Applying the Scientific Method to Your Social Media Plan

by Ken Mueller on July 10, 2012 · 41 comments

English: Flowchart of the steps in the Scienti...

When it comes to how businesses use social media, we spend a lot of time explaining that you can’t approach it in the same way that you approach traditional media. The social, two-way nature of social is not compatible with most of the methods associated with the one-way, broadcast model of traditional media. It’s not easy to disavow many of the notion that you can treat social media in the same way you treat most other advertising and traditional marketing methods.

But there is one way in which you need to approach both in the same way, and I think the best way to explain it is that we need to approach both from within the confines of the scientific method, but with an understanding that marketing is not an exact science. In fact, it’s a rather nebulous mix of science and art.

If you’re doing things properly, you are already doing this with your traditional marketing efforts, but you should also be applying these to your social/digital marketing efforts, understanding that social operates very differently. (Please understand that there are varying models for the scientific method, and I’m taking some liberties here).

Observation – The scientific method begins with observations or research. You take a look at what is going on, and observe what is happening, often with the point of trying to explain something. In social media, this means looking at various platforms, observing how they work, how others are using them, and what sorts of results they are getting. Throughout, I’ll use the example of Pinterest, since it’s the newest platform that a lot of businesses seem to be exploring.

Formulate a question -This might actually be the formulation of several questions, but often takes the form of a “How” or “Why” question: “How does this work?” or “Why does this happen?”. From a social media perspective, it might begin with a “Should I be using Pinterest?” and then perhaps move on to “How should I be using Pinterest”? Or it could be, “How will Pinterest help me increase sales or website traffic?”. There are plenty of questions to be asked, and they can be specific or open-ended, but they are there to move you on to the next step.

Hypothesize/Prediction -This is where you make some sort of conjecture about the question, and the steps of “hypothesize” and “prediction” are often separated into two distinct sets, but for our purposes I’ve lumped them together. Let’s say you decide you want to use Pinterest. Your hypothesis/prediction might be on how to use the platform in a certain way, and that it will bring about a certain result. Clearly, this isn’t pure science, so there are a lot of other mitigating factors. But you can set up your hypothesize in such a way that you say, “If I create these certain types of boards on Pinterest, and share x number of items on that at these specific times, I expect to see this result”. This is where you make a determination of what it is you will be measuring, or your key performance indicators (KPIs).

Test – This is where the rubber meets the road. You actually move forward to test your hypothesis. Now the beauty of social media is that it happens in real time, and because of the free nature of most of the platforms (other than your own time, in most cases), you can adjust and modify on the fly, which you often can’t do with traditional media (or during scientific experiments). If you fail, and your hypothesis doesn’t pan out, you’ve learned something, and you can either adjust how you are using the platform, or stop using it altogether. But that’s where the next step comes in…

Analyze – Measure, measure, measure. (This is the part where Gini jumps up and down and gets all excited). It does no good to experiment unless you have some sort of results that you can interpret. What happened? What were the results? Did you see an increase in traffic? Or sales? Or, did you notice something completely different that wasn’t expected? Even if you didn’t get the intended result, you still have learned something. And of course you need to weigh in any factors that might have colored your findings. This could be as simple as the time of year having an impact on your results, or some other factor.

And remember, your analysis isn’t just an observation of how things worked out; it’s also the first step in deciding your next course of action. It is to help you make modifications, if necessary, in order to improve on your results next time.

Small businesses have been doing this sort of thing for years when it comes to offline marketing, and we need to make sure we do this online as well.

Research everything.

In science, the ultimate goal is to make an observation that is verifiable and repeatable, and your hypothesis can become a theory, and perhaps even a law. In that case, the same thing will happen every time.

This won’t happen in either your traditional or social marketing as there are too many factors outside of your own control, but you still should approach it from this perspective. Marketing isn’t exact science, but you can spot trends. The more you play around and experiment, the more you will learn, and the better you will get at this, as long as you understand that your results will likely be different every time, and what works today might not work tomorrow.

How are you approaching your social media marketing? Are you flying blindly, or is there a method to your madness?





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