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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Metaphors, Metaphors Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink

Metaphor: Ocean
When I talk about social media, I often think "This is big. No, Bigger than big." Well, you can't beat the ocean for big. Covering 70% of the earth, it qualifies as bigger than big. And the ocean is a great place to collect metrics.
The ocean fascinates me. The systems in place in the vast submersed world all around us interact so gracefully. Water moves through every interaction, constantly flowing around the globe. But, to measure the ocean you have to look at bodies of water. It's not viable to measure the drops of water but the entire mass has very visible effects.

This is how business has typically measured their consumers. They ebb and flow like the tide and understanding when the body of consumers will be at high tide has been very lucrative. In this model companies have little reason to understand the individuals because you only need to capture enough of the swell to meet your sales goals.

When social media is studied at a population level, rather than tracking a single campaign, what trends emerge as important? This is the area we know the most about and I'm interested in getting your thoughts. tag: metric+metaphors

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Participation + Conversation - Another Engagement View

I'm following up on a comment in my last post that pointed me to Greg Verdino's earlier post about engagement. I thought it was very insightful and just wanted to add one thought.

(Slides created by Greg Verdino)

From some of the comments on Greg's post by Paull and Nathan, I started questioning if they could be considered engaged or not. And how would you quantify the engagement of a frequent reader/infrequent commenter with someone who read less frequently but comments every time.

I like that the framework works for large groups, that's obviously important for being able to track results. But when looking at individuals through this same lens, it requires not less of an emphasis on comments but more of an emphasis on a holistic view. A high level of participation, even without conversation, points to obvious interest in the material and passion. A high level of conversation, even with medium participation may indicate that your site is a resource they return to when needed.

It's been very interesting exploring the dynamics of metrics as they begin to apply to individuals. What other thoughts about individual metrics do you have? tag: individual+metrics

Monday, March 24, 2008

Engagement = Ingagement + Outgagement

We interrupt our previously scheduled metaphor series to bring you this breaking news.

Sam Lawrence was positing on Twitter that Blogrolls should be automatic, similar to how many tag clouds are created, and show what you are actually reading. I replied with the notion that even a defined blog roll would benefit from more tag cloud features to show relevance to you based on visits, links, RSS subscriptions or other engagement.

Attribution: Scott Fidd via FlickrEngagement. What a fantastic buzzword. It's delightfully squishy but often placed on the hard pedestal of metrics like Recency of Visit, bookmarks, and comments . These should be more accurately referred to as Ingagement. They are happening on your site and when the visitor leaves your site, their ingagement ends (and often so does measuring).

Outgagement on the other hand, looks at what people are saying about you off your site. But unless someone has dedicated their site to talking about your company, the 'who' behind the 'what' doesn't have as much impact. The metrics in outgagement are already established (informally) in how the social blogosphere works. Things like out-bound links in a post, number of posts on a topic, and groups within social networks.

The future of metrics for social media is not in building aggregate information about your customer base but collecting public information about your individual customers.

I've put it in bold to capture your attention with that line but I can't take credit for it. It's not a new concept. Social media people have been talking around this idea through the lens of 'relationships' for a while now. The trick is scale.

Enter lifestreaming. Now, I don't want to be crass but the value that individuals are getting out of following the streams of their friends at sites like FriendFeed, SocialThing, Profilatic, and others would be gold if companies could learn to harness it. It takes the hard work out of collecting the information, they just need a way to tap it (rather than capture it) and marry it with their Ingagement metrics. (Ok, I simplified that problem but that's the heart of it.)

Another tool that could automate the parsing of customer data is Many Eyes. Or at least the interesting applications that Sam has used it for (it was manual work, his re-post was another tweet that sparked this post). If you can find a customer's blog (during outgagement tracking) then the topics relevant to them can quickly be determined. Now, this is far from perfect because you won't know tone. But, it gives you a place to start and increases the context.

And now to tie it all back together to the question of scale. Once you have your customer records created, you can build your target segments from the ground up. Of course, the application of old-style segmentation will still have it's purposes but consider the two scenarios:

  • 18-24 year olds who recently purchased a product from your company
  • 18-24 year olds who are passionate about something (and your product relates)
What kinds of different strategies can you use when trying to connect with those two audiences? tag: ingagement+outgagement
Image Attribution: Scott Fidd via Flickr

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Social Media Metrics Metaphors

Buckle up, this is the first in a series of metaphor heavy posts. If you don't have an appetite for half-baked analogies, this is your last exit for 100 miles. (As you can see, I'm not wasting any time getting into the mood.)

Plenty of social media metaphors already exist. Why am I add another (actually multiple)? Because I'm trying to approach it from the angle of metrics, so I feel justified. Yes, metrics. The Achilles' Heel of social media. And it's been a sticking point (pun intended) for me. Why is it so hard to get our feet under us when talking about metrics?

I believe I have the beginnings of an answer. I'll lay out my thoughts on this, and you thresh it to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Most common Web metrics are statistics. Statistics are used to describe populations (descriptive) and predict probable behavior (inferential). After researching a population, statistics can be useful in describing the distribution of individuals based on specific measurements. Similarly, once you have that description then you can make predictions of types of behavior that are probable. Or, in marketing terms, you can make estimates about what percentage of the population will take the action you desire. Metrics are very useful when dealing in bulk.

This is where metrics break down for social media. (When I say social media, I am referring to 2-way communication that builds relationships between customer and businesses that benefit both) Statistics cannot predict individual behavior. Aggregating the actions of the population (read: community) will not give you insight into how an individual will engage, their cost to your business, or their value. The aspects of the community that metrics capture are irrelevant when you start talking about individuals.

Of course, smarter people than me have already honed in on this idea. To quote Avinish, "Analytics is good at the 'What.' It's not good at the 'Why.' The 'Why' can only come from the customer."

But, you didn't come to hear me blather on. Let's get into the first metaphor.

Metaphor: Driving
This metaphor occurred to me while I was driving (surprise) to the Social Media Club Boston meeting. I wasn't sure what the traffic was going to be like on I-95 and decided to take side streets through my town before getting on the highway.
This can be likened to our journey through social media. Good advice on social media includes one thing at the very top. Set an objective. The objective is your destination. Now you have to get there.
To get there you have 3 choices:

  1. Get Directions
  2. Get a Map
  3. Know the streets
Get Directions: Someone can tell you 1 route to take from where you are to your destination. Then, all you have to do is follow them exactly. Assuming the directions are correct. And that nothing has changed. And that you don't miss a street sign and get yourself completely lost.
And so we come back to metrics. The knowledge gleaned from analysis that tells you your average time on site increases by 45 seconds on Tuesdays after 3p.m. may indicate that Tuesday afternoon would be a good time to provide a special offer in order to reach quota. But it won't tell you what other ways you could engage your customers, routes that might be more direct towards your goal.
(For those of you planning to use technology to beat the system. There is no Social Media GPS. Sorry.)

Get a Map: The map is your best friend in a strange city. You only have to find 1 street name to orient yourself and get back on course. It's difficult to use while driving but you can pull over to check your bearings or drive really slowly while trying to read the tiny street names and match them to signs covered by overgrown tree branches. (This metaphor works best if you drive in the northeast. You folks out west, with your broad avenues and arrow-straight streets will just have to use your imaginations.) A map is reliable, if slow.
I'm really not sure what this maps (groan) up to. I don't want to disparage Social Media agencies by casting them as tools that can't ever be re-folded properly. Plus wouldn't they more appropriately be considered back seat drivers?
I am partial to the idea of comparing the map to on-site social media efforts. The company is willing to experiement with 'this social stuff' but only when it's on a site they can control. They've can make some changes but aren't really going to deviate far from what the guidelines say.

Know the Streets: For people with more spatial awareness than me, driving must be incredibly intuitive. But for me, it requires repetitive driving along the same routes until things start to click and I get a sense of where streets are in relation to one another. To that point, I've been living near Boston for 5 years but have only felt comfortable driving into the city for about the last 2. This is mainly because I've never worked in the city, so I don't drive in that often. Knowing what I do about Boston, the third option is your best bet. And it takes time.

In a social media context, time spend listening and watching what people do. Time spend getting involved in existing communities. Time spent doing experiments that will probably fail. Once you really understand what the landscape looks like (from the user/driver perspective), you can make continual updates to the route to get to your destination.

The metrics perspective comes from Chinwang Live:
If we're living in the era of the promiscuous consumer, does social media hold within its DNA the means to builder longer-term, more nuanced relationships with customers? What happens to all our statistics when people move onto the next hot thing? And is the granular and all pervasive measurement and tracking that is supposedly social media’s strength also eroding and re-shaping our notions of privacy?
Without having had the benefit of attending the event, I'll tackle the questions anyway. To the first DNA question I answer: Yes. To the final privacy question I answer: Yes.
And to the middle question, the heart of it all in my opinion, I answer that we need metaphors. Or, at least that we need to recognize that people are not the tools they use. Attaching measurement to the person rather than the tool will require a deeper, more nuanced relationship (which I believe social media can help build) but will ultimately be more useful.

How do you drive the social media streets? What have you learned?

Update: Jason Ryan at Network of Public Service Communicators wrote an excellent post about social media in the public sector. He made a point in the comments that I want to highlight:
To really push the metaphor, social media will not only drive you in the right direction, but will (if done well) improve your performance/mileage over time. In plain english, I think it is important that we see social media as part of a longer term strategy (our SOI’s have a 3 year focus), and we need to plan and measure for those sorts of timeframes. tag: metric+metaphors

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Using SEM to Avoid Traffic to Your Site

This is going to be a short post. I could probably go on and on but you don't need that.

I've worked in various editorial roles since 2001. In that time, I have come to the conclusion that a good editor is one who finds the mistakes that aren't there.

What I mean is, it's not enough to just catch a run-on sentence or poor grammar. You also need to be able to catch the missing details, the forgotten explanations, and connections the author made in their head but didn't put on paper.

I compare this with the work that I've done in SEM for the last 3 years. Using PPC, I can drive as much traffic as my company wants to pay for. But it's not driving traffic that makes you good at SEM. It's avoiding the traffic that doesn't help your business.

This post isn't going to go into the How of that. I can't really speak to how your company would do it effectively anyway. But, I will give a hat tip to Joe Vivolo at KoMarketing for writing on this same topic and sparking my post.
To quote him:

"In B2B Paid Search I can not reiterate this enough, it is not about bringing in a large volume of traffic, rather it is about bringing in the highly qualified traffic."
What other areas of marketing do you find your ability to deal with negative space just as important as positive?

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Slippery Slope of Social Media

If you read much about social media you will hear people talk about the value of relationships with individuals versus broadcasting mass messages to audiences.
This is a valid point and one that I believe is true.

But there is also a slippery slope in social media.

First, most of the early adopters of social media truly are interested in sharing what they know with others around them. They have a sincere desire to be inclusive. And, realizing the importance of these channels to the future of personal and professional life are trying to convert more people to using social media.

Second, the tools of social media encourage enlarging your social graph. The best way to make a Web2.0 site viable is to make sure people can remain active. If you can add people and interact with them easily, you are more likely to remain active on that site.

Third, communities grow up around social media tools. Because the landscape is so fragmented as this space begins to really take off, most people are still building their communities around the tools they use. Users can more easily share their knowledge of social media based on the sites they are using and building communities encourages people to stay active on a site. Communities reinforce the first two parts of the cycle.

However, as this cycle gets reinforced, I feel that it also becomes self-defeating.

When your social graph grows large enough, the content shared through it becomes dis-associated from the individual. It becomes a faceless river of content with the individual contributors losing unique value because of the volume. You can see this in most social spaces. I'll use examples from some of the sites I use.

RSS -- Removes the formatting of a person's blog and provides strictly the content.
Twitter -- Links are easily clicked without conscious thought of who posted it.
Facebook -- Applications go out to your entire network without attempting to filter who might be interested (and often without questioning why you're adding the application in the first place).

When the network grows to this size, you can go one of two ways. Develop strong relationships with a select group with that network or develop relationships with a broad section of your network.
For most people, the first option is really the only feasible one. But, for some of the more natural relators (and more dedicated) you can build relationships with a large network. It's not easy and only a handful will attempt it but that puts them in a very powerful position as influencers of the conversations that happen in your community.

But what happens to the rest of your network when you decide to build strong relationships with a small portion? You get para-social relationships. Which needs a post of its own.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Bloggers are not Writers

This is not so much a post about 'tips' on how to write a blog better. In fact, here's my only writing tip: it's hard, practice often. The posts I linked to in my other post (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) on blog content are good ones to read if you're really interested.

What I really want to focus on are the multiple aspects of blogs. Having done a brief stint in college as an amateur performance artist, the concept of experience is an important one to me in anything that I write. I saw my work as having 3 aspects, each of which changed the experience.
1. Reading the text
2. Viewing as the audience
3. Performing

To me, blogs are a performance piece. They are not a passive, content distribution medium. But, if you're willing to discuss some active, challenging steps towards better blogging then please continue reading.

Critical Reading Skills on Life Support?

I did not have many things to be proud of in high school (yes, I'm admitting it was a difficult time of life) but one area I always excelled was reading comprehension. I'm sure that this was a product of the many hours I spent reading... alone (sigh). Now, I see reading comprehension as a skill. One that does not get enough credit from readers or writers. This is the first step towards better blogging.

The fact that content exists does not mean you should shy away from the topic. My experience is that most experts explain, they write from their position of expertise. This is where you have an opportunity. Write challenging posts that require the reader to think about how it applies to them. Encourage them to dig out meaning that applies to their situations.

The Medium is the Message

Unless you are selling advertising on your blog, you do not have an audience. Audiences are for monetizing, they realize that they are paying for the content by ad-interruption.

Blogs are a unique medium because the point isn't to distribute content. A blog starts, or joins, conversations. A blog builds relationships. A blog taps into communities. What you say should not be considered exhaustive or definitive. If there's nothing left to add to what you've said, you've chosen the wrong medium. (Look into politics, maybe?)

Choosing to say something on your blog means opening up the idea to discussion. Once it's out there, you are no longer the voice of authority. The best you can do is hope to persuade someone else to agree to the direction you want to steer the conversation.

Blog Like Everyone Is Watching

I like the work that Chris Brogan does and one of his latest posts especially rung true to me. I'm not going to quibble about nomenclature because his point is valid. Write for the people that are, or that you want to be, reading your work and talking about what you say. While your blog could possibly be found by everyone in the world, that's incredibly (incredibly, incredibly) unlikely.

Coming back to my performance analogy, you are on display. Even if it's only to a small slice of the world's population, you still need to be putting on your best performance. A good performance is a virtuous circle, the performer and viewer play off of each other with positive results. The more you can give as a writer, and performer, the more you get back.

And that's my advice. I hope it's been helpful but please let me know what you would add.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Twitter is the Fruit Fly of Social Media

Tweets live hard, die young, and evolve quickly.

If you are wondering why twitter matters, it is because the microcosm changes rapidly. The experiments you can do on Twitter can give great insight into larger campaigns. And, if you really want to stay on the edge of how people are using social media, Twitter is definitely ahead of the curve.

In fact, in terms of evolution, I'd watch Twitter to see how long the 1,000+ following is sustainable. (Follow up post on this) I'm impressed by the people that do it, and at this stage, glad that we have community members willing to include so many. But, if you look through the @ conversations, you don't see 1,000 different names coming up.

Another Twitter Observation

Ways to use Twitter
1. Follow people you know, grow your list organically.
I've been using this method and one thing that I've discovered is that it's hard to add just one person. You need to add the prime person and also the people they have conversations with. Otherwise, you lose half the context.

2. Follow thousands of people and see how much traction you can get by people auto-following back.
I will admit that I'm willing to follow people (not things) that follow me. But when I feel like I'm just on someone's 'list' and there's not an actual reason they are following me, I doubt their sincerity. Could that be a downside to Twitterpacks, et al.?

3. Join famous, rack up lots of followers, excrete wisdom.
Ok, I'm just being provocative here. You can't really control how many people follow you and if you're well-known in Twitter circles, of course people are going to want to listen to you. The blame for this really falls on the reader of the medium. (Read follow up post on this)

Am I near the mark on what you see on Twitter? Or have I gone completely off-base?