Keeping Score in Social Media

By Dr. Don Roy, Professor at Middle Tennessee State University

The use of social media to develop customer relationships can be compared to interactions with co-workers at an office party. Many of your co-workers may be relative strangers in that you may know their names and perhaps even the names of their significant others and children, but the relationships lack depth. Conversations outside the usual environment of the relationships allow for a greater quantity and quality of communication. Similarly, social media can humanize the faceless, impersonal image of a brand, becoming more of a friend or trusted advisor to a customer than a business that exists to sell things.

The potential impact of social media on customer relationships with a brand calls for measuring engagement, not exposure. Yet many managers look to measures of reach to quantify social media’s impact on brand building. Let’s consider the sports industry as an example. Sports properties are driven by reach measures such as ticket sales and TV ratings. Extending that mindset to the digital marketing space, the reach of a sports brand in terms of followers or friends on social networks is used as evidence of brand power.

A measure developed by Coyle Media, known as the Sports Fan Graph, ranks professional and collegiate sports brands according to the number of Twitter followers and Facebook friends. According to the Sports Fan Graph as of December 2010, the NBA was the top-ranked brand, based on the sum of its Twitter followers (just under 2.2 million) and Facebook likes (approximately 7 million). In contrast, the NHL ranked 19th, with a total reach of about 1.7 million (471,000 on Twitter and about 1.2 million on Facebook).

If we are to accept a measure like the Sports Fan Graph, we can conclude that brands with high rankings like the NBA enjoy far greater impact in their social media programs than lower-ranked brands. But not so fast! Measures of social media reach support the hypothesis that strong brands in the offline world are among the most popular digital brands, too. Whether the brand is Starbucks, CNN, Oprah, or Manchester United, success breeds success when it comes to building virtual relationships. But how meaningful are those relationships?

A measure like the Sports Fan Graph is an indicator of popularity, but how well liked a brand is may not be an ideal indicator of what social media efforts can do to build a brand by strengthening customer relationships. Traditional scorekeeping measures may be straightforward to calculate and interpret, and they may also be favored by managers who equate popularity with effectiveness. However, brand building is not based on winning a popularity contest; it is fueled by customers’ willingness to be in a relationship with a brand. Methods for keeping score are needed that link social media to enhancing brand relationships, not counting admirers.

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