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May 7, 2009

Will the IAB’s Social Media Metrics Definitions Help Crack The Engagement Code?

Social media and online advertising wonk that I am, I spent part of the morning looking at the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s just-released social media metrics definitions. Readers of this column may not see anything earthshakingly new here, but I’m encouraged  thinking about how these definitions will help codify and legitimize social media advertising, and help crack the “engagement” code, one of advertising’s great, eternal mysteries. (Maybe we should have gotten Tom Hanks on the case some time ago.)

The great thing about putting these definitions down on paper is that they create a road map for advertisers on how to make social media purposeful, measuring a wide variety of user interactions and monitoring online dialogue, and putting numbers around it that marketers can understand. (I’m not saying here that the words themselves aren’t important, but that quantifying social media is a very important step toward defining its value.)

Below are just a few of the thing the IAB document defines:

  • Application and video installs.
  • The number of relevant actions, including newsfeed items posted, comments posted, uploads, poll votes, and so forth.
  • Conversation size, which measures the number of content relevant sites and content relevant links, and the monthly uniques spread across those conversations.
  • Site relevance, which measures the density with which phrases specific to a client concern are brought up among relevant sites.
  • Author credibility, such as how relevant the author’s content is and how often it is linked to.
  • Content freshness and relevance, which defines how frequently an author posts.
  • The average number of friends among users of a specific application.
  • Number of people currently using an application.

In other words, compared to old-time metrics like reach, frequency and the click-through, these metrics are deep, not only measuring whether people are engaged, but how they are engaging. It’s like being able to measure the temperature with a thermometer rather than opening the front door and declaring it either hot or cold.

As I said above, for those really involved with social media, these definitions probably just put into writing what you already knew. But imagine that you’re an advertiser who sorely needs to understand social media. Then imagine yourself suddenly finding that you can not only monitor discussion around a certain topic near and dear to your brand but that you can also mention the number of people talking about it and their level of passion. Suddenly, social media goes from a huge, indefinable blob of conversations into something that has contours around which you can engage, plan and buy. That’s huge.

I’m sure these definitions aren’t perfect, so I’ll close by asking our vibrant Social Media Insider community what you think about them. Do they go too far, or not far enough? How actionable are they based on the tools we have today? Comment below. I’m sure the IAB will notice.

Media Post: Catharine P. Taylor has been covering digital media and advertising for almost 15 years. She currently writes daily about advertising on her blog, You can reach her via email at, follow her on Twitter at cpealet, or friend her on Facebook at Catharine P. Taylor.