Why bother measuring Social Media?

Curt Hopkins writes me, he questions if we should ever be effective in measuring social media. Is it an art? Can ‘human’ activity truly be measured. As you know, I’ve been focusing a lot of thought on social media measurement, I believe that whoever has the measurement has the authority, and when the TV resources shift to web, they will be a key driving force.


Just had a question, a thought: How much is social media an art as opposed to a science? How much is it intuitive and conversational (in the true and long-term sense) and how much is it a quantifiable thing? Are we kidding ourselves when we treat it as a kind of science that can be measured? Is that just a way for us to justify our salaries? Is my recently recognized resistance to too much quantification a result of my nearly unbearable wisdom or of my laziness? Or is the truth somewhere in the middle, as truth has an irritating habit of usually being?

None of this means, by the way, that I question the value of what I’m doing, I’m just starting to wonder if it isn’t the intangible aspect of it all that carries the most real value, humanizing, opening up, being transparent, winning hearts and minds, etc. more than eliciting metrically provable spikes in user adoption, etc. Certainly, showing that a given move with social media produces more readers, or more buyers or more readers or buyers who return, etc. is all to the good. But are we going to far, or will we, in trying to make a spreadsheetable science out of it? Are we running the risk of turning poetry into sociology, a discipline rejected by poets and scientists alike?

I’m just saying is all.


Curt Hopkins
blog. morphemetales.com

Thanks Curt.

One of the first things I say when defining social media, is that it’s about “people connecting to people”. When I had the charter to measure the social media program at my previous full time job, it was an important key to determine the value of the program, and to measure and improve where we were headed.

I agree, we will never be able to fully measure social media until we can fully measure people. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try. Measurement is important for so many reasons, (not just because of profits) as it can help us improve how we communicate, connect to others, and most importantly, spend our time and resources correctly. Just as folks improve their public speaking by taking classes, or joining the local Toastmasters, the same with the web, folks will want to measure how they are communicating.

Lastly, I hope to see you at the blogger dinner this Thursday in Portland.

Enough of my thoughts, let’s hear from the community, leave a comment

1) Is true Social Media Measurement possible?
2) Even if yes, should we measure?
3) Is there an attribute(s) that never can be measured?

  • Yes, yes and yes. But it’s important to realize that measurement is not an objective, it’s a means. People need a clear understanding of what they’re trying to achieve, which explains why they measure, which drives what and how they measure.

    Measurement is only part of the listening activity, though. An essential part of interacting with people through social media is not quantitative, so measurement alone is not sufficient (which is why I prefer analysis to measurement as the more general term).

    So, to Curt’s point, it’s an art and a science. And a dessert topping. 😉

  • Thanks Nathan.

  • The head-check aspect seems the most important aspect to me, to answer the question: Is this working? I just worry that spread-sheet lust can lead to an over-reliance on numbers that “prove” one contention or another. To me it’s akin to “proving” that Wallace Stevens is a better poet than Robert Frost. Interesting discussion and, with my new position at GarageGames.com, not academic anymore. Hope to see you in PDX, but house hunting has created a constant near-heart attack state. If not there, we’ll see you in the Bay Area soon enough.

  • “whoever has the measurement has the authority”

    Shhhhhhh! That’s a multi-million dollar secret.

    There’s a problem though: Brand managers and CMOs have a short term mindset. Their success is measured in quarters, not years. Social media has an incremental, culmulative effect on awareness, consideration, trial and repeat. You’re not going to see noticable spikes like you might see with an FSI or a sampling effort.

  • I constantly feel like we are always trying to measure something, equate it to dollars, or just stats. But, how can you measure the success of a community tool? By number of posts, questions, or comments? Nope, they can all be spam. By number of trackbacks, links, or google rating…nope! That can all be altered or fiddled with.

    Instead, community managers should look for something intangible, like connections/relationships that are built. Important questions or connections that are made. Or even, loyal users who WANT to and CONTINUE to engage themselves in the community. Thats how you measure success, yet its probably one of the hardest to measure.

  • Hi Jeremiah. Long time reader, first time commenter.

    I like the comments that have been added so far. At Vancity, we launched ChangeEverything.ca a year ago, which is an online social network dealing with issues of change where we do business as a credit union.

    We measure all kinds of things to gauge the success of the site. Some of it is obvious (# of registered users, # of unique visitors, time spent on site, # of user generated posts, technorati ranking, rss subscribers); some of it is tangible, but not as easily trackable (earned media, write-ups by bloggers); and some of it only measurable in human terms (real world impact, like when the site created momentum leading to over 4,000 items of warm clothing and bedding donated to the homeless within 48 hours of a snowstorm).

    In the end, measurement is vastly important, but in a social realm those measurements cannot always be gleaned from analytics software.

    Thanks for the great posts.

  • William, glad to have you, thanks for adding. Welcome!

  • Ed

    Hmm interesting indeed. I have been ‘facilitating’ online communities for a number of years and have always been keen on this (although I’m no statistician, it’s a key part of the job)…

    1) Is true Social Media Measurement possible?

    Yes. If you define this as people connecting to people, you can do longitudinal studies analysing the social networks around the network. If you are in a hosted community platform, you can measure the number of private messages. For argument’s sake, forum posts could fall into this category (but I’m not going to start referring to traditional metrics as we all know them)

    2) Even if yes, should we measure?

    Depends on the gig, I say. If it’s a work of love and you don’t like measuring things, don’t. If you are a membership officer for a resource-poor membership association and need to provide high level reports to display membership community stuff to your boss who is endlessly defending the cost to the trustees, then of course you do. I’m not talking targets though – I’m sticking to knowing what to measure to give everyone in teh system an idea of where and how it is going…

    3) Is there an attribute(s) that never can be measured?

    Hmm. Interesting. The meaning of life?


    I like what William said about warm clothing. I’ve been in situations measuring centralised communities with trad indicators, in situations measuring distributed communities with my own widgets (e.g. across facebook, myspace, bebo and more at the same time), but these are all quantitative. Naturally I’ve run surveys etc. too. Bear with me….

    But the question that bugs me is the point of it, and the types of people we commune with. Not all people engage with communities by saying something, or commenting about it elsewhere, or other ways we can capture. They digest, think and the net result of that can appear somewhere else (like warm blankets).

    I ran a thing called http://www.knowledgeboard.com for some time (not any more). There was a lot of noise etc. but many readers, not commenting, who would sometimes email me backchannel to say keep it up, and they enjoyed it, etc.

    We did a call for chapters for our community book about knowledge management (which we gave away and number 2 is on its way), and it was the quiet people who came forward with ideas and offers to work on a group project that offered them no reward other than .. well I don’t know…

    My point being, can we consider motivation and personality type in these questions about measurement…?

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