September 27, 2022

Helping PR pros make smarter decisions

Measurement and the “Illusion of Control”

Measurement and the “Illusion of Control”

Originally, I sat down to write a post detailing on how important it is for the social media/PR/Marketing industry to find a middle path. That it’s critical to measure, but measurement shouldn’t be the only objective. I read a New York Times piece someone on Twitter linked to, titled “In a Data-Heavy Society, Being Defined by the Numbers.”  It shows how we can measure too much, and pretty soon we’re paying attention to numbers for numbers’ sake, and we make decisions based on numbers that really don’t matter. A key quote from the piece: “‘Numbers make intangibles tangible,’ said Jonah Lehrer, a journalist and author of ‘How We Decide,’ (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009). ‘They give the illusion of control.'”

“Illusion of control.” An interesting phrase, especially when applied to this space. (Circa 2007: Business fears social, no message control. 2011: We have measurement! Measurement=control.)

Are we there yet in social media? Maybe. There’s enough discussion on how social is splitting into two camps: the data-driven and the relationship-driven. The data-driven imply that everything done in social media needs to have a specific purpose and be measured, or it shouldn’t be done. The relationship-driven say social cannot and further should not be measured. Neither side is wholly right or completely wrong.

That’s what this post was going to be about, but enough digital ink has been spilled on that already. How many out there have heard the quote “Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds”? The quote leads you to believe that Emerson was implying that being consistent, doing the same things, was the province of small thinkers. Following that logic, forcing inconsistency, and trying something new, is what big thinkers do, right? Just one problem–that isn’t the correct quote. The correct quote is “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” Amazing how quotes get mangled, isn’t it?

So here’s the question. In my research for this piece (yes, I do research blog posts) I came across this site. We’ve all heard the “you can’t manage what you can’t measure.” Well, according to the site, this is 180 degrees opposite of the point Dr. Deming was trying to make–which was that there are things that “must be managed that cannot be measured.” Note the nuance there: we’ve taken from this that you shouldn’t do that which you cannot measure. But that isn’t it at all. There will always be things just beyond the grasp of measurement. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be done, to the contrary–they must be done anyway. What Dr. Deming was saying is closer to what Einstein said: “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” I honestly don’t know enough about Deming to know if this site is spot-on or is itself way off. But it’s an interesting thought exercise.



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About The Author

Jennifer Zingsheim Phillips is the Director of Marketing Communications for CARMA. She is also the founder of 4L Strategies, and has worked in communications and public affairs for more than 20 years. Her background includes work in politics, government, lobbying, public affairs PR, content creation, and digital and social communications and media analysis.

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1 Comment

    Katie Delahaye Paine

    As someone who’s too frequently been called “the queen of measurement” I couldn’t agree more. There are lots of things that can’t be measured that still need to be done. At some point we stopped measuring the effectiveness of telephones. If you’ve never done anything before you have no idea what to measure about it. Social media today is somewhere in between those two opposites. There just isn’t enough data to properly measure impact so everyone makes up new metrics, while other companies have accepted social media into their dNA and have gone on measuring what they’ve always measured, productivity, lenth of the sales cycle, profitability etc.

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