— blending the mix

You just cannot shoe-horn metrics into Social Media


David picked up on this gem from Lloyd a few weeks ago and I have been meaning to post about it ever since. It gets to the heart of what I think people like Will are trying to do, but at the same time gives validity to the argument that there is in fact nothing that can be done to standardise metrics into social media – a Google Page Rank of social media marketing effectiveness if you like.

To quote David/Lloyd:

1. There is no killer metric
2. Track anything possible to glean insight
3. Social media is not just about numbers
4. It’s all relative (focus on benchmarking and trends)
5. Measuring social media does not = ROI for social media
6. View monitoring social media as a social intelligence programme, involving the world’s biggest focus group.

The roots of my argument are points 3 and 6 – Social Media is not just about numbers – consider your social media activity as a tool to delivering your product/service to the world’s biggest focus group. 

Ok, so you can measure the number of conversations, you can see how many comments have been made, unique visitors a blog may have had, item views etc., but they only tell you how busy something is – not what was said and the feelings and emotions and sentiment behind these numbers.

Only one thing in the social media space talks in numbers – computers.

Only one thing doesn’t have emotions and feelings – computers.


If we are to work to a metric, how on earth do we score an emotion? Do we mark simply positive and negative sentiment and if so, how do we teach a computer to understand that sentiment? Can it pick up sarcasm, sorrow and joy? I kind of know the answer to that one as I work with some guys whose toolset is simply awesome ;-)  at understanding this, but which still has to be taught sentiment by human beings who in turn have to interpret a sentiment personally.

Do we give an arbitrary score of 10 to a positive comment and 1 to a negative one? How do we score a phrase of indeterminable sentiment such as “Dave told me company X kept spamming him but the product is alright.” Here, the product seems to have a positive sentiment, but the company sentiment is a negative one. Maybe we score the comment as a neutral 5, but do you want even a good product from a company that spams you? Who makes that call – can a machine?

Different destinations

But in arriving at a definitive metric for social media, it is essential to apply weightings to different social media – and again, I think this is nigh on impossible. Just consider your where you focus your time when performing outreach activity, if you do it 😉

Different social spaces and activities require different levels of involvement and one thing I ALWAYS find when planning a social media campaign is that no two are ever the same.

We’re all talking and sharing thoughts about the same topics, just not in the same places – so how can we create a ranking based on the different locations a topic is being discussed?

For example, on what grounds do I assign a metric to conversations on flickr, that in some way means anything to another photo-sharing website such as photobucket (maybe Page Rank is a good start, let Google do the thinking on that one!).

Human participation can be the only way that we can understand the subtleties of the feelings of each site/community members and only the human can respond to those feelings appropriately.

I’d love to hear from people to gauge their opinion on all this, and I may even get my arse down to London to Measurement Camp next time 😉

  1. Lloyd Gofton says: September 17, 20081:08 pm

    Hi Paul

    First of all, thanks for the link. I’ve been out of the loop for a bit as i’ve been away on honeymoon, but in my first week back the frustrations continue, this time with more personal experience of refusal to accept that old school measurement can’t be linked into social media.

    It’s going to be a long road, and although the message is getting through on the agency side, we have a real education job ahead to convince some clients.

  2. mark says: September 18, 20083:28 am

    For the moment perhaps it is enough for the tools to simply aggregate the data – put it all in 1 place to enable a human to sift.

    Ultimately though measurement still feels like a side issue. Its an easier problem for a a lot of brands to solve than meaningfully engaging in the space so they focus on it.

    How many of our clients actually really use and act on web metrics – very, very few.

    The real issue is much bigger – and boils down to trust. The reason we humans have become so obsessed with measurement is because we no longer trust one another to do a good job independently.

    Until management – and brands specifically learn to trust those they employ to talk to their customers online – the industry will continue to chase its tail.

    Yes mistakes will be made, people within the organisation will say inappropriate and damaging things but they’ll convey their humanity – and that is what the best brands do well.

  3. Chris Reed says: September 19, 200810:44 am

    Great post on a really interesting area. Particularly interesting for me (coming from a PR background) now that media agencies (ahem) are stepping into the arena.

    The issue is really what’s the mindset of the client. A client who is used to dealing in numbers (what’s the ROI of that? How many TVRs?) – as many marketing/advertising clients are, will expect (demand?) some similar quantifiable metrics to justify spending money on a campaign – even though the overall benefits may far outweigh those metrics alone.

    How much “value” can you put on “just being there” and engaging? Hmm…

    But a client who is used to dealing in perceptions and subtleties backed up with some quality thinking is much more likely to understand the not-everything-can-be-quantified point of view, but we believe that the campaign has been effective for these reasons…

    From my perspective – PR campaigns have traditionally had exactly the same issues re measurement as social media campaigns – there is a place for both, but it’s NOT to compare apples and pears.

    Where the objectives of a campaign can be quantified, then I’ll quantify them (number of facebook app installs, number of flickr group mentions etc. etc.)

    But where they’re a bit more intangible (which, let’s face it, will be a lot of the time) then it’s just short-sighted to assume that metrics alone will do all of the analysis.

    So, in short. If your objectives do lend themselves to being measured, then yes – go ahead and measure them. But if they don’t, then don’t pretend they can…

    The trouble we’ll all face though is convincing procurement departments of this approach. So there.

    And, on a slightly different point, I totally agree that it doesn’t matter how good your metrics are, the most important thing at the end of it all is how sharp the person is who’s analysing them, and how closely they they can relate what has gone on online with the client’s business objectives.

    People power!

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