Social Media Measurement Should Focus on Outcomes, Not Output

by Shannon Paul on June 12, 2010


Social media marketing relies more on listening than broadcasting for good reason: Broadcasting doesn’t have the same impact as traditional media channels, and listening helps us measure and adapt to become more relevant to consumers.

There’s a great quote from Jim Farley, Ford’s Group V.P. of Global Marketing, contained in the video posted below about the end game with social media marketing that says: “You can’t just say it, you have to get the people to say it to each other.” [Emphasis added]

This is why measuring output is the wrong approach in social media marketing, although many might extend that argument to all digital PR and marketing in general.

It’s never about what we say in social networks about our own efforts, but about what others say about us. Is our product good enough? Is our branding, positioning, messaging, etc. sticky enough for ordinary folks to talk positively about us?

This video, Social Media ROI: Socialnomics, has some great case examples of brands and individuals who’ve experienced a wide range of success with social media marketing.

Establishing Relevance

Focusing on what others say about your company, your industry and your communities can help your business take the right steps to become more relevant to its stakeholders. It’s not about simply looking for opportunities to drop messaging into ordinary conversation, but about finding shared interests, shared benefits and shared rewards for others in the communities where your brand interacts.

How do we measure? We focus on the conversations, intentions (search), web traffic, downloads and conversions, while keeping in mind that all of that data is only ever a snapshot of a much bigger picture that includes offline interactions that we may never be able to capture.

The brands mentioned in the above video offer encouraging examples of some great outcomes with social media marketing. If they only told us their output, how impressive would that be? Think about it.

The new way to shape public opinion doesn’t rest on our ability to broadcast in these new channels, but on how we use new channels to connect and build relevance.

Make sense?

How are you working to shift the focus in your company from internal to external? From output to outcomes?

Socialnomics video by Erik Qualman. Follow @equalman on Twitter.

Note: I found this video on a great post about social media mythbusting by Lisa Barone over on Outspoken Media. It’s a great post chock-full of useful information. When you’re done here, you should check that out.

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{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

June 12, 2010 Keith Burtis

Spot on Shannon. With NML I do a lot of digital audits and strategy work. I find that at least 70% of companies are treating this with traditional measuring tools. Formula looks like:

We Blather about our stuff and how great we are and measure inbound clicks and pray for conversions of some kind of conversion (If they even have a call-to-action)

Supposed social media guru’s and agencies respond by counting twitter followers, facebook likes and possibly website visits.

Where the heck are the insights?

What do these visitors do when they come to your website?

Is anyone acting on items you spew into social media channels?

What are others in your industry doing? Are they blabbing or generating good will/ in the community. (I rarely say relationships…I don’t need a relationship with Lowes)

The agencies, companies and individuals that find ways to extract REAL value and insights will be the ones that have longevity. Thanks for writing another great thought provoking piece.


June 12, 2010 Shannon Paul

Thanks, Keith.

I know I don’t have all the answers, and there will always be a bit of trial and error, but I’m not a fan of continuing to apply effort in a direction we know doesn’t work just because people are used to seeing it that way. Framing the criticism in a way that’s constructive is always good, but having alternative solutions at the ready is mission critical :)

Congrats again on the NML position — I’m sure you’re going to do some great work there!


June 12, 2010 Justin Goldsborough

Hi, Shannon, Great post and thanks for sharing that video. This is a topic we as PR and Marketing pros should all be talking about more. And I think you ask a great question around should we have been measuring output in the first place even before social media came along.

That said, while companies like the ones mentioned in the video are inspirational and provide a great blueprint, I would argue they are not the norm. The majority of companies have long factored impressions as a way to judge PR and Marketing success, which is why paid media and assured impressions have always garnered larger budgets than earned media.

Having conversations with clients who use a model like that above and educating them on measuring outcomes vs outputs makes a lot of sense. But that said, a company that’s been measuring one way for 30-plus years is not going to change overnight. Which leads to the question I’d like to asks you and other readers:

How do you sell in social media impressions in comparison to the old school pay for lay model while working to educate clients on a new way to measure? Because I have talked to clients before that say we see why a two-way, engaged impression is more valuable than a mass media hit, but we are judged solely on quantity so we’re going to keep doing what gets us the highest numbers.

Ideal, no? Realistically how many companies are still approaching this issue? I think so. You?


June 12, 2010 Peter Chee


Your writing style really gets me thinking about strategy not tactics. To answer your question about output to outcomes here’s some examples of what we’re trying to do with regards to reaching and connecting with our customers.

* Build up our member community with the goal of developing advocates, successful referring relationships, which is measured by a Net Promoter Score of 70%.

* Cultivate existing member relationships to move each member out of supplier category into value added, trusted advisor, and ultimately partner category.

* Each month foster new relationships with entrepreneurs, freelancers, solopreneurs, small businesses, and non-profits which lead to inquiry about our products and services.

* Invite newly created relationships into thinkspace for coffee, attend learning & social events, so the person can feel the passion and inspiration that our environment conveys.

* Ensure an inspiring, useful and ultimately helpful experience for members in the community so the retention is maintained at 95% utilization rate.

* Develop a compelling event schedule which is attended by our member community and local Seattle area community leading to a packed event.

I’m hoping that I am getting more clear on the outcomes, conveying that to my team and then cutting them loose to use all the available channels (traditional blended with digital media) to achieve those outcomes. I’d love some feedback from you whether or not you think these are clear outcomes. I like brutal feedback so don’t hold back.


June 16, 2010 Shannon Paul

I’m still chewing on this, Pete… Promise. I’ve been swamped with the new job and I’m sorry to leave you hanging. I think you’ve got some goals and some tactics mixed in here, but they’re all good. :) I can help you sort them, but it might be a couple days.


June 13, 2010 Fiona Bosticky

True, I agree with this. There has been a lot of debate for a while over exactly how “social media” should be measured in various terms including ROI. Looking at the outcome is the best way to measure. Thanks Shannon :)


June 16, 2010 Shannon Paul

Fiona – I’m not really knocking the ROI discussion, although there are lots of measurements that all need to be put in place before we can even get close to determining ROI :)

I’ve just noticed a lot of companies, and people I’ve talked to have a very task-oriented approach to social media. Which, would lead you to assume that more output gets more results… this just isn’t the case. I think it’s always important to remember the quote from the Ford VP above – it’s not about what we say about ourselves in these spaces, but about what others say about us.


June 13, 2010 Eric Brown

Shannon, Good Morning
I have started a few presentations with, “If your Social Media Marketing isn’t producing more rentals, it is just a hobby” I also think that businesses talk way to much about their product and features. The various tools that are available today allow a much more subtle approach, Entertain Your Prospect first, create that connection and the selling always follows,

btw; Glad to see you back in our great state of MI!


June 16, 2010 Shannon Paul

Thanks, Eric — it’s good to be back :)


June 14, 2010 romanholiday

It’s clearly both: your company’s efforts via social channels (output) and what’s being said about your company in the space (outcome). Measuring one or the other is never sufficient. However, bridging the two is where the real gold is in terms of social media metrics.


June 16, 2010 Shannon Paul

@romanholiday –
Clearly it’s important from a tactical perspective to choose what your company will put out there in the space, but SUCCESS METRICS should focus on what others say, how they interact, etc.


June 21, 2010 40deuce

Great post Shannon!
Coming from a PR background myself I always preach to people that you can’t use social media as a soap box to shout from. You have to use it as a channel to communicate with the world about you and them together. Being engaging to your customers and respecting them always has a better outcome than just yelling at them.
I also really like the quote from McDonalds in that video saying “our public is in charge of our social media” because whether they want that to be true or not, it is.


-Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos.


June 21, 2010 Ben Cantin-Kranz

Shanon, Great piece.

I agree with you 100% and I am actively seeking the opportunity to put this into practice. My company is fairly new to social media and I am trying wrap my head around a few concepts. While what you’re proposing with this article is spot on, it assumes that a conversation is already taking place about your brand online, is that right?

If so, how can I foster that conversation? The internet is silent about my brand. What can I do to get people talking?


June 21, 2010 Shannon Paul

Hi Ben —

Not at all. I didn’t write this with the assumption that there is already a conversation taking place. But from the spirit of getting others in the space to realize that it’s not about PR and marketing departments programming social networks strictly with outbound messaging, but about thinking in new ways to inspire individuals to talk about your company with a positive (and sometimes neutral) sentiment.

Of course having an eye on what you’re putting out there is important from a tactical and resource allocation perspective, but the results and success metrics should always be about what others are saying and their overall sentiment.

I think there are lots of ways to get people talking… there are never any easy answers, because it will always be about customization, but think about ways to connect the dots between what people (customers, or other stakeholders, or your industry in general, etc) are doing online (and offline) in their day-to-day lives and what your company does. I like to think of this as the relevance quotient. When you look at the common denominators between your customers/clients and what your company does, its story etc… where does the overarching relevance lie that connects you beyond the transactional relationship associated with commerce?

I hope that helps — I know it’s not an easy answer, but just like most other things worth doing, there are no easy answers. Treat anyone who tells you otherwise with suspicion :)


June 22, 2010 Ben

That’s a great point, Shanon.

I’ll start experimenting with finding that relevant overlap between our customers and ourselves.



June 25, 2010 Peter Palatnik

So Shannon, tell me how do you know what to say so others can say what you say in a way that others say it and so on and on and on… Can Gary V know what to say because he knows his crowd or is it a mix between knowing listening to your peers and knowing how to say the right message at the right time with the right words? mmm, that gets me thinking again, if LISTENING and knowing your crowd is enough to “engineer” a large echo of what you seed in the Social Media mainstream? Calling to Social Media Expert Shannon Paul :-)


June 25, 2010 Shannon Paul

I think it always goes back to relevance. It’s probably more like dancing, or jazz, than it is engineering. Good jazz musicians can improvise, but the chord structure and the basic tune are the things that are passed along and written down from musician to musician and from listener to listener. Make your messaging as addictive as a good tune by being relevant to your stakeholders. That’s my answer. It’s not a recipe, but it’s a basic strategy to keep in mind.

Make sense?


July 7, 2010 40deuce

Great post Shannon, I mostly agree.
Social media shouldn’t be about what you as a company are doing on your own, but rather what the people are doing with you. That could be any kind of interaction, between your brand and your public as well as your publics interactions amongst themselves regarding your brand. After all, everything will come down to how your public perceives you, so learning from them by listening to what they have to say is always a best practice.
The only thing I would say you’ve missed on is that it is also important to make sure you are having the right kind of output. I’ve seen some companies get themselves into sticky situations by saying the wrong thing (i.e. the recent debacle on Nestle’s facebook page). Other than that though, I completely agree with you.


Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos


July 7, 2010 40deuce

haha! I forgot that I had already commented on this. It just came across my twitter feed again and I got caught up in reading the great article that I forgot I had already said something about it.
Don’t mean top be spamming up your comments section.

sorry =)


August 7, 2010 Paul Jones


Great post. I entirely agree that a focus on measuring outcomes is extremely important. However, I believe that it is going to take time for the industry to get there and understand how to do it right from both a business and technology perspective. Not only is it difficult to track basic stats across various platforms, it is not easy but critically important to understand the interrelationship of all of those stats. For example, when an advertiser posts a new video campaign online, they want to understand how it drives conversations, new potential customers, interaction, traffic to their website, and ultimately sales. I think we are moving to be able to do that, but it is also difficult to understand the long term value of a fan, follower, or even the sharing an ad with a friend.

I look forward to reading more of your posts on measurement and social media. In the meantime, we would love to invite you and any of your readers to join our free beta for our new social media measurement tool and get your feedback. Here is a short video.

Please send an email to if you are interested in trying it out.


September 21, 2010 Paulette McKenzie

Thanks so much for this post. I am all about relationship. Building relationships is just as essential w/social media as in any area of business. Integrity is another topic that needs focus.
Thanks so much!


March 19, 2011 Black and Mild Cigars

Well, Your story was equally beautiful and moving and congrats to you for surviving.


July 21, 2011 Lurlene Gravois


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