The role of scale in social media is oversold

The next time I see an article saying that social media measurement is about followers, likes and comments/retweets, I’m going to scream loud enough to raise the dead. These are not business results.

Social media measurement takes place across a three-part continuum — outputs, outtakes (or communication outcomes) and business results. Measurement should cover all three parts, including followers, likes, comments and retweets, but we must not mistake those outputs for real business impact. When we focus on the outputs, we’re extrapolating impact and the potential for impact — not measuring impact itself. When we look at the middle part — outtakes — we get wrapped up in web traffic without closing the loop.

Ask yourself WHY you want followers/fans. What is it we want them to think, feel or do? Measure that! Performance against objectives!  It doesn’t have to be sales/revenue/retention, but it’s mighty helpful if it does. Don’t stop at measuring only the things you have direct control over. Connect the dots. Carry your outputs to business results. Don’t rely on mere correlation — track the different inputs that lead to the objectives you’ve set.

What does the headline of this post have to do with these past 179 words?

Followers have to be influenced by you to feel, think or do something that advances your business objectives. There’s some credible research that suggests there’s a plateau of influence, a point at which influence wanes as the network grows larger.  More on this later, but I implore you — there are no shortcuts to establishing the impact proposition of public relations/communications. I don’t think you’ll find it by counting the number of retweets and likes, however easy that might be.

More info for those of you who might read it:

Katona, Z., Zubcsek, P., & Sarvary, M. (2011). Network effects and personal influences: The diffusion of an online social network. Journal of Marketing Research, 48(3), 425-443. doi:10.1509/jmkr.48.3.425

Kitsak, M., Gallos, L., Havlin, S., Litjeros, F., Muchnik, L., Stanley, H., & Makse, H. (2010, November ). Identifying spreaders in complex networks. Nature Physics, 6. DOI: 10.1038/NPHYS1746 . Retrieved April 8, 2012, from http://arxiv.org/PS_cache/arxiv/pdf/1001/1001.5285v2.pdf

Satell, G. (2011, November 6). Exploding the influentials myth [Web log post]. Retrieved April 6, 2012 from http://www.digitaltonto.com/2011/the-tyranny-of-influentials/

http://www.instituteforpr.org/2010/06/the-barcelona-declaration-of-research-principles/

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