Stop Measuring Social Media

Think about your most important relationships. They might be
your spouse, your kids, your parents and your friends. Maybe it’s that teacher
from high school who inspired you, or the co-worker who took you under his or
her wing.

Now try to put a numerical value on those relationships.
Seriously, see if you can. Then take that value and calculate the relationship

I know, it sounds ridiculous. Yet that’s exactly what
companies expect from their social media engagement efforts.

Social media needs to be quantified, so the argument goes,
or else it has little value. Everything needs a number.

This is, after all, how it was always done online. A company
built a web site, people went to the web site. A brand put up banner ads, and people
clicked on the banner ads. Action and reaction in near perfect symbiosis, with
results easily exported into an Excel spreadsheet. Moreover, each action began
with the company’s goal in mind, and with the expectation (even determination)
that the customer would change his or her behavior to fit the company’s needs.

Today, these same companies are trying to do the same thing
in a social web context – but an ROI rooted in conversations rather than clicks
does not export well into Excel.
Actions and reactions are chaotic, not
symbiotic. And today, each action begins with the consumers’ goals, their
desires and behaviors. Companies need to change their behaviors to befit the modern
consumer or be damned.

Of course (contrary to popular belief) companies still have
a large amount of control – it’s just that their influence is tempered by the
rise of consumer involvement and greater share of voice. Marketing 2.0 is a
team sport.

Overall, the web is a now a far more qualitative environment
– yes, there are still plenty of numbers to compile, from page views to time
spent interacting with content, widget downloads, video views and blog posts,
and on and on. But this is only a small part of the value equation. The real
value lies in the depth of these interactions and conversations, in the
connections that are made between customer and brand. A customer isn’t just
someone who clicks on a web site and orders a product, but someone who can tell
others about the product and start a fan page, or come to a brand’s defense.

Social media is only “social” if people participate –
otherwise it’s just technology with no soul. People are the real “killer app”
of Web 2.0, and people don’t have numbers, they have names and voices. And now
they can be heard.

So do yourself a favor – don’t measure social media, at
least in the traditional sense of measurement.
Put away the spreadsheets, the
projections, the metrics and the cost-benefit analyses. Don’t count how many
friends you have, but rather take a hard look at the value and extent of those

Just listen. Just participate. And just for once, don’t
measure anything except how the experience makes you feel. That’s the first
step – and the most important metric of all.

15 thoughts on “Stop Measuring Social Media

  1. Yes. Exactly. Thank you for articulating this so well. It may take some time to get clients to come around to this way of thinking but I couldn’t agree more with your perspective.

  2. I agree; don’t measure the individual socializing events. However, inside the company an improved organizational climate may be a demonstrable result of inexpensive encouragement of social media use. That’s my hypothesis.

  3. This a contrarian view from what most of the community is thinking about measurement.
    You say “take a hard look at the value and extent of those friendships.”
    Does that mean you suggest that you put a dollar figure on the value created by having a relationship with an individual?
    The “extent” part makes sense as it implies what a relationship does for you, who it connects you with.
    A lot of social media watchers are adding a blog or person’s connections to determine their ranking. If Google measures the value of the websites that link to a website in its algorithm, maybe we should add the value of all of the people who count you as a connection on the social web, perhaps that would determine the value of those relationships.

  4. Contrarian View On Social Media Measurement

    Gary Goldhammer gives a contrarian viewpoint on social media measurement. He suggests that relationships are not quantifiable; imagine putting a value to your spouse or friends. Yet even Gary suggests you should, “take a hard look at the value and

  5. I have to disagree. I think measuring social media is all about measuring relationships, not in terms of dollar values but in terms of whether social media is improving or hurting those relationships. Jim and Laurie Grunig invented relationship measurement a decade ago and I’ve been doing it and writing about it since then. No, its not about clicks and excel spreadsheets, its about finding out what people think about you as a result of your social media efforts. Do they trust you more, is your credibility improved, are they more committed to your brand. All these factors are imminently measureable.

  6. Hi Katie — was wondering when I was going to hear from you 🙂 Thanks for the comment, very well put as always. My post was written more out of frustration about clients who think people talking to each other is as or even less important than a banner ad click through. And I agree — trust, credibility and commitment are all things that need to considered.
    Thanks again — I still remember your talk last year at NewComm and hope our paths cross again soon!

  7. Great discussion, Gary.
    Aristotle said, “A friend to all is a friend to none”.
    I like your emphasis on the quality (value & extent) of friendships versus “how many friend you have”. I also like the emphasis on listening and participating.
    I do also think you can measure certain things and still keep first things first.
    In particular, when it comes to listening, there are lots of conversational dynamics in social media that are measurable and these can really help with effective listening and engagement. Good job stirring up this discussion.

  8. Gary,
    While I do think it’s wrong for brands to remain on the sidelines until they figure out an ROI model, I think we all know that measurement is what will move social media from the fringe to the mainstream in the years ago. Thanks for stirring up the pot a bit on this topic.

  9. I suppose it depends upon what your company does, and where it is in the product life cycle as to the relevancy of measuring relationships. I think for a company on main street with a solid product and a track record of success with other types of marketing campaigns, measurement is more important as it relates to those other campaigns. The question remains, why measure social media? Is it to see what the best ROI is compared to other programs, or is it to determine the multiplier effect of individuals influencing others through word of mouth. Few people write, or comment while a lot read. Other than traffic stats, or tracking directly to conversions, the only way you can determine the success of a program is to watch the reaction, both in terms of numbers and quality. Was it a positive reaction or negative.
    For technology companies with new products, making the sale with early adopters is less important than getting the product into the adopters hands, to use, break down, improve upon and evangelize. The measurement standard of success would be to have all of the innovators in your industry using your product, and talking about it.
    When it comes to you clients Gary, ask yourself are these companies new technology companies, or mainstream companies. If mainstream the people who run those companies will be wanting social media once the early adoption phase is over. A sign of that are lots of case studies, measurement stats, and wide spread use. I wonder if you have an easier time with your new tech clients. About 10% of the fortune 500 are using blogs (ref. fortune 500 blogging wiki) 50% of those companies are technology. For most industries social media or blogging is still in the early adopter stage, except probably the technology industry. If you want to succeed with vision try those companies who still have a name to make for themselves, otherwise you probably are going to have to talk about measurement.

  10. we will be measuring the way we want the audience to react… so they react to our messages
    It’s like measuring ‘influence’. where the intensity will always differ depending on the accessibility, understanding and time spent.
    It will also depend on the time spent, which is measurable at the same time… but needs to be measured is not active base, but activity based.

  11. Gary,
    Great post, I just came across it. I think this is an issue that bears some more discussion between both the PR/Marketing industries and the C-Suite. I agree with you, different tools are used for different jobs and should therefore require different metrics to determine “success.”
    I think this conversation should really extend into a panel discussion or an opportunity for execs to weigh in and share their thoughts.
    That said, I also think that we are advisors to executives, in one way or another we should shape the way they think about key topics related to marketing.
    Again, great thoughts, you should post more …

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