Emphasize Share of Conversation to Measure Social Media


In our previous post, Return On Engagement is Not a Numbers Game, we delved a little more deeply into ROE. In this post, we take a look at another social media metric, Share of Conversation.

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Emphasize Share of Conversation

We’ve seen that Return On Engagement is a social computing metric you can use to measure how you’re doing with your own community. And that’s great. But no matter how well you’re doing, you must remember that your community members spend 99.99 percent of their time on other Websites.

Not only do they spend most of their time away from you, they may be talking about your business in other venues. Thus you may be able to learn a lot about how to improve your ROE by looking at how others are addressing the community.

Part of wanting to know about the competition is, frankly, driven by ego, and it’s a story that started with a different type of measurement in the 1920s.

A young engineer named Art Nielsen was finding it hard to sell his concept of measuring sales by count­ing cans on drugstore shelves. (Yes, the term bean counter was coined to refer to Nielsen’s auditors, who counted cans of Campbell’s beans for Nielsen’s first customer.) On a train ride on his way to make a sales pitch, Nielsen came up with a concept to overcome the objection he often heard from prospects: “We’re doing just fine. Sales are good.”

The concept Nielsen invented was market share, and it was a success because now the self-satisfied mogul could see that his competitor was selling more — had a bigger share — and his now-bruised ego caused him to sign the contract.

The market share concept has been expanded and adapted into the social media metric known as Share Of Voice (SOV), defined as the number of articles, posts, tweets, videos or images where a brand and its competitors are mentioned, can certainly be used to stoke the ego-driven competitive fires, and often is in the commercial online world.

For example, a seminal post[1] by Marcel LeBrun, CEO of social media measurement service Radian6, recounts a Share Of Voice study of social media discussions about painkillers that found the following shares:

  • Tylenol 43.9 percent
  • Aspirin 24.8 percent
  • Advil 18.8 percent
  • Motrin 12.5 percent

If you’re Tylenol, you feel good; you’ve got a bigger share. You might think you dominate the online conversation.

If you’re Motrin, you may set a target to improve your SOV from the paltry 12.5 percent measured.

But this is the same ego-driven thinking that gave birth to market share. Looked at from a social media perspective, however, we realize that it really isn’t about the brands. It’s about the people — the community — whose problems the brands exist to solve.

Looking solely at SOV limits the field of measurement to a handpicked set of competitors, and misses the larger context — and larger opportunity to use social media.

To understand this context, take a look at a slightly different metric — Share Of Conversation (SOC) — which may be a more honest assessment of social media influence.

SOC can be defined as the degree to which an organization is associated with the problem it seeks to solve. Put slightly differently, SOC is the percent of all people talking about a problem online that are talking about you.

Thus SOC has a broader scope than SOV. SOV focuses only on a brand and its competitors, rather than the whole range of discussions about the problem, making it of limited use in truly understanding the needs of your community.

In the Tylenol/Motrin example, you might broaden your social media listening to track all conversations, for example, about arthritis. When the SOV analysis is redone as an SOC analysis, you get very different results. Tylenol has a miniscule share — 1.7 percent — of the conversations about arthritis, versus aspirin’s 98.3 share. The self-satisfied Tylenol brand manager who thought the brand dominated online conversations would be shocked to see Tylenol is barely in the game for arthritis.

The larger set of conversations is really where the opportunity is. Bob Pearson illustrates the difference between SOV and SOC in a great blog post:[2]

I’ve measured hundreds of brands online and I can tell you that share of conversation is routinely 20-40x higher in volume than share of voice. Here’s a few examples using Google search as a simple diagnostic tool, so you can do your own analysis after reading this post.

If you search Orbitz,[3] you find 8.14MM results, but travel has 770MM. Salesforce.com has 3.03MM, but cloud computing has 31.3MM. I’m writing today on a Latitude E4200 which has 3.14MM results, but laptops has 63.1MM. Even Google has 2.1 billion results, while search has 5.6 billion.

You can calculate Share Of Conversation for a given time period by counting the number of con­versations about your business and the subset of these conversations which also mention you. Divide your total (or your competitors’) by the overall total and express as a percentage.

But don’t stop there. Aren’t you curious about what people are saying in those conversations that aren’t about you? You can learn a lot about your community by tuning in to those conversations, and that learning can help shape a more successful social media strategy.

Improved social media measurement necessarily leads to improved social media listening. The more you measure your effect on your community, the more you’ll know your community, and the more you’ll want to listen.

You may be convinced. You may be ready to get your organization on the Cluetrain,[4] and improve your social media use through listening and measuring. But is your organization ready for this? We consider this in the next section.


Emphasize Share of Conversation to Measure Social Media is the 46th in a series of excerpts from our book, Be a Person: the Social Operating Manual for Enterprises (itself part of a series for different audiences). At this rate it’ll be a long time before we get through all 430 pages, but luckily, if you’re impatient, the book is available in paper form at http://bit.ly/OrderBeAPerson and you can save $5 using Coupon Code 62YTRFCV

See the previous posts What is Social Media?Social Sites DefinedWhy Social Media? How is Social Media Relevant to Business? First Steps Toward a Social Media Strategy, and Decide What Your Business Will Do About Social Computing, pt. 1

Next up: Understand the Social Media Maturity Stage of Your Organization


[1] Share of Voice study: bit.ly/2KI3qH

[2] SOV and SOC: bit.ly/sLC1v

[3] Orbitz search: bit.ly/d53RuB

[4] The Cluetrain Manifesto is a must-read: bit.ly/d3JKnQ

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About NextPhase Selling

Social Media Performance Group is a premier enterprise social media consulting company that offers a unique approach to integrating social media into the enterprise — forget about the tools, it's all about the strategy! Rather than focusing on the tactics (do this or that on LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube), first we work with you and your senior leadership to comprehend your corporate strategy. Once we understand your strategic objectives and goals, we show you how a comprehensive social media strategy can integrate with and support your corporate strategy. We take an enterprise-wide view based on our unique Enterprise Social Media Framework, which maps social media to all appropriate touchpoints in your enterprise. We go beyond the obvious quick hits — sales and marketing — and help you achieve social-media-driven results in areas such as product development, customer service, and employee engagement and retention. As a result, social media is not just bolted on; it is integrated with, and provides support for, your company's existing strategy and operations, yielding unprecedented results.
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