Measurement for its own sake is a waste of everyone’s time and money. It’s got to be in service of a strategy.
You might say that the foregoing statement is a canard; no one is beating down our doors asking us to just measure something, anything. But there remain a feisty few, particularly on the social media side of the equation, who keep offering up horsepuckey in the guise of gold bullion.
Witness “4 Ways to Measure Social Media…,” a well-intentioned piece from last summer on Social Media Examiner. Author Nichole Kelly subheads the article with “exposure,” “engagement,” “influence” and “lead generation” — the “4 ways.” Kelly’s on firm ground about exposure, pointing out the difficulty of a) getting good data and b) ensuring you’re counting only once, though equating reach to awareness is a colossal mistake. Engagement, too, is solid (if output-based), covering @replies, DMs, links clicked, comments and subscriptions. Good stuff.
Influence is listed third and lead generation fourth, showing exposure, engagement and influence as the top of the funnel leading to conversion.
The section on influence is underdone, and erroneously says tone (positive, negative, neutral) IS influence. In fact, according to Yahoo!’s Duncan Watts, Winter Mason, and Jake Hofman, and the University of Michgan’s Etyan Bakshy, influence can’t be credibly determined from content analysis. Read all about it.
I heard Watts speak on this topic during the snowy last week of January at a meeting of the Institute for PR Commission on research, measurement and evaluation, of which I’m a member. Influence is a huge question, and Watts, et.al.’s work made me recall the somewhat hoary idea that understanding your specific audience (whether final audience or intermediary) is a lot more important than trying to calculate the exact number of impressions represented by friends of friends and retweet followers.
I pick on influence because it’s the biggest question in social media. In fact, it’s been a big question in communication in general since the days of Lazarsfeld, Berelson and Gaudet and the two-step flow. Who are the “opinion leaders” and how do we calculate their effectiveness?
Here are four questions that hold promise when considering how to measure influence:
- Does the opinion leader “play” in the right sandbox for our intended audience/stakeholder? Chris Brogan and Brian Solis have lots of followers, tribes that hang on their every tweet. Are their tribes our tribes? They’ve got awesome scale by sheer numbers, but it’s anyone’s guess how involved they are or whether their followers in turn reach people we care about. We could get Brogan or Solis to talk about our service, product, leader or whatever, but to what end if their followers aren’t the right fit for us?
- Can we create a solid chain of links from the opinion leader’s actions to our desired actions? If we’re working on building corporate reputation, retweets, Facebook “likes” and blog comments should have a relationship to opinions voiced by our final target audience. Simply passing along a leader’s statement (tweet, post, comment, etc.) shouldn’t be construed as adoption! Here’s where content analysis shows promise, especially in blogs and perhaps during Twitter chats. The opinion leader’s output should have some effect if he/she is truly influencing others. Note that this is a qualitative effort and suffers from lack of scale.
- Are we mistaking popularity for influence? Celebrities routinely land atop the Twitter rankings, and there are brands on Facebook with upteen hundreds of thousands of “friends.” But having a lot of friends/followers just makes you popular. See #2 above. We’ve long wondered about how to judge the effectiveness of influence in conventional relationships, but I don’t think many of us think the most popular student in high school was necessarily the most influential.
- Are we inappropriately drawing general conclusions from narrow findings? Influence is personal and specific. We make assumptions about readers of newspapers, TV viewers, etc., and have a body of research to back those assumptions up. In social media, the appearance of influence may be mere output, or outtake at best. Outcomes outside of e-commerce are tough to come by, though clear objectives can solve this problem quickly.
The best measurement starts with research up front, which informs our strategy and objective-setting, followed by more research to determine effectiveness and progress toward objectives. It’s not just tactical measurement designed to cover our butts or justify our budgets, especially when it’s trying to measure influence.
Tags: Communication AMMO, effective communication, evaluation, manager communication, measurement, Media Relations, PR measurement, Public Relations, reputation management, Research, ROI, Social Media, Twitter