Hari Shankar
Nov 24, 2011

Opinion: Measuring ROSS

Hari Shankar, Asia-Pacific director at Performics, discusses the holy grail of social media marketing - ROI.

Hari Shankar
Hari Shankar

No, I'm not about to paint rosy scenarios. Nor am I adding a new acronym to the already murky waters of social media metrics. Neither am I a self proclaimed social media evangelist, and nor do I belong to the abundant cadres of social media experts proliferating across the world, tirelessly giving birth to newer and more veracious types of metrics to measure (and make sense) of social media performance.

But what I am definitely attempting to achieve here, is to plant a few seeds of thought in your mind on how to work with a few simple, yet elegant performance parameters in the glamorous (and cacophonic) world of social media. And that leads me to ROSS.

Social is becoming truly social:

Of the seven billion of us on the face of this earth, two billion belong to the race called ‘Netizens’ but more interestingly, there are one billion who belong to a fresh new race who may be called ‘Net(work)izens’. Social has truly become social and the tremendous growth rate that we are witnessing across multiple streams of ‘being social’ is truly awe-inspiring. A recent Gartner estimate pegged the 2011 worldwide social media spends to be well on track to hit $10.3 billion, a 41.4 per cent growth compared to the last year. It also went on to forecast an expected spending on $29.1 billion in 2015;  good news for everyone ‘social’ indeed!

Social connectivity and interactions have already assumed larger proportions on many facets of life compared to real life connections and the evolution of behaviour in social platforms is seeing much more magnified and pronounced impacts as well. Think about these few interesting snippets from a recent report which I happened to stumble across that amply illustrate the way social media are changing our lives and in turn, human behaviour and interactions.

  • One in five couples meet on Facebook (and in case of gay couples, it is three in five!);
  • One in five divorces are blamed on Facebook
  • Chalkboards in kindergartens have given way to iPads
  • Some universities in the US have even stopped distributing email accounts
  • If Wikipedia were made in to a book, it would be 2.25 million pages long (and take 123 years to read!)
  • Over 90 per cent of consumers trust peer recommendations, while an abysmal 14 per cent only trust advertising

Come to think of it, this is nothing short of triggering the wildest imaginations (virtual marriage or virtual child birth anyone?). I could go on rattling away and not lose your interest for a remarkably long time but let me veer back to the direction so that we can understand what ROSS is all about.

But before I get there, one last snippet – did you think that the fastest growing segment in Facebook was the 18-34 year olds?  If so, you are mistaken; because it is the 55-65 year old females!

Understanding ROSS:

In case you thought ROSS is an acronym that stands for some otherworldly phenomenon, it is not. ROSS stands for Returns on Social Spends, which is very similar in concept to the better known metrics such as ROAS / ROI. 

In a very recent survey by Econsultancy (titled The State of Social 2011), when respondents were asked to describe the value they got from social media, some 37 per cent of companies reported they were unable to measure (and ‘the jury was still out’), compared to 47 per cent in 2010. And it was also quite surprising to note that about 39 per cent of companies do not use any kind of buzz monitoring tool, including free tools. Readers may remember that we are referring to a fast maturing ‘socionomy’ in the Americas and not some regressive third world landscape where the meaning of social does not cross the outer boundary of a ritualistic community dance.

It is evident that even in the leading markets, marketers are still grappling with the challenge of how to meaningfully measure social media returns. And in that process, they are giving birth to an abundance of social media metrics that amuse, confuse and at times refuse to be deciphered as well. But while treading this road towards evolving a meaningful and measurable set of metrics, a few key points to be kept in mind are that most of the social media interactions (chatter) are triggered by offline experiences, and these experiences give rise to word of mouth which is carried online. Having hit the information super highway, the word of mouth becomes amplified conversations and these conversations get rapidly propagated (or passed along) to attain gargantuan proportions in a relatively short time period. If the amplified conversations are of a positive nature, the brand stands to benefit hugely and vice versa. To measure a few of these key mile stones from ‘trigger point’ to the ‘outcome point’ is all you need to do, to understand how your social media program is performing and what pay dirt have you ultimately hit.

What are the components of ROSS?

Fans, followers, subscribers – all these are popular measurement metrics of these days for agencies and marketers alike, but what matters before you get here is – did you catch their attention? Did you give them joy? Did they speak about you? Did they pass the word along? Did it ultimately make any monetary payback for you (although I strongly believe the role of social media is not to be a demand generation machine). So let us attempt to breakdown each of these important milestones in to simple metrics that can be applied to almost any social platform today and made relevant to any program that you may be running today.

Chatter Rate = # of responses (or comments) / post.  A high chatter rate means that your message (or content) has connected meaningfully and well with your audience. To create this initial chatter rate, you need to understand your audience, your brand, your market and the value you will add through this content to the environment and audience.

Propagation rate= # of re-tweets per tweet, # of shares per post, and # of share clicks per action (posts, video shares, etc). This effectively signals how well your content has connected meaningfully with your audience and how much it has triggered a 'want' in them to pass it along. When it comes to media buys, you are limited by the amount of media that you can buy. But in this case, not only do you have a network, but every node in your network has a network of its own. If you were to post content that connects well with your audience, you can break free of the limitations of your media buy dollars and achieve massive growth via the network tree!

Popularity rate = # of likes per post, # of '+1's per post, and # of favorite clicks per tweet (or favorite clicks per video posted). By understanding the relative propagation rates across a large content stream that you may have already posted, it is not too hard to understand the ‘flavour’ of what your audience wants and all you need to do it to create more of it. And along with the popularity rate, you get a much deeper understanding of your audience and it also allows your content to show up on searches by connections in your social graph.

Return on Social Spends: You can use any of the popular measurement systems like Omniture or Web Trends of Google Analytics to measure the immediate or delayed conversions or revenue or sales that will happen in your site as a result of the above. And this is the easiest part as well which ultimately provides a reflection of how well you did in the three metrics above.

In conclusion:

Measuring social media is only as simple or as complex as you want to make it. You are the ultimate owner of the social media program and I will leave with you to decide whether you want to make ROSS a complex 30-metric dashboard or a simple measurement system that will drive long term value.

Simple is beautiful indeed!

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