Oh social marketing. The golden child whose power cannot be harnessed nor can its effect be substantially understood. Or so says a report issued by the Society for New Communications Research. The good news is that social media tools are popular, with blogs and online video being the most with 78 percent and 63 percent of marketers having used them, respectively. Close behind are social networks (56 percent) and podcasts (49 percent). More than half of those surveyed formally measure the success of social media initiatives. Standard measurements for other online marketing tactics, like search engine ranking and website traffic, were perceived as useful for evaluating social media influence, according to the report. Hard Metrics Don't Apply While most rank their satisfaction with their social media tools as high, when it comes to determining what makes their social marketing efforts effective, "hard" metrics hardly make the list. Instead, they cite "awareness and engagement" as among their leading criteria. On the whole, marketers are convinced that their tools enhance their reputation as well as their relationships with key audiences. Marketers Rely on Qualitative Data Marketers rely on perceptions and hunches to evaluate the popularity and effectiveness of social media. It seems as if they are more concerned with they way their tools are received by audiences than they are with how many page views their tools generate for their site. They indicate that their blogs and online media are more effective when targeted at younger age group, with 18-25 being the most likely to be influenced. Yet, they still see some merit in the quantitative data gathered by web and blog search engine rankings; frequency of posting; page visits/site meter rankings when determining the most influential bloggers and podcasters. Are Warm and Fuzzies The Best Way to Measure Success? But are these qualitative tendencies merely a reflection of the industries employing social media? Are media, entertainment and technology industries, those that the study indicated were most likely to use social media tools to enhance their influence, more likely to be swayed by their user's feelings, trends and fads, than they are by hard data? And if so, does it serve them well? Because many social media platforms are based upon gated networks, search engine results may not be accurate or inclusive. I think the most obvious message that this survey conveys is that tools used to gather site metrics are not understood completely by those that facilitate them. Deciphering between unique visitors and page visits isn't always easy and it's often hard to convey their implications to those that may be completely removed from the process (ludite CEOs, etc), but are instrumental to funding them. Such is the life of a social marketer, I guess. Constantly caught between what is and what is perceived to be. So tell us, what do YOU think is actually more important in evaluating your social media initiatives?