by Grazia Murtarelli, IULM University, Italy

The topic of social media measurement has been characterized by a certain level of complexity due to the absence of a shared standard guiding the online measurement process as well as due to the increasing proliferation of metrics at disposal of professionals. Social media are continuously evolving by changing their own features, aims, usage procedures and affecting measurement methods linked to them. Within this complex scenario, academics and practitioners have focused their attention on the need to find the perfect formulas for effectively calculating the social media impact on business activity. To this regard, it could be useful to try to make order and summarize social media measurement trends by providing a systematization of the most shared online metrics.

It is possible to classify the different social media metrics according to the assessment level adopted by professionals. Some metrics are formative, as they are useful for improving communication processes and products, by taking into account not only the obtained results but by assessing the process followed for achieving communication aims. Formative digital metrics are related for instance to the analysis of input at disposal of organization to realize communication initiatives or to the analysis of efficiency of such communication activities. Within the digital scenario, organizations can implement the following measurement activities: a) a preventive analysis of digital environment where communication strategies are realized (i.e. PESO model analysis); b) the definition of measurable communication aims linked to the outputs of digital awareness, activation and advocacy; c) the analysis of efficiency, efficacy and relevance of digital communication strategies and initiatives.

Other metrics can be classified as summative, as they provide information concerning the impact that online communication can have on organizational intangible assets such as reputational capital or relational capital. In terms of digital impact on reputational capital, the most common metrics used by professionals are related to the following pillars of digital reputation: the buzz, that is related to how much people are talking about an organization; the sentiment, that is related to the tone used by talking about an organization (negative, neutral, positive); the credibility of the sources, related to the authenticity and digital leadership of who is talking about the organization. In terms of digital impact on relational capital, the most used metrics are related to the analysis of the network dimension, the network development path, the number of relational losses, the change in network composition, the number of messages shared within the network, or the interactivity level of the network.

Finally, other metrics can be classified as accountability metrics, as they focus on the impact of social media communication on organizational and business aims. Social media Return on Investment (ROI) has been defined as the Holy Grail for social media measurement (Fisher, 2009) and has stimulated different attitudes from researchers and professionals. It is possible to identify three main clusters collecting opposing opinions towards Social Media ROI. Some authors believe that measuring Social Media ROI is impossible (Filisko, O’Keefe, 2011). Other authors consider possible its measurement only if precise definitions of the term are provided (Hoffman, Fodor, 2010). Finally, other authors consider possible to measure Social Media ROI if a wider measurement framework is provided (Murdough, 2009). Additionally, within the last years, in order to overcome the difficulty to measure the digital ROI, some researchers and professionals have changed its meaning by attributing different nuances such as Return on Influence (Martin, 2011), or Realization of Influence (Solis, 2012). Beyond the different opinions concerning the possibility to measure social media impact, a common need to justify online investments seems to emerge. To this regard, professionals willing to measure their own social media activity from an accountability level should more specifically define the performance aims that online communication activities intend to support. Online communication can help supporting a) the achievement of consumption and engagement aims, such as for instance the interaction and participation of users or the number of social connections developed; b) the achievement of containment aims, such as the reduction of the number of critiques and negative reviews; c) the achievement of conversion aims, related to the customers’ journey and their consumption processes.

Social media can be considered the most measurable media within the communication landscape. Public Relations professionals have at their disposal a huge amount of data that are collectable more or less easily. What Public Relations practitioners need to develop as main competence is the ability to “listen” such data, that means to contextualize them and to interpret them in order to provide useful insights for strategic decision-making processes.



Filisko, G. M., & O’Keefe, K. (2011). “Social media or snake oil: Does social media measure up to the hype”. ABA Journal.

Fisher, T. (2009). ROI in social media: A look at the arguments. Journal of Database Marketing & Customer Strategy Management16(3), 189-195.

Hoffman, D. L., & Fodor, M. (2010). “Can you measure the ROI of your social media marketing?”. MIT Sloan Management Review52(1), 41.

Martin, A.J. (2011), “Return on Influence, the New ROI”,, available at the following link:

Murdough, C. (2009).Social media measurement: It’s not impossible”. Journal of Interactive Advertising, 10(1), 94-99.

Solis, B. (2012), “When ROI represents the realization of influence”, available at the following link