) with science.