This post caught my eye because of the "shadow" metaphor Brian uses to describe the challenge of social media measurement. In my line of work this topic stays in heavy rotation, again because as Mr. Oberkirch points out, it is so elusive.

I think the fallacy here is thinking one can accurately discern human behavior and motivation from quantitative measurements. I'm from the old school. If you want to know why customers did something: ask them. Directly. Listen to their answers and act accordingly. No, you can't point and click to get this information or have a pretty line graph in a nanosecond, but you'll have the most valuable information available for making decisions. How many times do you shop on-line or in person and say "I wish they'd ask me what I think about....." but you never share it?

Stats are great, but we can easily fall into the 'paralysis of analysis' and be lured away from common sense. (Remember New Coke?) I'd put more stock in customer comments on a posting than page views any day. Even more if I have a phone or face-to-face conversation with them. I'm reminded of the saying "if 40,000 people have a dumb idea, it's still a dumb idea."

So why don't we engage customers more? We tend to shy away from this type of feedback because....well, it stings sometimes. Customers can gush or throw you under the bus with equal amounts of passion, and the latter is no fun, I'm a witness. At any rate, Brian's post has a lot of merit and will spur further exploration of this topic. I have an excerpt below but encourage you to read the whole thing. --K

Like Nailing Down A Shadow: The Problem with Social Media Measurement at Like It Matters: "I was a PR guy for many years, and I’m versed in hearing people do some hand-wringing about measurement, and I’ve also seen a number of bogus measurement schemes and some provisional approaches that worked for the parties involved. Measuring influence is tough. Like nailing down a shadow.

That’s why I have a bit of trepidation over the rush to quantify and reify ‘engagement’ as the baseline by which all social media work should be evaluated. JKO called these ‘the holy grail’ as part of the discussion, and that’s what is problematic. ‘Engagement’, like ‘conversation’ is one of those terms that feels like it means something, but really is mushy enough for anyone to bend it to their will.

We’re just getting over a phase where we made page views the basis for our measurement and monetization work. That frenzy (probably a carryover from our mass media upbringing: how many eyeballs, what sort of demographic, etc.) lead to things like link spam, like the lame page layout schemes newspapers and others employ to jack up views, etc. With blogs, we’ve seen link counts get center stage, leading to misleading assumptions about the ‘rank’, ‘authority’ and overall importance of blogs with high in-bound link counts.

Again, it’s not that page views and link counts are important to watch and that they aren’t part of the picture. (Naturally, page views are taking a hit with the widgetization of the Web, feeds, and Ajax calls munging the numbers.) It’s that, again, in our rush to simplify things, we oversimplify them.

The impact of social media (like PR) is overdetermined. There are a lot of moving parts. Which is not to say that it can’t be measured. How do we do it? Well, it depends. Here are some things we can measure, some of which may be right for your project:

  • Page views
  • Feed subscriptions
  • Comments
  • Quality of comments
  • Number and types of user submissions
  • Resyndication of our content
  • Time spent on our site
  • Media files consumed
  • Unique visitors
  • Email subscribers
  • Traffic generated for other sites
  • Numbers of bookmarks for our content
  • Tags associated with out content
  • Search engine effectiveness
  • Offline public relations impact
  • Downloads of a piece of content/software
  • Satisfaction levels
  • Inquiries
  • Improved relations with developers, analysts, media, customers
  • Sales
  • Cross sales
  • Reduced support costs