Membership organisations and metrics: the case of social media

anthony_haynes bnu croppedAnthony Haynes writes: Recently (21 May) I attended Memcom, the annual conference on marketing for membership organisations. As last year, I enjoyed the occasion and learnt a good deal from the presentations.

Yet I also felt some vague sense of dissatisfaction — not with specific presentations but rather with the presentations (the selection that I attended) taken as a whole.

Afterwards, in conversation about the event, it dawned on me the problem was: it was that matters that would have been benefited from quantitative analysis were often dealt with only in a qualitative way.

Granted, there are good reasons why, at conferences, numbers often cede to words: numbers can be difficult to communicate; and data may be commercial sensitive. Yet generally the impression I received was not that presenters were holding back on numbers. Rather it was that some of the approaches to marketing were light on metrics.

Beyond the counting of hits

Take social media as an example. It’s easy to recount that some initiative ‘went well’ or ‘was really successful’ — but how are we defining success here and how are we measuring it?

Often the metrics alluded to concerned:

  • views
  • likes
  • forwarding (retweets etc.)
  • number of followers, friends etc.

Such metrics are easy to access and, superficially at least, easy to understand. Unfortunately, they don’t necessarily mean very much — ironically because they’re not good at actually measuring quality. They usually tell us little about what difference the piece in question made — what actions it led to and what benefits it produced.

B2BGiven the weakness of such metrics, using them to guide how to allocate your time is a dangerous game. As Kipp Bodnar and Jeffrey L. Cohen argue in The B2B Social Media Book:

It is not about generating buzz, creating content that goes viral, gaining positive mindshare, or using any other fluffy metric. Marketing’s job is…not to be a cost center for superficial activities with no clear return on investment. 

The difficulty is compounded by the fact that social media marketing is often regarded as free whereas in fact it can be very expensive in terms of staff time, often not reflected in the management accounts.

Talent acquisition

With my FJWilson hat on, I find myself pondering the implications of this for hiring. Organisations that prioritise the recruitment and retention of staff who ‘do numbers’ — who both feel confident using stats and enjoy doing so — should surely gain a productivity advantage from doing so.

Certainly, if I was a candidate looking for employment in the membership sector and I ‘did numbers’, I wouldn’t be shy about saying so.


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