Measuring intangibles

April 25, 2011

Around about this time of year, every sports nerd such as myself becomes obsessed with the NFL’s annual draft and the sports most elusive phrase: a player’s intangibles. They refer not to how fast an athlete can run, or how much weight he can lift, but to his leadership ability, his intellect and above all his desire to win. A near impossible task, guesswork at best. I mention this as I feel measuring a player’s mental strength draws similar comparisons to the task of measuring the impact of social media.

My last blog put great emphasis on the numbers associated to an online campaign by Old Spice. I quoted numbers in their millions relating to people following, watching or ‘liking’ the brands online presence on social media sites. I even hypothesized about what those statistics mean, but that is all it was: a hypothesis. The effects of ‘successful’ interaction on these platforms is intangible, so much so that no one is quite sure what success even looks like.

Of course there are theories and ideas on how to measure the impact of social media, but ultimately a purchase decision already incurs numerous variables without throwing social media into the mix. You can talk all day about how many people clicked on a linked tweet, how long they stayed on that page and how many eventually made a purchase through said link. But that isn’t what social media is about.

The business of PR itself is intangible. We don’t live or die by numbers. We promote an image and manage reputations. These ideas are abstract, but don’t try and tell me that the benefits of these practices are worthless. Let’s keep the numbers in the accounting department. You can’t put a number on an issue affecting a brand, but you know it must be dealt with. Likewise we use social media to enhance our communicative potential and ability with our audiences. We are communicators, not number crunchers.

You’ve probably seen the TV advert, if you haven’t do it now. It’s good isn’t it? Well I like it anyway. But the nuances of the televised advert really don’t concern me. The campaign of which it is/was a part of now however is a glorious example of how to run a social media campaign. The advert on Youtube has 31,628,808 views, the Facebook page has 1,383,942 and the Twitter page has 124,664 followers. Impressive numbers, but what do they mean?

Well at its most basic level, the Youtube numbers show an astonishing amount of people with exposure to the brand name. That alone is pretty good thing.

So Facebook, a lot of people ‘like’ the brand, possibly the most ambiguous and difficult of online media to rationalize. But consider this; over a million people bothered to either search for the brand on a site unassociated with it, now that is something.

And Twitter? Well hundreds of thousands of ‘Tweeters’ feel that the brand will be able to add something to their day-to-day lives by updating them with news, information and thoughts.

There we have it. Three platforms that in different ways engage its audience. Of course there are those who argue how effective these platforms and how they influence audiences. But we can all agree that those numbers are pretty impressive right?

So how did they do it? Old Spice took a solid, funny ad-campaign and took it to the next level by allowing people to interact with it via social media platforms. This intern increased exposure by increasing the potential interest of the audience. Put simply, a good advert could make a target public remember a brand for a minute. By allowing them to have a conversation with the advert, they increase the attention span of the audience and thus potential for brand recall. Good huh? And if that wasn’t enough the possibility for people posting links on social media pages increase word-of-mouth spread of the message. Old Spice’s campaign is a great example of how to create and manage an online campaign.

It’s well documented by many academics (L’etang, Grunig, Smith and co) that the art of PR is all about selling an idea or image of a product to a public. So in this age of interactive communications we can safely presume that the digital world is another (large) playground in which PR practitioners can play. But does the image created in this playground actually affect the product itself?

Lynx deodorant is a wonderful example of brand image. The suggestion of the Lynx brand is that by using their product, one may instantly attain the lustful desire of attractive women. I can tell you this: I have used a pre-teen male level of Lynx this morning. I can inform you now, after a trip to the golf club where I occasionally work, a brief visit to Guildford town center and a walk to the post office I am no more sexually active than I was pre-application of Lynx. Am I missing something?

But did I really expect the product to bring we scantily clad women? Hell no. But I still bought the product. Why? I’m pretty sure no one can answer that question without a substantial amount of educated guess work. We buy products because for whatever reason in our minds we like them. So you could presume therefore that an online PR campaign could be pretty integral to the success of a product. Let us look one of Lynx’s competitors. Old Spice recently ran an incredibly successful campaign integrating social media into its televised adverts. The campaign strategy is almost a parody of the Lynx message, “you can’t be me but you can smell like me”. This campaign does sell a more down to earth image of the product, but ultimately is still abstract.