On a Thursday in July, just minutes before midnight, the Sunrise, Fla., Ikea store was all a-Twitter.
MIAMI — On a Thursday in July, just minutes before midnight, the Sunrise, Fla., Ikea store was all a-Twitter.
For two hours straight, 44 contestants pounded away at smartphones, pleading with any follower on Twitter to post or retweet a message with their team name. They raced to complete tasks through the empty Scandinavian furniture store, tweeting photos of meatball-eating, lamp-assembling and bunk bed-planking — all to win gift certificates.
The next morning, blogs celebrated a victory for the Twitter marketing experiment. Those involved boasted the event drew 8 million impressions on Twitter, the social networking site dedicated to all the news you can transmit in 140 characters or less.
Eight million what? For a late-night event, without prior media promotion, in a Florida furniture store?
Businesses better brush up on the new vocabulary of social media marketers. As social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare have a growing importance in online marketing and engagement, companies are using a new suite of metrics to measure the success of an event or digital page. Thing is, there's no agreed upon standard yet for measuring the value of a Tweet.
More established media formats are monitored by widely accepted third-parties. Magazines and newspapers use the Audit Bureau of Circulations, and television relies primarily on Nielsen. When it comes to Twitter, several companies are fighting to be the golden standard, including TweetReach, Twitalyzer, Klout, PeerIndex and Radian6. Because each employs a different algorithm, an online account can look popular and loved on one, and a dud on another. That makes metrics muddy when trying to prove ROI to a client.
In the case of Ikea's event, eight million impressions — as measured by TweetReach — does not mean eight million pairs of eyeballs.
"We're not asserting that we spoke to eight million people. That would be totally preposterous," said event co-creator, Sara Shake of Exposed PR.
TweetReach defines impressions as how many times the messages could have been seen — that is, if every person who sent a message, as well as every one of their thousands of followers, stared at every message sent out about the event.
Shake and others say the more useful metric is "reach," the total number of users that could have seen one post, which for this campaign was 700,000. She called the campaign an experiment in social media designed to spread a message as far as possible via popular South Florida Twitter users.
"It was just an exciting event and something that really hasn't been done before," Shake said of the high numbers. "We can't pinpoint why, just like you can't pinpoint why certain YouTube videos go viral."
Twitter, estimated to have 21 million active users, is a place for anyone to share news, thoughts, recommendations or gripes with a public audience. Users will subscribe to follow the short, 140-character messages (known as tweets) from accounts they like, such as those who spread information about a specific niche interest.
With one click, users can share another person's tweet with their followers (known as a retweet), and done on a large enough scale, it can make a message spread to a huge audience in seconds. And that feed of messages can easily be posted to eyeballs on other websites, including Facebook.
The evolution of marketing online has centered on leveraging the share power of Twitter, hoping to get someone not affiliated with a company or event to spread the word. It's a digital version of the age-old concept: You trust what your peers recommend over a paid advertisement.
But there's no way to tell when a Twitter user is looking at his or her account. So calculating reach, as is done now, is the equivalent of calculating how many people could have watched "Anderson Cooper 360" last night because they have access to CNN.Tools like Klout and PeerIndex put a number on a user's social media importance — a type of credit score for the Twitter universe. Both websites use different equations to calculate how engaged they are with other users. Marketers then use those numbers to determine who should be invited to an event, or get free swag, hoping they'll talk highly about it and get others to pay attention.
Virgin America gave away free flights last year to users with high Klout scores. Stephen King's publisher, Scribner, gave Klout influencers the chance to download a free digital version of his new book, "Mile 81," a week before it went on sale.
But when a spam account such as @armandoxf on Twitter can get a Klout score of 36 with four followers and more than 2,600 tweets of spam links, as was the case last week, how can such a measurement tool be taken seriously? (The spam account scored a zero on Klout competitor PeerIndex.)
"It's definitely an evolving process," said Klout Chief Executive Joe Fernandez, a University of Miami graduate now based in San Francisco. "There's still so much work to do."
Fernandez said Klout has also worked with clients such as Disney and Nike. It's becoming one of the most used measurement tools by marketing and public relations firms, as they hunt for voices that others care to listen to.
"Everyone wants to understand who had the ability to share something and have it cause ripple effects online," Fernandez said.