The Media Rating Council was founded by Congress in the 1960s to establish a set of standards for television advertising. Since then, the MRC has tackled nearly every marketing medium that exists – most recently, social media.
These guidelines reflect a critical turning point for the business of social media. What was formerly a Wild West of muddled measurement practices, the industry can now rally around a clear set of parameters to guide the measurement of and reporting on social media campaigns. The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) and the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4As) worked closely with the MRC to develop the guidelines.
The news comes as social media continues to mature and claim a larger slice of brands’ overall marketing budgets. In fact, eMarketer predicts that social media ad spend will near $30 billion globally in 2016 – marking a 60 percent increase since 2013.
Ron Pinelli, VP of Digital Research & Standards at MRC, recently led a forum at the IAB Ad Lab to review the guidelines and their implications on brands, agencies and social media practitioners. Joining Pinelli was Peter Storck, Chair of the WOMMA Research Council and SVP of Research & Analytics at Crowdtap and Susan Borst, Director of Industry Initiatives for the IAB.
Here are three reasons why the MRC’s guidelines will help strengthen relationships between social startups and brands.
The guidelines will help social startups show value in ways that are more discernable to marketers. One of the foremost goals of the guidelines is to establish a common vocabulary for social media measurement. For example, the guidelines define terms like brand advocacy, “activity whereby a user creates favorable user-generated content about a brand or product, and then passes on positive messages about the brand to other users,” and engagement, “a spectrum of consumer advertising activities and experiences – cognitive, emotional and physical – that assumes active participation but may also describe a cognitive or emotional connection.” (You can read the rest of the definitions beginning on page 8 of the formal guidelines document.)
While this is a simple step, it’s also a critical one in that will allow marketers make apples-to-apples comparisons of social media campaign performance across each of their agency and startup partners.
The guidelines will help social startups report consistently and accurately. Another aim of the guidelines is to alleviate two buyer-side concerns when it comes to their agencies and partners in social media: consistency and accuracy. Consistency will come from the adoption of clearly articulated terms and definitions for common terms describing various aspects of social media measurement and reporting. Clear measurement definitions will lead to more accurate reporting that takes into account the inherently complex nature of social media reach, in particular.
For startups and agencies tracking earned media impact in particular, the differentiation between “estimated actual reach” and “potential reach” is especially important:
- Estimated Actual Reach: A realistic estimate of the number of impressions that a piece of social media content is able to generate, based on viewability rates specific to the social platform where the content is shared. The MRC outlines this as the new standard for reporting on social media campaign performance.
- Potential Reach: The potential number of impressions that a piece of content could have had, given the total number of potential exposures. This metric was previously used as an all-encompassing indicator of reach; however, moving forward, the MRC urges agencies and practitioners to use it for planning purposes only.
The guidelines will build trust between social startups and brands. Finally, as the guidelines are adopted, startups will be able to earn the trust of their brand partners by providing rigorous, accurate data that is MRC-compliant. As marketers look to connect with people in more meaningful ways, social media has become a cornerstone in the marketing mix. What has held the industry back, however, is a lack of measurement guidelines that enable social to apply to the holistic brand world. This effort from the MRC, WOMMA, IAB and 4As will underscore the power of social when it comes to driving key brand metrics.
The guidelines are comprehensive, and they are also dynamic. As Pinelli pointed out at the IAB Ad Lab event, “The MRC has plans to revisit and revise the document on a bi-annual basis to keep up with social media’s rapid pace of change.”