Sometimes I get the feeling that Charlene Li is on a crusade — a crusade to prove with hard data that social media can have real value for business. First there was Groundswell, co-authored with Josh Bernoff, which highlighted an array of companies leveraging social media successfully to achieve business objectives. Now there’s a new study from Charlene’s company, Altimeter Group, and Wetpaint, that shows a correlation between social media engagement and financial performance.
The ENGAGEMENTdb Report looks at the top 100 performing global brands according to the BusinessWeek/Interbrand “Best Global Brands 2008″ ranking and measures and ranks their engagement in a range of social media channels for both depth and breadth. The analysis shows a clear correlation between social media engagement and financial performance.
While correlation is not the same thing as cause and effect, the data is impressive. And as Mark Pack points out in a blog post, if one assumes that the world’s top performing companies are run by the world’s most capable managers, it’s noteworthy that these business leaders appear to endorse a deep and committed engagement in social media.
The report concludes with a useful assessment of the best practices of four of the most socially engaged brands — Starbucks, Toyota, SAP and Dell. It’s interesting that the way companies engage in the space can vary greatly. For example, while Starbucks only permits a small group of designated employees to speak for the company in social channels, SAP has 1500 employee bloggers.
There are a few details missing from the report that I would like to have seen. Each company was rated on 40 engagement attributes, but the report doesn’t provide the specific attributes. What’s more, while it lists the specific social media channels analyzed, there is no analysis of which, or in what depth, each company engaged with the individual channels. This might have helped to better understand while Apple, a company that doesn’t receive particularly high marks from me for online social engagement, made it to the top third of the ranking.
So, what will be the next station in Charlene Li’s crusade to prove the business value of social media? I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s already working on the next quantitative study, the one that show not only a correlation, but an actual cause-and-effect relationship between social media engagement and business results.
Some crusades are good.