A room with a view: how to measure value in social media – the action based economy

Alex Butler


Continued from “A room with a view: social media and the art of regulation – a farce in three parts

The overwhelming power of the internet has been to democratise access to information and to facilitate access to each other. This has in effect empowered millions of ‘ordinary’ people to consume, produce and to share information on a scale not imagined by many even a decade ago.

It is this effect that can be simply described as producing a ‘cognitive surplus’: turning us from passive consumers into active producers and sharers of content, the internet is creating a better, more democratic world.

I would urge those interested in these concepts to read Clay Shirky. His latest work entitled ‘Cognitive surplus’ lucidly and eloquently describes the phenomenon of interactive media and the impact this has and will have on society.

It is estimated that in the US alone people watch 200 Billion hours of television a year. An act of consumption that can in broad terms be described as unproductive (those who criticise Shirkey point out that not all forms of consumption are wasted), even if we do not, as Shirkey does, relate TV consumption to that of Gin in 1720’s London.

These 200 Billion hours of television consumption per year is estimated to be 2000 times less than the hours taken to create Wikipedia.

” …for the first time in history the amount of television being watched by the younger generation is decreasing rather than increasing annually.”

However, for the first time in history the amount of television being watched by the younger generation is decreasing rather than increasing annually. Why is this happening? People are pouring time into interactive media and above all online activities. The key word here is “activities”, it can be said that the defining feature of new over old media is action.

This is the reason I have opened a blog post ostensibly focussed on social media metrics and measurement with an undisguised ‘love in’ with Clay Shirkey. It is only when we come to terms with the true power of socialised interactive media that we can start, in my opinion, to measure it properly.

Within the field of healthcare it is even more important that we get this right. We are all here, hopefully, to help people. If we are going to try and do this, we need to know if we have been successful.

If we very simply categorise the types of social media measurement required within a pharmaceutical company I would place them into four basic sections:

1. Environmental measurement. This is often described as ‘listening’ or more venerably ‘landscaping’. It is not linked to company produced assets or campaigns directly but rather an attempt to understand the conversation and sentiment around the company, a brand or a disease area.

2. Corporate asset measurement. This is straightforwardly the measurement of the success of a campaign or social media strategy centred around building the corporate brand and reputation. There are multi-faceted reasons for corporate asset production including media out-reach, development of corporate identity and trust and talent acquisition to name an easy three.

3. Disease awareness / information campaigns. These do what they say on the tin. The vast majority of ethical research based pharmaceutical companies have as a matter of course provided support to patients and the public through advocacy partnership and sponsorship, joint government campaigns and simply, published disease information. This public facing disease support has been the focus for many in both the pharma and broader healthcare social media space.

4. Promotional social media campaigns. These are not predominantly the focus of the overwhelming majority of articles and discussions about pharmaceutical social media in Europe. In the US this characterises the social media discussion however. Although not always, we are mostly talking here about brand promotion to healthcare professionals. The lack of progress in this area is I believe due to the incredibly narrow focus of ‘social media’ within pharma and lack of ability to understand networks. It also touches on another interest of mine, that of the changing nature of advertising. More of this in a future post.

“People are pouring time into interactive media and above all online activities.”

Before we go into how we can measure success in these four areas of social media lets gets a couple of things out of the way first. People often can’t wait to ask two particular questions whenever I talk on this subject.

Question: Isn’t it almost impossible to measure social media, we don’t have the same level of metrics we are used to applying in old media or sales models?

Answer: Actually the problem for those of us who are passionate about digital communication generally and social media specifically is that there are too many measures. For social media I could list literally 100 things that could be measured (actually this has been done for me by David Berkowitz with his ‘100 Ways to measure Social Media’ on his Inside The marketers Studio blog a couple of years ago). The trick is understanding your objectives and applying metrics accordingly. This is bespoke for every company and every campaign, simple as that.

Question: Establishing a return on investment (ROI) for social media is not really possible. Should we not re-define this as something like return on engagement?

Answer: No. Return on the investment you make is absolutely essential. If this is promotional in nature then a direct link to the bottom line is appropriate. If this is about improving trust, raising awareness or improving the quality of life for people with a particular condition we can measure this. In essence as a business we have always been concerned with understanding whether the actions we take are successful. Social media can help you do this in a way we have not been able to before.

This is where I come back to the title of this post. Often what people are measuring are contributory measures, how many people have seen a post, how many people like a page, how many people follow your twitter account. There are numerous books and articles that will explain in great detail how we need to develop engagement. I would describe engagement simply as not just consuming content but participating in the process through commenting, rating, sharing etc.

For me though this is not enough. You can purchase a book to help you understand an ‘engagement tree’ or social media ‘Trust Pyramid’. Of course this concept is important but if we go back to the contention of Shirkey, it is action that characterises the fundamental societal change at the heart of social media.

“Isn’t it almost impossible to measure social media, we don’t have the same level of metrics we are used to applying in old media or sales models?”

This is where I think we will separate the social media wood from the trees and the successful business from the one parading the Emperor’s new clothes at the next business planning cycle.

If you’re building an environmental measurement don’t measure something unless it can be actioned. We all understand that sentiment is not possible to technically measure at the moment and even two individuals will often categorise contents sentiment differently. By all means build your Death Star measuring tool but understand what you want to do.

The concept of action based measurement is even more important when you are constructing and measuring the success of assets and campaigns. An obvious example is that of disease awareness.

At the heart of any social media campaign should be action based conversions that are aligned to the corporate and brand / disease strategy. These are often termed ‘value conversions’ in an e-commerce environment and form the heart of the metrics. In essence it is an action that has tangible offline value, signifying success, or not. Obviously in e-commerce at the most basic level this is a completed purchase.

An example of how this can work within the healthcare field is with a psoriasis project I designed and implemented. We knew from our understanding of the psoriasis patient that the three key areas that could be improved for people living with psoriasis were: their knowledge of the severity of their own condition, the (often large) impact this had on their everyday life and how to talk to their doctor or health care professional in a way that would enable them to access better care.

Applications were designed to help people with these three issues. We know that when people spend time online investing a significant amount of time completing a task (all three applications can easily take 5 to 10 minutes) there is a better chance they will do something with this offline (60 to 90% chance dependant on the statistics used for the calculation).

This translates into contributory measures such as the number of people who see our posts, like our facebook page, retweet our twitter account and engage with our content. These are important and interesting. However the success of the campaign is how many people have completed the central conversions and therefore have a good chance of improving the management of their condition offline.

“The concept of action based measurement is even more important when you are constructing and measuring the success of assets and campaigns.”

It is when the number of these people are measured in their thousands and not their hundreds that the return on the investment of the disease awareness / information campaign become obvious.

Understanding what the value conversions for your campaign are, whether focussed on the media, the public, health care professionals or patients, are will be the key to understanding the success of social media.

It is also key to convincing the senior decision makers in our business that social media is an essential communications tool and not either a nice to do or a passing fashion.

**The views within this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Janssen**

Part 3 Beyond Messages: Postmarketing in Pharmaceuticals will be published on 6th May.

About the author:

Alex Butler is a global thought leader in health care social media for the pharmaceutical industry with the implementation of a number of innovative projects, including the UK’s first pharma twitter account and the world’s first facebook disease community with open comments and post moderation. He is a regular speaker and writer for the pharmaceutical, marketing, communications and technology press. According to John Mack, Alex is the most followed pharmaceutical company employee on twitter in the world and was the inaugural recipient of the Pharmaguy Global Social Media Pioneer award in 2010.

Alex currently works for Janssen as EMEA Marketing Communications Manager, part of the Johnson &amp, Johnson Strategic Marketing team.

Passionate about new marketing and advertising models Alex is an invited member of the Wharton University Future Of Advertising Global Advisory Board, based in Philadelphia.

Connect with Alex on twitter and also on Linkedin

How important is action based measurement to you?