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Fast Company complains that Audi can’t measure Twitter – they missed an angle

June 27, 2011

This month’s Fast Company just came to the house. It is a great magazine, and one that I recommend you get delivered to your home. Really, go get it. Even the ads in the magazine are first-rate.

Okay, enough sell. I want to talk about the article entitled “Does Social Media Have A Return On Investment?”

In it, author Farhad Manjo leads with how Audi ran a SuperBowl spot with a hashtag on it:

THIS YEAR, AUDI RAN the first-ever Super Bowl commercial to feature a Twitter hashtag. Did you miss that watershed moment? Don’t feel too bad: The hashtag — #ProgressIs, a take on the carmaker’s line “Luxury has progressed” — flashed on the screen for just a second, near the end of a surreal and entertaining ad that featured millionaires trying to escape from a minimum-security prison, and a cameo by, who else, sax man and Lite-FM staple Kenny G.”

He goes on to explain in details that along with the Hashtag that was on the screen for too short of a time, Audi purchased a “Promoted Trend ad” from Twitter. Audi also used Klout to identify 1,100 “influential” people with high Klout scores and create what is a blogger outreach program to these influential people.

According to the article, these influencers “tweeted more than 12,000 times about the hashtag, creating a viral chain of Audi-related chatter online.”

To finish it all off, Audi picked the best tweets containing #ProgressIs and the winner got a trip to California to test-drive some Audis.

He then asks the following:

“But what did Audi get out of all these influencers’ tweets? Did the Twitter campaign prompt anyone to consider buying an A8, say, or to go into a dealership to test-drive one? Did seeing the #ProgressIs tweets at least inspire an outpouring of positive brand feelings toward Audi?”

The conclusion is no, they can’t tell if the Twitter campaign sold an Audi.

Wait a minute… “…did the Twitter campaign prompt anyone…”

The Twitter campaign?

Isn’t this a television spot with a blogger outreach promotional campaign tied to it? Why would the title of this be “Does Social Media Have A Return On Investment.”

What about calling this “Does a 30-second SuperBowl ad have a return on Investment?” What about this: “Does a 30-second TV spot with a blogger outreach campaign have a return on investment?

You get the point.

Here’s the paragraph that has me really wondering about all of this:

“[Audi] doesn’t have any numbers to prove that all this engagement has resulted in, you know, selling more cars. Amazingly, the company isn’t too interested in finding out, either. For Audi, Facebook and Twitter “are places where we know tech-minded consumers are active, where they’re seeking to engage with the brand.”

They can’t say if a fan, ie someone who engaged on Twitter with the hashtag, is more likely to a buy a car.

But here’s the thing; Audi can’t really say that the 30-second spot, you know, sold more cars. Pepsi learned by not advertising during the SuperBowl that people might stop buying a brand if they don’t do TV, so we have association. So while it is true that Audi can’t tell us if Facebook and Twitter sell cars, Audi can’t really tells if SuperBowl spots sell cars.

These days, awesome TV spots get viral noise on social media as people buzz about the brand. One suspects that people selling inventory understand this and add a cost to the 30-seconds of space (if they don’t, they should). Even if a brand does nothing in social media, any commercial on the SuperBowl will live on social media for the next couple of days. That reality is now part of the investment, but there is no clear return on it and there most-likely never will be because it won’t be because of the space, it will be because of the quality of the ad. That includes doing something that rubs people the wrong way, and ending up in crisis mode.

In fairness, Farhad brings it all around at the end. He calls the social media era “a throwback to the golden age of TV.”

He concludes that marketers can’t predict the impact of their campaign with the precision they can in other places online. I agree: we have no idea the value of a fan. We can’t tell if people who are fans, are really good fans.

Unlike the 30-second TV spot that’s part of the campaign, the Twitter outreach is online, and in theory, the behavior can be tracked, measured, poked and incentivized. With anything online, there seems to be a desire to measure, track, poke and incentivize all digital media.

We want a fan to turn into a sale. And since that fan did things online, we want to measure every little bit of it.

But, there’s a but.

This might sound like jargon, but social media isn’t like other online marketing tactics. Like TV, it’s more about relationships with fans. What Audi did really well is give a prize in their blogger outreach that fits with what fans want. Fans want an inside look at the brand.

Not everyone wants the inside look. With every brand, there are these people I’ll simply call people. They aren’t fans of the brand, but they might buy it. They’ll watch a TV spot, but they won’t go to Facebook for more. They won’t share their own story. They won’t do a video.

They don’t want to know the names of the next products, they don’t offer advice on how to make the company they love better. They could give a shit about a content calendar. But they buy cars, and they might buy this car. And their friend might be one of the fans. And that friend might…

See. It gets a little silly to go down this road. It doesn’t feel like proper marketing.

But even if they have a friend, and even if that friend engages them, those people will not engage in social media with a brand because they aren’t passionate about the brand.

I think what Audi did was awesome, but I’m not going to fan the Facebook page or post on Twitter with the special hashtag because I don’t care about Audi. (Many people do, see the links below).

Social media is different from other online tactics. If a brand wants to engage in it, there has to be an expectation of measurement. Measurement isn’t in “how often did they click to buy” because if a brand engages in a social media tactic and constantly asks for the order, they’ll be shut out. Just like, for the most part, TV spots that constantly ask for the order are shut out.

This does not mean social media doesn’t have value. Nor does it mean it has the same value as a 30-second TV post.

The value is in working together to enhance the voice of the brand. What should happen is this: like the Audi campaign listed above, things need to work together. TV spots and blogger outreach can aid in the awareness of a new product launch. It won’t be as easy to measure impressions data, but then, we’ve often wondered about how an impression is an impression no matter where it comes from.

Most likely treating every impression the same is wrong. We just don’t know how wrong.

Most-likely, a TV spot with a blogger outreach campaign using a Twitter hashtag will sell more Audis than a TV spot without those things.

But we have no accurate measure to find out how. And I’m not sure we’ll ever have one unless we turn social media into infomercials.

Is that smart?

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