How to Measure Social Media like a CIPR Boffin


Ever bent a 15cm ruler until it snapped in your hands? It hurts loads.

Time to stop using our measuring tools in the wrong way – especially when it comes to social.

Here’s my breakdown of a CIPR event on Social Measuring and Evaluation hosted by Richard Bagnall in London last week.

Richard is one of those guys who can lock a tractor beam to your attention span for as long as he wants, purely by knowing his stuff. Think Professor Brian Cox on physics – Richard Bagnall is the same on PR, content and social engagement.

It’s fair to say I might have overdone it on the note-taking during his talk but I’ve simplified my scribblings here (kind of):

Moving away from the abacus

Counting is not measuring – not any more.Abacus

When RB began to talk about social measuring tools and their flaws, it got me thinking of that old problem with TV ratings; just like ratings never used to take into account households with two TVs, SMM tools don’t identify users interacting with content on multiple platforms,,

,,they count all interactions as if they’re coming from unique fingertips.

I am feeling ambitious so let’s pretend the Facebook button at the bottom of this post displays three ‘likes’.

This particular sharing button includes the FB shares and comments in its total count too – this could mean all three ‘likes’ effectively come from the same person.

I could have shared my post, liked it and, being an egotistical biff, I could have commented on it through Facebook as well,,but still it would seem like three separate people had engaged with the post here.

This is one very basic example and there are much more accurate social sharing buttons out there (which I really should be installing), but the point can be applied across the board,,

A reader who Tweets a link may also +1 it at the same time – does that mean you can justifiably say the associated content has reached more than one pair of eyes?

It’s also worth remembering how a RT does not necessarily mean another person has clicked, read and engaged with the content to which it links.

It works in the opposite direction too, as more than one person could be viewing the content on the same screen.

Richard Bagnall was in no way discrediting the usefulness of tools for social analytics, I took his point as an underlining of how they are not enough – not when it comes to measuring engagement anyway.

More on what Bagnall thinks on quantitative metrics can be found here.

Manual is the only way to go

I’ll be honest, I was hoping the CIPR session might have revealed a single tool which could monitor social engagement to such a credible level, that I could come away and start automating some belter reports for my online content. I was wrong.

Instead, I was indirectly told to stop looking for shortcuts and start investing some of my time into real measurement. Bagnall enlightened me to how manual research is the only way.

Just as a heads up, the Social Analytics Chrome extension is cool. It’s not ‘the answer’ but it can be useful.

How to Measure Social Media Engagement 

purpose of pr

First, the client’s social media campaign objectives and KPIs need to be aligned with those of the overall business; increasing sales, traffic, brand-awareness, knowledge etc.

This is where that 15cm ruler comes back into play Рand breaking it into pieces is not so bad an idea after all.

Richard explained that social media does not exclusively belong to PR and in order to measure SM, we need to fragment the entire measuring exercise and assign the shrapnel to different business objectives:

  1. Brand Exposure
    Opportunities to see (impressions)
    Brand mentions
    Share of conversation
    Search rank
  2. Engagement
    Comments/post ratio
    Number of links
    URL visits
    Resolution rate
  3. Influence
    Likelihood to recommend
  4. Action
    Target-page visits

Which out of this quartet of social media shiznit interests you the most?

I guess that depends on your position within an organisation.

As a copywriter, I like the engagement side of things but if you’re a board director, you probably just want to focus on Number 4. Either way, it all needs to be taken into account for the most accurate and useful measurement of social media.

A lot of this is already measured by online marketers – just ask any SEO working on a month-end report. Still, breaking it up into more manageable sections, using different measuring tools for each and sending the sectioned results to the relevant people, makes a lot of sense to me.

What next?

So, we need a whole pencil case of measuring apparatus in order to capture the true social impact of our content. But where and when do we stop measuring?04-02-2013 08-45-53

Bagnall highlighted how before digital, a PR company could simply add up the press cuttings from a certain day or week, to measure the success of their copy.

Now, a blog is permanent and can be shared online over a series of weeks, months or even years. Measuring the success of something that is not time-bound can get kind of tricky.

What I gathered from RB’s speech and this particular point, was that we cannot judge the social impact of a solitary piece of content accurately enough within a week, we can only review, compare and contrast all the different metrics, for all the different pieces of content, using all the best social measuring tools and manual quarrying, after a longer period of time – campaign-long or at least quarter-long.

The challenge here is that clients, particularly when it comes to PR, want instant feedback and results.

I suppose it depends on the strength of your relationships with clients, whether you can persuade them to get on-board with a long-ball analytics programme and whether you have the resource to manually look into social interaction with your content.

My wide-eyed advice – get hold of that resource no matter what and make time to bend your ruler to a snap, because what is the point in your copywriting if you cannot monitor, adapt and justify it in the right way, to the right people, at the right time, through the right medium, to achieve your own objectives?

What do you think? I’d love to get some views on this from a variety of marketing roles. Drop your thoughts in a comment and I’ll get back to you.


Rob Philbin


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