Measuring Social Media: Review of Two Recent Books

As my first article for this newsletter, I wanted to review two recent books about social media measurement and analysis: John Lovett’s Social Media Metrics Secrets (Wiley, 2011) and Marshall Sponder’s Social Media Analytics: effective tools for building, interpreting, and using metrics (McGraw Hill, 2011). I thought reviewing these books for this first contribution was a great opportunity to talk about what seems to be the only important topic in Digital Marketing nowadays: social media.

First off, I must confess to the reader that I am not a big enthusiast of all the hype surrounding Social Media, which often has an air of the one we were all caught up in the late 90’s.

However, Lovett and Sponder produced two excellent books, for different reasons, and surely seriously established the social media analytics field, which to date had not really been circumscribed by previous efforts.

John Lovett is certainly among the top Web Analytics experts in the world, and has long been a commentator and analyst of Digital Marketing measurement domains. I was first a little surprised with how much efforts John puts in advancing the social media cause, which I thought should have been a given in a book about how to analyze them. If you’re in need of being convinced, or to convince colleagues, Lovett will give you a very extensive argumentative framework on why investing in social media. Actually, and in fact not surprisingly when one knows the author’s background, Social Media Metrics Secrets does a much better job at building the Social Media case than many of the current books on the topic.

Lovett presents at length many possible metrics that your business could use to measure its Social Media efforts, and there could be detailed discussions about the definition and importance of each. I think the most interesting aspect of the book is Part II, “Managing Social Media with Analytics”, in which John extensively discusses the organisational implementation and execution of Social Media analytics, without which all those sexy metrics wouldn’t amount to much.

Action has always been analytics ultimate goal. To that effect, I was shocked by this passage: “Don’t use Web Analytics as your template here because the entire field of Web Analytics has failed miserably at driving actions” (p.138). While brutally dismissing the Web Analytics field in that regard, John Lovett gives several instructions on how to organize the social media analytics function in the business so that to avoid the traps in which Web Analytics supposedly fell into. It is my opinion, however, that what Lovett recommends for Social Media has always been what many experts were recommending doing with Web Analytics, and I don’t see, following those recommendations, how companies wouldn’t fall into the same pitfalls. Web Analytics hasn’t failed at driving actions; companies have at executing them properly, and I don’t believe they will be more competent this time. Some will succeed, while the majority will fail for a long time before getting it.

The third, and last, part of Social Media Metrics Secrets, “Finding the Big Social Media Payoff” is a true, powerful implementation program executives would be well advice to read before developing their Social Media strategy (or let their agencies determine that strategy). All in all, a very good book.

Marshall Sponder, as the sub-title clearly stated, focuses more on tools in his Social Media Analytics, and thus has written a very practical book. In each chapter, Marshall (a long-time veteran of Digital Marketing measurement) presents several technological platforms, which will certainly please the more “software-rather-than-concepts” inclined managers. Not that he doesn’t tackle many of Social Media measurement concepts, and theory, but the reader will find a much more down-to-earth, how-to book in this one than the Lovett’s one.  I believe however that it will render it more quickly obsolete, since many of the discussed products are at their start-up stage, unless Marshall publishes regular new editions.

This doesn’t mean that the reader will not find high-flying ideas in Sponder’s book, au contraire. I particularly liked chapter 8, “Advanced Social Analytics: Implementation and Monitoring Scorecards”, which leaves much room to Gary Angel’s thinking, one luminary contributor to online analytics, strangely absent from Lovett’s book. Still true to his practical angle, Sponder pushes the envelope much further in that chapter. Marshall reminds us that “the choice of tools and platforms […] ends up shaping the reports, and good analysis may be much harder if the wrong sets of tools are in place.”

I would even suggest that instrumentation, as science has taught us, will shape our view of the world, and tools, although certainly not themselves an end, can certainly influence what we see and how we see it. And reading Social Media Analytics, I couldn’t stop feeling a certain malaise I have always had with Web Analytics: that tools are telling us what is important, rather than us telling them what we need. Is this a sign of still immature industries? I guess so. I for one believe that Web Analytics is slowly getting out of the tool paradigm, and I certainly wish that Social Media analytics wouldn’t spend 15 years before imposing a strong conceptual foundation tools will have to adapt to instead of the opposite.

Marshall Sponder wrote an excellent book everyday practitioners will love, and although there are several areas where the two books intertwined, I see them somehow as rather complementary, and should both belong to the well-informed Online Marketing Manager’s bookshelf.