With fears about the economy impacting everyone's bottom line, small business owners who don't already obsess about ROI are likely to find themselves digging deeper into their data in the coming months. Chances are good they'll start with metrics like conversion rate, cost per lead, time on site and pass along rates. Those are all good, but I can't help but think they're overlooking one that's absolutely essential.

The Failure Metric

The evolution of a bad idea

I wrote about the likely hood of failure when it comes to viral campaigns this past summer, and pointed out the valuable lessons you can learn from them. In that article, I explained it like this:

Launching a viral attempt gives you the chance to see how your audience reacts to your message. You can run searches to follow the conversation, taking note of the good and the bad. You can segment your analytics to see which types of sites sent the most visitors to the campaign and which types of sites sent the most engaged visitors.

Based on the data you gather from these attempts, you can fine tune your campaign, your message and even your launch points to increase the chances of your next campaign succeeding.

The Failure Metric Holds Value Elsewhere

Now most people can pretty easily see the value of looking at failed viral campaigns, but a lot of us overlook the value of our other failed campaigns. Whether it's an email campaign, a paid search campaign, an organic search campaign or even a new social media attempt like a blog or participation in a forum, things are bound to go wrong every now and then.

Rohit Bhargava writes about this very thing in a post last week on the "soft metrics" of social media measurement. Under the "lessons learned" metric, he explains:

Sometimes failures can be the best thing to happen to a social media campaign. Doing something wrong gives you the chance to learn from your mistakes and perhaps even make your next campaign much more successful. The problem is that most metrics would record a campaign like this as having no redeeming qualities. That's not quite true and though most marketers know it, many don't have a way to share it.

Don't Just Shut Them Down, Learn From Them

I know it's going to be tempting to cut your spending in the areas that don't appear to be delivering over these next few months, but don't forget to take the time to really look at those campaigns first. Find out what parts of them worked and use that knowledge to build your next campaign. Find out what parts failed and see if you can figure out why. Look at feedback on your blog, on social media sites and from customers. If a product or campaign bombs, ask them why...and be open to the response.

Marketing budgets are about to tighten. The good news is the companies who manage to create and run campaigns with positive ROI will be able to grow and expand their campaigns due to less competition in the market place.

Embrace the failure metric in your campaign planning. It could be the key to leaping ahead of your competitors and coming out gold when these tough times are done.

October 20, 2008

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.


Great Post! I couldn't agree more. I think that small businesses who are now engaging in Social Media need to realize that this type of campaign is meant for the long haul. The only way to be truly successful is to establish your goals for the campaign, create a strategic plan on how you can achieve those goals, and start doing it! Another thing is...be patient. Don't dismiss a certain idea or action, just because it isn't working. Figure out why its not working and then analyze whether or not its worth tweaking or getting rid of all together. However, its those ideas that will lead to bigger and better ones!

I look forward to reading more!

Judging by this quote, Thomas Edison would have agreed with your post ;)

"Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up."

Oh, please don't take fun out of enterpreneurship!


A post that really puts everything in perspective. I try to tell people that we learn more from our failures than our successes all the time, but this advice is never more important than now with the economy. Thanks for putting these thoughts together.

@ Kyle: Well I agree in principal, we learn from our mistakes. If we do manage to learn then it can hardly be called a failure.

@ Tyler: 1000 not to make a lightbulb? :)

@ Eric: I believe that "horses for courses" best describes that one. I've seen that social media can be very powerful, but also very useless. It's really a case of doing your homework, watching some bits fail miserably and others that flourish. But just because one aspect doesn't work it really is a bad idea to dismiss it all as being useless.

Jennifer great article as always.

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