8 Challenges In Measuring Social Media (by the BBC)

The near impossible to achieve objective: Monitor and measure all social media mentions and interactions. It’s something i’ve um’d and ah’d about many a time; I wrote about it 4 years ago in 2009, and things aren’t any easier now. The more social platforms, the more complicated the monitoring and the insight!


It’s something that the BBC and other organisations large and small are obviously very keen to get a handle on. There are a great many monitoring tools but very few standards by which to compare, other than the comparison of year-on-year/month-on-month performance or competitor analysis. Software is available both for free and at a cost: Radian 6, Brandwatch, Sysmos, Meltwater, Cision, Social Bakers, Social Mention, Tweetdeck, Hootsuite plus many others are all good tools.

On the BBC blog today they posted 8 challenges that the BBC (and others) face when assessing social activity:

1. No official measurement source: TV has BARB and Radio has RAJAR – two well established bodies, with consensus on the most appropriate metrics to use. Within digital, there is the relatively new UKOM – while it offers a range of measures, it does not break down social media into specific accounts (such as @BBCSport on Twitter or BBC One on Facebook). Social networks may offer useful insight tools themselves, but only top-level information is made public. It can therefore be difficult to place performance in the context of the performance of other accounts or organisations.

2. Limited geographic restrictions: I work within the public sector side of the BBC, and so am principally interested in UK performance rather than global.  Again, insight tools can offer geographic splits but there isn’t much publicly available UK-specific data to compare to.

3. Aggregating across multiple accounts: It can be difficult to assess overall performance when multiple accounts are being used – for instance, if we wanted to measure combined performance across @BBCBreaking and @BBCNews on Twitter. Action-orientated metrics (such as measuring the number of ‘likes’ or views) can be added together, but others such as total audience cannot, since people that follow multiple accounts would be counted more than once unless data could be de-duplicated . The challenges of measuring your own organisation are magnified when trying to measure others.

4. Totalling activity across multiple services: The ideal would be to evaluate our performance across the entirety of social media, but different services with different functionalities with different ways of measuring make this impractical. For instance, is a Facebook share the equivalent of a Pinterest re-pin?

5. Distinguishing active from lifetime audience: Metrics such as followers or likes are based on lifetime activity – they take no account of recency and so could count activity from several years ago. Changes over time can be used to assess growth, but it doesn’t give an accurate reflection of the active audience – people that interacted with the site more recently (e.g. in the last week or last month). Again, some insight tools offer this function, but once again there is an inability to place performance in context.

6. Interpreting behaviour: Adding up the number of comments or mentions produces a measure of audience engagement, but it assumes all interactivity is good when in fact audiences could be using social media to protest against something or talk about how much they hate a particular programme. Sentiment analysis can provide some context. While tools continue to improve and innovate, ambiguities in tone and meaning mean that analysis is not yet fully accurate

7. Identifying relevant activity: Counting the volume of mentions for a programme across social media could be limited to searching by the programme name, or it could include a search for mentions of the on-air talent, topic or notable incidents. Furthermore, that on-air talent can appear across multiple programmes or formats. Agreeing on parameters can be hard to do. Some tools do automate this to provide a consistent view for all users, but without an industry standard it is still possible for other organisations to announce radically different figures due to different measurement criteria. 

8. Measuring impact: Metrics such as likes or retweets are not ends in themselves, but are signifiers of audience engagement. Social media objectives should be broader than stimulating this type of behaviour alone, and could have goals such as increasing the audience figures for a TV or Radio programme or raising positive opinion towards a programme, channel or service. This is something that is hard to measure in any medium, but the nature of social, where ease of interaction encourages high volume of messages – makes it harder than most to measure this type of impact.

These 8 challenges were written by Simon Kendrick, a Research Manager for Audiences at BBC Future Media.


Attempt at Social Media Tracking

Research company YouGov have just announced their intention to investigate the actual usage of social media networks. They propose to interview over 2000 users to discover the most used networks, how often these are used and test participant’s reactions to various adverts. See my article on Social Media Measurement.

The aim it appears, is to learn how best to make money out of the unsuspecting public. How to make money in the short term with clickable ads ‘Google’ style, and in the long term through increasing brand engagement and two way communication. Clickable ads equals bad idea. Social network users are generally of a demographic that is educated (to some level) and not ignorant when it comes to being advertised at. Research may say that users don’t mind the ad’s, but there will be a limit before. David Lucas, head of media consulting for YouGov, said, “The next challenge for these websites is to find a way to take advantage of their audience and make money from their product. Appealing to advertisers is an obvious route, but finding the best way to engage with those using this channel needs further consideration.”take advantage of their audience…people don’t like to be taken advantage of I’m afraid chaps. Be careful.

If companies really want to benefit from brand engagement through social networking, they may want to think about other, more subtle ways of financing Facebook et al.

Read further at NMA

social media blog