Measuring the messages Alticor examines global social media impact

The arms of Alticor Inc. encircle the world.

That brings special challenges when the Ada-based direct sales firm considers how to measure the impact of social media, said Leslie Drueke, consumer and market insights senior analyst.

“There are a couple of hurdles that we had to get over, and not just from a social media perspective, but from a global company perspective,” Drueke said. “Even finding a vendor that could actually conduct this research in multiple languages … that was our first hurdle, actually, because it is such a new methodology for market research.”

Alticor hired Dow Jones & Co. to track worldwide blogs, online communities and social networking sites as a major step in its effort to craft a social media strategy that plays in German, Japanese, Korean or Russian as well as it does in English, Drueke said.

Drueke will join Katie Jones of the Dow Jones public relations and corporate communications segment in a discussion called “The Art and Science of Media Measurement” on Thursday at a meeting of the West Michigan chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. Cost for the luncheon event at the University Club is $25 for WMPRSA members, $35 for non-members and $20 for students, and RSVPs are requested. For more information, see

Drueke, who works with a 10-person group that is a cross-section of the private company on social media issues, said the research looked at issues of quantity and of context.

Specialized software is on the market to help companies glean market research information from the Internet, but there is no replacing the human element to capture meaning from tone and idioms, said Cindy Droog, senior public relations specialist who works with social networking in the U.S. and Canada.

“The translation is always a challenge, but also identifying who the voice is. … If people aren’t identifying who they are in the conversation, you don’t always know who to track.”

Plus, the research must be limited to publicly available sources that are not protected behind passwords, Drueke said. “There are so many private networks out there. … We had to look for what we could access, what is available to analyze, and did we have enough information.”

Amway first started tracking blogs in the U.S. and Canada seven years ago, said Droog. Today she uses software to track real-time references to the company across the social media spectrum, including Twitter. She said the company now tracks blogs, online communities, discussion forums, comments on media sites, social networking sites, and photo and video sharing sites, as long as the information is not password-protected.

Unlike Alticor, most small companies still are on the sidelines when it comes to social marketing, and much of that comes from questions about measuring return on investment, said Mike Yoder, social media strategist with Mindscape at Hanon McKendry.

A study from the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, released in February, reported that social media use by small business doubled last year, going from 12 percent in 2008 to 24 percent in 2009.

“A lot of people, their impression is it’s a waste of time, it’s something extra that is going to pull my employees away from productive activities that I’m used to measuring and already am comfortable with measuring. But until companies are more comfortable (that) there are tangible ways to measure the impact, companies will continue to resist,” Yoder said.

“But think about the early days of the Internet. It was the same way: ‘What do we need that for? It’s a fad. We don’t need a Web site.’ We’re in those early stages yet, where we don’t have wholesale adoption.”

In a University of Maryland-Network Solutions study of 500 small businesses, 75 percent of respondents using social media have a company page on a social networking site; 61 percent use social media to identify and attract new customers; 57 percent have created a  network on a professional networking site such as LinkedIn; and 45 percent expect to turn a profit on their social media.

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