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Stephen Maher is chairman of #IPASocialWorks, chairman of the Marketing Society and CEO of MBA. He argues that social media is a powerful and ever-growing influence in the lives of all brands. Its impact needs to be properly measured.

A version of this article originally appeared in Campaign.

Last year UK social media adspend grew by 45% according to the IAB and PwC. 2016 is likely to be no different and this is before earned and owned social are mixed in.

A recent survey of CMO’s in the US said it expected social media spend to be 20.9% share of marketing budgets in the next five years. However the same annual survey reports that only 11.5% of marketing leaders believe they have proven the impact of social media quantitatively and only 3.4% say that social media contributes very highly to their business performance.

“Only 11.5% of marketing leaders believe they have proven the impact of social media”

Here is the disconnect: we know that social is today’s ascendant and tomorrow’s dominant medium. But the rigorous case law proving business value (which in other media we take for granted with over 30 years of IPA Effectiveness Awards and Marketing Society Excellence Awards) is just not there yet for social.

In short, there is still not enough “measuring” (of causal and not just correlated business return), and still too much “counting” (of intermediary measures such as likes, retweets and views).

“The rigorous case law proving business value is just not there for social.”

It is for this reason that we established #IPASocialWorks. As our academic adviser on the project Paddy Barwise, Emeritus Professor of Marketing and Management at The London Business School, says: “I’m not aware of anything elsewhere that matches its scale and quality.”

Stephen Maher speaking at Effectiveness Week 2016 on the pitfalls of measuring social media

#IPASocialWorks is the world’s first cross-industry collaboration of its kind across brands, agencies, insight specialists and social platforms to accelerate knowledge and best practice on measuring social media. An IPA, Marketing Society and MRS-led body, we are blessed with involvement from marketing leaders from ASOS, BT, O2, Transport for London, Travelex as well as Mindshare’s Simeon Duckworth, Brainjuicer’s Tom Ewing and support from Facebook and Twitter.

Our aims are threefold. First, develop a robust bank of case law proving the business impact of social on brands through campaign evaluation; social insight and personalisation. Second, launch accompanying ‘how to’ guides and bespoke training. And last but not least, spread the word as often and as globally as we can – hence our recent presence at Effectiveness Week 2016.

“To help embed this rigour into business cultures we have developed training modules and ‘how to’ guides”

So what are our results so far? We have reviewed over 250 cases and peer reviewed over 60 of these and then selected over 20 where we can see a direct relationship between social – whether paid earned or owned – and a business return.

Many of those we’ve reviewed are falling down because they lack some effectiveness “basics” such as defined KPIs and the thinking ahead about the data required, to prove or disprove a hypothesis. This hints at underlying issues in social – such as maybe the need for more training in the rigours of marketing effectiveness. As Fran Cassidy, #IPASocialWorks project director and one of the authors of our guides, says: “The contribution from social datasets to customer understanding and the evaluation of its impact in brand communication remains patchy at best”.

Illustration - You need good data, when measuring social media real impact rather then just vanity metrics must be assessed

To help embed this rigour into business cultures, we have also developed training modules and ‘how to’ guides which are jammed with best practice, case studies, seven-point checklists and five-point plans for how to bake social media measurement into the architecture of any marketing.

“The contribution from social datasets to customer understanding remains patchy at best”

The first guide was on evaluation; the second focussed on insight – where as Jessica Salmon, head of research at O2 says: “As consumers’ adoption of multiple social platforms evolves and becomes more sophisticated, so must our approach – moving from simply counting ‘likes’ to understanding sentiment, context and integrating with other sources”.

And just this week we are launching a preview of our third guide on personalisation. Its author Celina Burnett, marketing analytics at Asos says: “This explores the evolution of personalisation and how brands and agencies can use social media to fuel more relevant experiences. We’ve got some great case studies included such as the BBC, O2 and Adidas which show the real breadth in approaches for how social media and social media data are being used to drive business outcomes”.

“This is no one-off wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am study”

So at #IPASocialWorks we are committed to continually learning together as social morphs excitedly every day. As the writer and behavioural change strategist Mark Earls says: “This is no one-off wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am study but a more practical body of learning which moves and evolves as the environment does (and one thing we all know is – that landscape is not going to simply shift from how it was to some simple alternative state).”

There will always be one constant in our work however – the need to keep proving (what we know intuitively to be) social’s real business value. And that means more ‘measuring’ not ‘counting’.

Stephen Maher is chief executive of MBA; chairman of The Marketing Society and chair of #IPASocialWorks

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Effectiveness Week 2016

“Just what the industry needs, great collaboration between clients and agencies on the topics that drive business growth.”

Bridget Angear, Joint Chief Strategy Officer at AMV BBDO

“It’s great to see the IPA in the UK bring the whole industry and particularly the trade bodies together to focus on effectiveness. This new Marketing Effectiveness initiative will enable people across the industry to work together to build on best practice.”

David Wheldon, Chief Marketing Officer, RBS

“Effectiveness is a team sport, so it was great to see the industry in the widest sense, come together. In an increasingly diverse and fragmented world, only by using all parts of the brain will we solve effectiveness challenges and design our campaigns to deliver short and long term value. That’s why what happens next is important – if the IPA can help facilitate progress on this with a long-term initiative around Marketing Effectiveness, we’ll definitely crack it.”

Bart Michels, Global CEO Kantar Added Value and Country Leader Kantar UK

“The time spent at #EffWeek was extraordinarily effective. It was great to hear the diverse views from all areas of the industry. All tied together with the common themes of accountability and effectiveness.”

Andrew Canter, Global CEO, BCMA

“It has been a privilege to be part of the inaugural Effectiveness Week. The agenda is one which we at O2 UK feel passionately about. To see and hear perspectives across the industry demonstrates how the breadth of marketing effectiveness is increasingly being valued within businesses. Data, insight, social, customer experience, test and learn, ROI, these are all fundamentals and were covered expansively at the event”.

Sandra Fazackerley, Marketing & Consumer, Telefónica UK Limited

“The full week of effectiveness events brought into clear focus the need for marketers to use data and insight to achieve the key business objectives of growth and profits. Marketers today are in a better position to quantify their knowledge of customers and measure the ability of investments in marketing to increase brand and shareholder value.”

Chris Combemale, Group CEO, DMA