I have no doubt there is some value in social beyond what can be measured, as this has been the case for all marketing since it began ;) The problem is this value is often situational, not too mention not properly measured using an incremental basis (as you point out).
For example, to small local businesses who do no other form of advertising, there is a huge amount of relative value to using social media, versus no advertising at all. Some advertising is much better than none, and since it’s free, the incremental value created by (properly) using social is huge.
On the other hand, I wonder why social analysis seems to forget that people have to be aware of you to “Like” you in the first place. Further, it seems unlikely a person would “Like” a brand or product if they have not already experienced it, and are already a fan. If this is not true, if people “Like” a company even thought they do not (paid to Like?), then the problems with social go way beyond analysis…
But if true, , the number of “Likes” doesn’t have as much to do with awareness as it does with size of customer base, and is much more aligned with tracking customer issues (retention, loyalty) than anything to do with awareness / acquisition.
Add the fact many companies are running lots of advertising designed to create awareness, and the incremental value of social as a “media” may be close to zero, or at least less than the cost to analyze the true value of it.
And this last, really, is the core of the issue. It’s simply not possible to measure “all” the value created by any kind of marketing, and there are hugely diminishing returns as you try to capture the last bits. I think it’s quite possible the optimism for “value beyond what can be measured” is less than the cost of measuring it *if* people keep looking in the awareness / acquisition field.
Folks who want to find this “missing” social value should start doing customer analysis, and look in the “retention / loyalty” area, where the whole idea of social is a natural, rather than a forced, fit.
Has to be There
I find it really interesting that whenever there is a discussion of measuring the value of social media, there’s such a bias towards believing there is value in social beyond what can be properly measured. See the comments following this post by Avinash for a good example. Speculation is fine, but the confidence being expressed that a new tool or method will uncover a treasure trove of social media value seems un-scientific (as in scientific method) at best.
I don’t doubt there is some value in social media beyond what can be measured, as this has been the case for all marketing since marketing measurement began. These measurement problems are not new to social either: Marketing value created is often situational, it depends on the business model and environment. What works in one situation may not work in another.
To small local businesses who do no other form of advertising, there is a huge amount of relative value to using social media versus no advertising at all. Social advertising is much better than none, and since it’s free, the incremental value created by (properly) using social is huge. It’s also really easy to measure the impact and true value, since the baseline control is “no advertising”. Lift, or actual net marketing performance, can be pretty obvious in his case.
On the other hand, many companies are running lots of advertising designed to create awareness, and the incremental value of social as a “media” may be close to zero for these companies, or at least less than the cost to analyze the true value of it. Possible explanation: Social events such as “Likes” or comments are simply representations or affirmations of awareness already created by other media, so by themselves, create little value. In other words, events such as Likes might track the value of other media spending, but may not create much additional marketing value.
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