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Companies are adopting social media as a marketing tool, but they are struggling to find effective metrics, writes Paul Gillin (author of?The New Influencers)?in a report issued by the Society for New Communications Research (SNCR).

“New Media, New Influencers, and Implications for the Public Relations Profession” is based on findings from a survey of 297 advertising, marketing, PR and corporate communications professionals – all of them social media power users.*

Social media tools are becoming more valuable, say 57% of early adopters – 27% of whom say that social media is a core element of their communications strategy. Just 3% state that it has little or no value to their communications initiatives.

Blogs and online video are the most popular social media tools (78% and 63% of marketers have used them, respectively) followed by social networks (56%) and podcasts (49%):

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Respondents show an overall high satisfaction level with all social media tools, with all ranking 3 or higher on a scale of 1-5, but no one tool is a clear top performer.

Measurement

More than half (51%) of organizations surveyed are formally measuring the success of social media initiatives. Standard measurement for other online marketing tactics, such as search engine ranking and website traffic, are also perceived as being useful for evaluating social media influence, according to the report:

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However, awareness and engagement factors are cited ahead of hard metrics when respondents list the most important criteria for overall efforts in communicating with the “new influencers.” The following receive above a “4” rating (5 being the most effective):

  • Enhancement of relationships with key audiences
  • Enhancement of reputation
  • Search engine ranking of website
  • Customer awareness of program
  • Click-thrus to website
  • Comments/posts relevant to company or products
  • Social media coverage
  • Unique visitors from influencers’ sites

Age Groups

As researchers expected, social media is perceived to be more effective when targeted at younger age group, with 18-25 being the most likely to be influenced:

sncr-new-media-pr-age-groups-most-likely-to-be-influenced-by-social-media.jpg

However, the over-65 age group closely trailed the under-18 and 26-35 age brackets, receiving above a “4” in likeliness rating.

Identification of Influencers, Measuring Value

In determining who are the most influential bloggers and podcasters, marketers indicate quantitative data: web and blog search engine rankings; frequency of posting; page visits/site meter rankings. Yet they also value less tangible forms of measurement, like quality/relevance of content and name recognition.

Assessment of a person’s influence in online communities (e.g., MySpace, Facebook, Flickr) is also measured by frequency of activity and name recognition, but participation level and prominence in the market or community are also factors. (Because many social networks are gated, search engine results are less relevant.)

Among 11 response choices, “Other” is the No. 1 selection, indicating marketers’ confusion and the difficulty of identifying criteria.

Industries Most Likely to Use Social Media

Media, entertainment, and technology industries most likely to use social media tools to enhance their influence, the survey found.

  • Industries most likely: Media, internet, communication, education, leisure, computer hardware, government, telecom, nonprofit, food and beverage, health services, electronics, retail, financial services, specialty retail and consumer durables
  • Industries least likely: Heavy manufacturing, materials management and construction

*Communications professionals with a deep knowledge and heavy usage pattern of social media tools, including blogs, podcasts, online video, social networks, and other new and emerging communications tools and technologies.

About the report?(PDF): The author, Paul Gillin, was assisted by a research team composed of SNCR fellows Joseph Carrabis, John Cass, Richard Nacht and Greg Peverill-Conti. Findings are based on their seven in-depth case studies of organizations utilizing soclal media and results from a web-based survey created in Qualtrics, conducted Sept.-Nov. ’07. The excerpted portion of this report is from the Journal of New Communications Research, Vol. II / Issue 2 (2008). The report was made possible by a grant from the Institute for Public Relations (IPR) and Wieck Media.

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