I spent Tuesday this week at the IPA's Eff Fest - a conference in London that looked at different aspects of 'effectiveness'. (Watch out for a full write-up in the coming days on Warc's event reports section.)

The session I really wanted to attend was the update from #IPASocialWorks, a collaborative effort between UK trade bodies such as the IPA, the Marketing Society and the Market Research Society, with backing from several social networks. Their goal is to try to provide some guidance on how best to measure social media (and they were clear to make a distinction between 'counting' and 'measuring').

That is a topic with particular relevance for us after the launch of the Warc Prize for Social Strategy - a competition for social activity that can show business results.

The #IPASocialWorks group have looked at various social media analyses (including our own Seriously Social trend report), and reviewed the database of IPA Effectiveness Awards papers for examples of effective social media usage.

At the conference, Stephen Maher, Chairman of the Marketing Society, and consultant Fran Cassidy, who did a lot of the analysis for the project, outlined several hypotheses that they had developed (we'll publish the full write-up shortly). Cassidy argued that social media usage essentially falls into three categories: marketing communications, customer service, and customer insight. Of these, she had found examples of effectiveness (ie a measurable business return from social media usage) in the marketing communications and customer service buckets.

There followed a series of case studies: two from the communications space (Promote Iceland and Mattessons Fridge Raiders); and three from the customer service space (Transport for London, Telefonica and BT, all delivered in-person).

The overriding theme was that the clearest evidence that social media 'works' is in customer service. The speaker from BT could show, convincingly, that using social media to handle service queries saved her business £2 million a year. The speaker from Telefonica could show that social media had a direct impact on the quality of customer experience, which is a KPI for the business.

It's much harder to isolate the effect of social in marketing communications - and that chimed with the research we conducted around the Warc Prize for Social Strategy. The problem is essentially that social, as a channel, is most effectively used as part of a broader campaign (a point emphasised by Cassidy). That is why the focus of the Prize is social as a strategy (ideas that encourage sharing, participation, advocacy or conversation - regardless of channel), rather than use of social as a specific media channel.

Isolating the contribution of 'social media' to a campaign's success is an admirable goal, not least for future channel planning. But it is, arguably, a different goal than showing that the campaign as a whole has delivered on its business objectives - and that, generally, is the level of effectiveness shown in the available cases.

The Warc Prize for Social Strategy will pull the world's best social cases (in their broadest sense) together in the Prize, and hopefully this, plus the 2014 edition of Seriously Social, can feed into the next phase of work by the #IPASocialWorks team.

As a postscript, one question at the end was whether there were any cases that showed effective use of long-term consumer engagement via social, such as regular content updates. The short answer was a pretty blunt 'no'. As these may be long-term projects that fall outside of a typical campaign effectiveness award entry, Cassidy suggested that there should be a competition for social strategy that could consider these as examples too. Well, now there is www.warc.com/socialprize!