The IPA, in partnership with MRS and The Marketing Society, has launched the first stage of cross-industry research, sponsored by Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter, into providing definitive guidance on the role that social media can play and how to measure

The pioneering #IPASocialWorks project will create a comprehensive knowledge bank of effective social media; it will report on robust methodologies for measuring its commercial impact and will produce a detailed ‘how to' guide on the various research techniques.

The first stage of the research has involved an analysis of 100 publicly available case studies, in-depth case interviews, a peer review by leading Social experts, exploration with measurement experts and a review of many of the existing research reports, to pinpoint what seems to be working in social, how, and some of the metrics used*. 

The project revealed the following key points:

1. Find a way to measure not just count
Too many cases lack commercial rigour in measurement, and in some cases there are no business objectives at the outset. The industry needs to measure social media, not just count it; to move from accuracy to relevance and visibility to effectiveness.

2. Success comes from integrating social
Social is often still siloed, but there are likely to be major benefits from integrating social media into other marketing communications activities. One of these is the integration into longer term strategies, which attract higher budgets. It is much harder to measure effects of short term projects with smaller investments.

3. Apply rigour from ‘traditional’ advertising and direct marketing
More social media practitioners are using a test-and-learn approach similar to those used in direct marketing and other online strategies. Practitioners should plan their data and measurement needs before any activity begins.

4. Exploit the richness of data available to you
Social media potentially delivers qualitative data on a quantitative scale and, because it is unmediated, can enable marketers to discover excellent insights. Marketers will have to get even more data savvy to deal with this, and to get to grips with emerging new tools, such as machine learning.

5. Ensure that you unpick causation from correlation
Too many case studies, especially advertising-related, still demonstrate issues relating to brands confusing causation and correlation. There is, however, evidence of a greater number of brands approaching this by using A/B testing or use of control groups.

6. It shouldn’t just be about existing fans
Social media strategies should not just focus on the analysis of an existing loyal fan base, but should also aim for penetration among new consumers. IPA Effectiveness work shows that marcomms strategies focusing on penetration tend to do better in sales, market share and profit measures than those just focusing on loyalty strategies.

7. Social strategies can make organisations more customer centric
The development of a social strategy within an organisation can create a customer centricity that is less hierarchical, more collaborative and more effective. Social strategies are often by their nature interdisciplinary needing support from customer services, marketing, operations and legal teams, amongst others, which can then extend a brand’s impact.

8. The first exemplary case studies of effective social media usage uncovered through this project, and which will enter the knowledge bank, include Visit Iceland; BT, O2, TfL, and Mattessons. 

They will be available to access in the coming months on the IPA Effectiveness Hub.

Further robust social ROI case studies are required to create a comprehensive knowledge bank of effective social campaigns in order to provide blueprints of best practice in social and to build on future industry learning and measurement. Any agency or client interested in submitting a case study can contact for further information.

Says Ian Priest, IPA President: “Social media measurement is a complicated issue and it won’t be solved straight away – it’s multifaceted and will require new processes and ways of working to do so properly. The focus of the project so far has been to unearth case studies where a strong and causal relationship can be established between social media activity in its various guises and key business metrics. 

"This is the important first step on a journey to rigorous measurement for this discipline and I am delighted that the industry has united on this in order for Social to be taken seriously as a business driving tool across boardrooms around the country.”

Says Stephen Maher, Chairman, Marketing Society, and CEO, MBA: “Social media is already a cornerstone of the communications strategies of many brands. And yet a lot of the commercial rigour that is applied to other activity is often not applied to social media. It’s new of course and so there’s no effectiveness legacy such as there is in TV - and the platforms are changing all the time - but there’s a real opportunity now to provide definitive guidance as an industry on measuring social media’s true business impact. 

"Our #IPASocialWorks initiative has just started this journey and we will continue to review as many cases as come forward, with a plan to ultimately deliver to the industry the best practice in measurement of ROI that social truly deserves.”

Says Jane Frost CBE, Chief Executive Officer, Market Research Society: “Bringing together the three professions: research, advertising and marketing to integrate our expertise makes for a rich and definitive outcome. An integrated view is being developed for the era of the integrated customer.”

Says Mark Earls, Herd, part of the peer review panel, said: “We’re going from a world where, thanks to the IPA’s Effectiveness Awards, we pretty much know how communication across most channels works, to one where we only have a rough idea – and it’s changing all the time. This is a start to figuring it out.”

Join the debate:

Read more 
Social strikes back - as the true value of social data emerges, businesses are forced to question how well equipped they are to use it.

Get the latest MRS news

Our newsletters cover the latest MRS events, policy updates and research news.