Amber Naslund's (@Ambercadabra's) brilliant post about getting started in Social Media Measurement got me thinking. Her premise is dead on, that measurement of social media isn't the issue, and it's measurement in general. I can't tell you how many companies either don't measure any of their marketing programs or don't KNOW how they measure their marketing programs. And her advice is terrific – if you are in the business of selling stuff, in other words, if you are either a B to B or B to C Company. But for the other 50% of PR people out there that work for non-profits, educational institutions, government entities, associations etc. most of this good advice is irrelevant.
This brings us to another reality of social media measurement. How and what you measure, and how you define ROI is very much dependent on what vertical market you play in. If you're in higher ed, you're "selling" ideas – the brilliance of your faculty as industry experts, and/or you are in the business of recruiting – be it faculty or students or parents of students. You have lots of different audiences to deal with and the measurement playing field looks very different.
If you're a non-profit, you may be selling the cause, but your metrics are, again, different. You want to measure not just donations, but engagement in the cause, and the enthusiasm of your fans, followers and donors.
If you're a government entity, your mission may be to educate, to lower cost, to "sell" a concept – and thus you are measuring not "leads" or "conversions" but rather the degree to which people buy into whatever it is you are trying to convince them of.
Last summer, I gave two workshops back to back. The first had the full spectrum of industries represented. Government, media, agency, consumer packaged goods, services, education etc. The other just happened to be entirely populated with people in charge of communications at educational institutions. The content of both workshops was the same, but the satisfaction levels were dramatically different. After the second one, every attendee went away happy, with tools they could use, and full of ideas of how to better measure his/her success. The feedback on the first one was all over the map, with some people very disappointed, and others thrilled. What I learned was that whether you're teaching measurement or implementing it, you have to tailor your thinking to the industry you're dealing with.
This may seem to be an obvious conclusion, but one only needs to read a few posts to hear a dozen people express the need for "One good social media metric we can all use." There is no such thing.