“Social media measurement is difficult even in the U.S., where social media penetration is extremely high,” says Shawndra Hill, Wharton professor of operations and information management. “This is no different in contexts like Uganda.”

Hill recently gave a keynote speech at the “Social Media for Business Conference” in Kampala, Uganda, organized by Kampala-based The 360° Network. Approximately 200 people from the telecom, technology and media industries, among others, showed up to gain insights into how companies can measure social media response, engage with their customers and develop social media strategies to fit specific business needs.

Hill’s research looks at large scale social networks, “ones that you can actually observe,” she says. “Think Facebook and Twitter, where you can see the links between individuals who are your customers. At the conference, I talked about mining the data you can get on social networks, whether it is data that is proprietary to a telecom firm, or data you can get in public for free, on [sites like] Twitter.” Such information can be used by companies that want to predict which customers are going to buy their products, for example, versus which customers are engaging in fraudulent activity.

In the developing world, Hill says, there is not a lot of data, “or a culture of collecting it,” on existing and potential customers. Attendees at the Kampala conference questioned her not just about data collection, but about ways to do this in a country where Internet penetration is relatively low. In Uganda, Hill says, a 2010 report cites approximately 16 million mobile subscribers and five million Internet users.

The developing world has an additional challenge, Hill adds: low penetration of credit cards, which means that web purchases are harder to make. “So social media strategy to some extent takes on a different meaning in the developing world context,” she says. “Strategy is still about building brand awareness and engaging with potential customers, but less about immediate online purchases. Strategy in the developing world must also include mobile, which is the future. Mobile penetration is relatively high, and more and more people are using mobile banking apps to engage in commerce.”

The good news, according to Hill, is that “things are changing quickly.”  When she taught in Ethiopia for the first time four years ago, she asked how many in the audience had signed up for Facebook. No hands went up. Now, she says, when she asked the same question in her Ethiopian classes last summer, almost everyone raised their hands.

It’s no different in Uganda, she adds. “The tech community seems very vibrant and ripe for some kind of killer app to come out of it. Innovation is actually encouraged. For that reason, it’s a great place to think about investing in ideas. It’s a good test bed. It doesn’t have the user base of Kenya or South Africa, but there are people in Uganda who, in their free time, are learning how to develop apps and are very excited about it.”

Uganda needs at least two things now, Hill states. In addition to those killer apps that will “demonstrate the power of social media, connectivity and business outcomes … the country also needs a way to collect data on Internet users to begin to better understand Internet, mobile and consumer behavior via business analytics.”

Google, Hill says, just opened an office in Uganda, “which sends a signal that Africa – Uganda, in particular — is important to them in trying to understand how to bring the masses online, consumers [as well as] firms. Google is there trying to build the infrastructure to make that happen.”