Note: This entry originally appeared at the author’s blog, Social Media Explorer. [Disclosure: CustomScoop provides monitoring, analysis, and measurement of traditional and social media for clients.]
I’ve had the pleasure and honor of getting to know and working with a handful of social media measurement firms. For disclosure’s sake, Doe-Anderson presently uses Radian6 for one client as well as agency projects and my friends at Beam Global Spirits & Wine use Collective Intellect, which I have access to on their behalf. However, I’ve gotten to know and have become very familiar with a number of social media measurement firms and people over the last year including Nielsen Online, BuzzLogic, Cymfony, MotiveQuest and more. One of my favorite people to spar with on the issue is, of course, the measurement diva herself, K.D. Paine.
So in the course of conversation last week, I had an interesting back-and-forth with her that sparked some thoughts on social media measurement. It all started with a client’s question on whether or not we could measure social media impressions. I rhetorically asked Paine to chime in, knowing I’d get a passionate response (I did, more in a moment). My response to the client was, in essence, this:
It’s not possible to record impressions in social media. Social media is about conversations. No matter how much we market, if people want to talk about Barak Obama, gas prices or Janet Jackson’s nipples we may be 100-percent relevant and top of mind to 90% of the people, but we aren’t going to get any conversational love. So we then turn to eyeballs on our placements. But that’s impossible, too. The simple reason is that websites don’t have to share their traffic numbers. We can use projections like Alexa or Compete, but those projections are drawn from sample numbers of tech-savvy people smart enough to download their plugins and allow them to monitor one’s web behavior. The numbers are skewed to the geek community. We can nail placements. We can nail number of conversations (with a +/- error range as some sites set themselves to not be searchable). Of those conversations, we can nail sentiment and tone. We can plot it all out month-to-month, day-to-day, etc., and see how much better or worse we’ve gotten. We can also measure how much web traffic we’re getting, how many people are linking to us, not just mentioning us, etc. All of these are valid measurements of social media success. We need to prioritize which ones are success to us and focus on them.
Paine responded with some very solid points, most of which supported my response (shew!). The best was when she said, “The only way to accurate calculate impressions for blogs is to ask each blogger who’s site your brand appears on how many unique visitors he/she gets in a month. And even then, you’re assuming they’ll tell you the truth.”
As our discussion continued, I offered up this little number, partially to gauge a response, but also because I believe it to be fairly accurate:
“Nothing I’ve seen can’t be automated by a well-polished algorithm with a monthly report that takes one smart person about 3-4 hours to put together, glean a couple of insights and slap a few copy-paste quotes from some blogs and you’re done. And yet every firm I’ve seen wants a brand to pay tens, even hundreds of thousands of dollars for that? Give me a good software application developer and the API for del.icio.us and I’ll kick the big firms’ asses in a month.”
And yes, I linked to all those firms up there specifically so they would see and respond to that paragraph.
I went on to say:
“Big brands want deep-dive information without having to do any work. But they want deep-dive because there is not a hard, fast number we can circle and say, “1,547 here means we made an additional $46.78 there.” The measurement business is an illusion to them. They have no clue what the numbers mean, how they relate to success and, in the end, they can throw them all out and just say, ‘We did some cool sh*t on-line, too,” and their CMO/CEO will be happy, so long as the advertising campaigns lead to sales growth.”
Of course, Paine chimed back that she would argue that social media absolutely can draw a line to what impact it has. She pointed to the ASPCA and Mothers Against Drunk Driving and can point to how many new members and how many donations come in from what they do in social media. She also pointed to engagement, click thrus and sales as correlative support. My retort is that social media often happens off a brand’s website and can’t be quantified in direct numbers, sales or otherwise. My metaphor was that I talk about brands of bourbon in online conversations almost everyday. Does that mean every person who sees or participates in a discussion about them goes out and buys a bottle or a cocktail? Nope. Do I have any way of knowing how many do? Nope. And you can’t buy liquor from the brand online, so there goes some more of the argument.
In all, we had a great exchange on a hot topic and I’m indebted to her for her time and patience with my skepticism. I’ve met some great people who know a lot about measurement. K.D. Paine is certainly a prize contact.
And, yes, she smacked my hand pretty good on minimizing the work that goes into good social media analysis saying, “I doubt very much your developer can accomplish what yo have in mind in a week.” She’s right. And, for the record, I did include the line, “I’m not trying to minimize your work,” in my explanation.
Which brings me to what I think might be the best analogy we in social media can give to those of a more traditional advertising, marketing and public relations background when it comes to social media. Paine’s, “research geek,” Paul Kowalski said:
“There is a place where the measurement stops and, for branding efforts, it stops at measurements of brand equity. When an architect builds a building, what are her measures of success? Stock price? That would be ludicrous. Did she make a building? Yes. Can people work in it? Yes. Done. For brand architects, did you build the brand to spec? Are people who perceive your brand more likely to buy more stuff (or do whatever)? Stop. No further. Because anything past that, like calculating the impact on stock price of a building people love to work in, is what your friend so aptly called the illusion.”
For the record, K.D. Paine and Partners is one of the leading social media measurement firms in the world. They have an assortment of offerings for business of nearly any size and budget, including the DIY Gold Dashboard which is a powerful tool. They can be found online at http://www.kdpaine.com. Ms. Paine blogs herself at http://kdpaine.blogs.com and if you’re not following her on Twitter, you should. She’s @kdpaine.
Jason Falls is and blogger and director of social media at Doe-Anderson, a brand-building agency in Louisville, Kentucky. He writes the Social Media Explorer blog.