Does Google have the answer to measuring ROI in social media?

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We’ve written in the past about how to measure ROI in online communities. It’s a subject we return to often with our clients at FreshNetworks. The online communities that we build for them all tie into over-riding business aims, and so measuring the impact is important. We can, of course, measure specific insights that they get from the community, the benefit of  the qualitative information internally, the benefit that support communities have or any uplift in sales from the community. But there is a holy grail in online communities and indeed across social media - measuring ROI at a granular level; identifying influential members, recognising that these may not be those who post most.

In previous posts, I’ve suggested that what we need to do is develop a weighting that could be applied to individual members showing how important and influential they are. An analysis of the quality (not quantity) of their connections and of their connections’ own connections. A difficult and time-consuming task. And one that Google may have solved.

The latest edition of Business Week reports that Google has a patent pending on technology that measures influence in social networks. It apparently measures both the direct influence people have in terms of volume of connections, but also how successful your posts and feeds depending on how many people open, read and forward them.

The new technology could track not just how many friends you have on Facebook but how many friends your friends have. Well-connected chums make you particularly influential. The tracking system also would follow how frequently people post things on each other’s sites. It could even rate how successful somebody is in getting friends to read a news story or watch a video clip, according to people familiar with the patent filing.

It will be intriguing to see how this technology develops and what Google use it for. The measurement of influence online is of critical importance to brands, marketers and advertisers alike. Brands want to know how influential people who talk about their brand are, or how influential the people in their online community are. Marketers want to find these influential people and focus on what they are saying and what brands are saying to them. Advertisers can use this information to help target ads across social networks.

Of course, there must also be a benefit for Google. Given that their attempts at running their own social networks have not had the same success in sheer numbers as the likes of Facebook, MySpace and Hi5, Google is looking for other opportunities to capitalise upon this growing trend. They’re doing what they’ve done to the web - they don’t provide all the content they just offer a great way to search and prioritise it. So Google could become the Google of social media.