The problem with communication and relationships, which are both the hallmarks of social media, is that their effects are often a challenge to quantify. Most people don’t know how to connect online efforts to bottom-line sales, amount of funds raised or other business results, or even to softer measures like improved relationships and competitive advantage.
Because of this, companies and organizations tend to measure the easy stuff in social media – following counts, blog traffic, rankings, and if they are really sophisticated, engagement measures like number of comments on Facebook or a blog, ReTweets and mentions on Twitter, links to their blog or Website, and other such measures of attention.
There are three basic camps of thought around the measuring the effectiveness of measuring social media. The measurement naysayers on the left, the bean counters on the right and the measurement explorers somewhere in the middle.
Measurement Personalities Spectrum
In the naysayers camp are those who eschew the measurement of effectiveness as antithetical to the ethos of social media. This camp says that each individual voice is important and that all inputs should be seen as valuable. They feel that by measuring you are setting up a transactional relationship rather than building a more desirable egalitarian one. Moreover, they feel that the methods of measurement in widespread use today don’t take into account the true value that this new form of communication brings to the table. For the purposes of this chapter, I call this left wing camp the “Measurement Naysayers,” very socially oriented and invested in the democracy of the web.
The Bean Counters
On the other side of the divide are those who say that the business results of social media should drive the involvement of a company or organization in social media. They are not very interested in the softer measures of influence, reputation or relationship building. Their focus is on Return on Investment (ROI) and don’t see the point of wasting valuable resources on something that doesn’t contribute to the bottom line. I call this right wing camp of measurement the “Bean Counters,” very conservative and fiscally responsible.
The third camp falls somewhere in between and are happy to look at multiple measures that show the efficacy of social media, both business results and softer measures. While a monetary return is the gold standard, that there are a variety of ways to measure the impact that stakeholders and customers in social media channels have on advancing the goals of the business. I call this camp the social media measurement independents.
These people usually bridge the divide between the more social-focused left and the bean-counting right. I would argue that this is the most commonsense approach for social spaces and usually yields the best results.
Where do you fall on this scale, and do you think this is a good model to think of the types of attitudes about social media measurement?
The above is draft material for a chapter in Geoff Livingston’s new book, Welcome to the Fifth Estate (the follow up to Now Is Gone, which is almost out of print. Comments may be used in the final edition. You can download the first drafted chapter of his new edition — Welcome to the Fifth Estate — for free.
Here are all the posts from the Commonsense Social Media Measurement series:
Uriah Av-Ron says
Great post, Kami!
Though I personally place myself as a 'measurement independent', it's mostly because I don't think we possess the tools to properly measure social media today.
As someone who came from the world of advertising to the world of PR (when they were two distinct worlds), I always thought it was silly when publicists measured performance according to column inches times that publication's ad rate per column inch. A positive article in an influential publication could be worth infinitely more than it's column inch value, and a negative one much less.
Though I'm in favor of measurement were possible, and I understand why companies that outsource programs want to be able to measure them, I think we sometimes have to trust our gut more than some forced-upon-us measurement.