The topic du jour in social media circles is ROI. What to measure, how to measure, when to measure, why to measure, where to measure. As the commercial says, “I’ve got heartburn in my head.” But, it’s also a topic where you have to be careful who you listen to. As with every new shiny thing, there’s a choir of voices speaking up on the subject--a choir with some incomplete and off-notes. How do you weed through all the noise and find the signal?

 I’ll give you my take with five current bellwether voices. There are more good ones, but if you read these, you will be able to distinguish those singing off-key from those that are right on.  I listed the books in order of complexity (I believe) so if you were to start at the beginning and work your way through the book section, you’d be good. The blog is an everyday follow—put it in your RSS reader or subscribe by email.

  1. Measure What Matters by Katie D. Paine.  Even though Paine is probably the go-to resource on measurement for everyone from small business to enterprise level corporate (see her bio), her book has the best understandable information for the novice. She isn’t highfalutin, but she knows her stuff.  If you’re looking to start understanding what true ROI is and isn’t, read this first. Her deal: you can now measure everything, but you won’t survive without the metrics that matter to your business. She answers the common questions, busts the myths, and walks you through seven understandable steps to a good measurement program. Solid, practical, and need-to-know stuff.
  2. The Hierarchy of Contagiousness by Dan Zarrella. Those of you who’ve read this are probably wondering what a book on data is doing here. It’s about context. Zarrella shows you what good measurement can produce.  This isn’t exactly a book on measurement, but a book on what data can do. His contention is that solid social strategy needs to be built on numbers, not assumptions, clichés, and truisms. And boy, he’s got numbers. This book is a short, but power-packed read.
  3. Social Media ROI by Olivier Blanchard. The main difference that sticks out in this book is that there is a good deal of info up front about developing a solid social media strategy.  I think this is the best all-around book on strategy and measurement out there. He doesn’t get into the nuts and bolts of measurement until after 190 pages. You are prepared once you get there. And like Paine’s book, he spends a great deal of ink talking about how social media integrates into all the operations of business, not just marketing. We need this stuff. His blog is also worth a follow.
  4. Social Media Metrics Secrets by John Lovett. Now we’re into the heavy lifting. Lovett, a former analyst at Forrester Research in the Owyang and Li days, put all his experience in web analytics behind this work. This is some deep stuff, mostly aimed at enterprise level operations.  And despite what the author says, I think you need a basic understanding of strategy and measurement before you get here. This is the most thorough of the four. One thing I learned from this book: there is a vast difference between the trendy obsession with metrics and the business of analytics. The latter is the "big boy pants" version. 

One Blog: Brand Savant by Tom Webster. Webster is the VP of Strategy and Marketing for Edison Research. Edison provides exit polling data to media networks for events like the presidential elections—top-notch stuff. He knows data: he knows what it’s good for and what it’s not good for and isn’t afraid to say so. When you’ve got his pedigree you can call a spade a spade.  I like the fact that he calls out crappy data and assumptions of crappy data. He is like the Ralph Nader of ROI. He has an impatience for junk, and I appreciate that. Plus, he’s a little on the irreverent side, which appeals to my sense of humor. He’s not afraid to use bad words, as my mom would say.

I’d also like to give a nod to Jim Sterne’s book, Social Media Metrics. I didn’t include it on the list because it is older, but it is good nonetheless and very easy to read.  It was the first book on metrics I ever read way back in early 2010. That’s a long time in social media years.

If you’ve run across any good resources, be sure and leave them in the comments.