Lies, Damn Lies, & Stinking Loads of …

Courtesy CBS Interactive & Star Trek

Remember that Star Trek episode where Captain Kirk is stuck on some barren planet with a 9-foot Godzilla-like lizard, and the two of them are supposed to fight rather than their respective armies? The big lizard hisses, “I grow weary of the chase. Wait for me — I will make it quick, and painless(sssss). That’s how I’m feeling about measuring social media right now.

It would be so easy to just give in.

I’ve been pondering how to measure influence, in particular, after a spirited discussion on both Justin Goldsborough’s and Shonali Burke’s blogs. That led to a bunch of posts on how we might use the structure of measuring relationships (Hon/Grunig).   This is heady stuff for peanut-brains like me.  The high-forehead types who make their living in the academe are used to thinking in these terms, but all of this stuff is pretty new for me. I’m just some guy, trying to puzzle out how to make sense of the concepts of influence in the social age, and apply the both new and hoary theories in the process. If I have to explain this stuff, I better have some ideas.

But there’s a lot more traction in just inventing a method and telling people it’s the standard, never revealing the contents of the magic box.  From Altimeter to Syncapse, to Vitrue to Klout, we learn that more-social companies have higher revenue than less-social (correlation is NOT causation); Facebook fans of a brand buy more stuff than non-fans (but which drives which?); Facebook fans are worth $3.60 (no, $136, no…), and that the “standard for influence” has something to do with Facebook and Twitter, but we’re not sure what because the formulas are secret.

H-E-double hockey sticks! I want to fight them all!

But, jeepers, why not just join them?  I came up with an idea last year to evaluate political material — know at a glance whether an article is left-or-right wing, moderate, or a combination of both.  I cooked up how it would work (programmed like automated sentiment), selected someone to write the code and even chose a name.

But it would have been a stinking load of … crap! I wasn’t basing it on any kind of research, just my own desire to make money, preferably by selling the company quickly to someone with deeper pockets, poor analytical skills and a short attention span.  Why go to all the trouble of vetting it, ensuring it actually does what it intends? That hasn’t stopped the flow of snake oil!

The class I teach at Kent State meets Wednesday nights, and on 9 March, the estimable Chuck Hemann, SVP for Ogilvy, joined us by Skype to talk to the class. He’s SUCH a smart dude (and he’s humble, claiming that I taught HIM stuff…) What my takeaway was: There are no easy answers to the social media measurement questions, and the snake oil is still gushing in the space. It takes some primary research, some actual analytical work, to figure this out. No shortcuts, no one-size-fits-all formula.

Here, I thought I’d missed the boat and should be hawking the Oil of Genius.  It’d be a lot easier than fighting the good fight, for sure. But I’m glad I’m still on the ramparts, exalting the troops to victory.

Even if I do, occasionally, “weary of the chase.”

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