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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


Chris Brogan said...

Interestingly, I think there are two posts in here. I think the part midway down that starts to lay out the mapping is the meat part of this post, but then, when I go back, I like what came before, too. Guess it works both ways. : )

John Johansen said...

Chris, I was thinking about splitting this into two posts because the top section did get longer than I expected.

But since I've been hyping the metaphors for so long, I didn't want to leave my readers empty-handed. Maybe I'll split it up later, and cross-link them to keep the connection.

laurent said...

Stumble on your post today - I know it's old but thought I would comment because I like it. I manage a small start up building techno to help marketer make sense of social media. I tell people that they have to identify their slice of the blogopshere (several hundred blogs/other that are worth listening to) and 'jump in' to become part of the commmunity ;-). I meet a lot of customers who are doing 'monitoring' but, to me, it's like staying outside of the blogosphere most of the time and jump in quickly on ad-hoc situations.

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