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Social media value by numbers? Try evaluating your marriage that way…

This is a slightly adapted post I made to the (ever-awesome!) eCampaigning Forum email list today, in reply to an email about tools for measuring social media metrics… and why I think it’s about as useful as counting the number of kisses you share with your partner in a given week.

Hey there –

The Kiss

...now evaluate them!

(warning: bit of a rant to follow…)

This may not be exactly the kind of suggestion you’re looking for, but the greatest benefits of social media are rarely the ones you plan for (and thus which can be objectively evaluated against your plans). They may be:

  • A crucial new volunteer emerging from the Twitter woodwork, to make a significant difference for the organisation,
  • Developing a new relationship with someone who might later be able to support the organisation in the future,
  • Receiving pro bono support from an expensive professional who replies to a call for help on your Facebook page,
  • Opening someone in your network up to an aspect of your organisation’s issues they were previously unaware of,
  • An interaction between two people in your network who have never had a chance to engage in dialogue before, around something you shared…

The list could be endless, which is exactly the point – measuring social media primarily by generic metrics will only tell you a minuscule fraction of the value it has provided, in all kinds of unexpected ways.

The judgment on if it is providing ‘value for money’ needs to be made subjectively – do we think this range of anecdotes – often seemingly of minimal significance, when seen on their own, but cumulatively massive and often with a stand-out story or two along the way –  are important enough to keep doing it?

I know that some senior managers and funders who don’t understand social media will focus on the numbers, but we are doing them a disservice to not challenge the logic that underpins these demands.

One of the strongest arguments I’ve used with organisations on this front, is asking a senior manager to provide metrics to justify their face-to-face networking activities;

  • How many networking/schmoozing events have you attended this quarter?
  • How many people have you met at these events?
  • How many people that you have met at these various functions have become ongoing organisational contacts?
  • How many have led to future additional contacts/meetings?
  • How much has the time you spent at these events cost the organisation?

There is an acceptance of the value of networking, even though it is often random, serendipitous and not about specific preconceived outcomes. Social networking needs to be seen in a similar light, if an organisation is going to use it to its potential.

Imagine if a small fraction of everyone in the organisation’s time (not just senior managers) was regularly engaged in the kind of activity that produces the benefits that senior managers know comes from attending a Parliamentary reception, or the launch of a new report?

Some will only worry about what this means for both job titles/descriptions and/or the value of senior management, but others will be excited by the infinite possibilities it offers…

It’s just a thought. I get quite tired of being asked to provide numbers for questions that numbers can’t really answer. Another approach might be to ask whoever wants the data, to evaluate their intimate relationship based on the number of kisses they receive each week… though by the time the figure tells them anything useful, it’ll probably be too late to do anything about it…

Ta from sunny Oaxaca!

Liam


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Posted in flexibility and measurement and professionalism and social technology and trust.

8 comments

8 Replies

  1. You’ve hit the nail on the head with this post. I’m not saying we abandon measurement altogether but the more time we spend looking at meaningless metrics the less time we actually spend engaging with service users, key influencers and donors.

    I’ve also used the networking/conference analogy in the past – a huge amount of time is wasted on this kind of activity and not one bit of it is quantified.

  2. Hi Ross –
    Glad to hear it! Seems like a massive amount of time is wasted to produce numbers that tell you nothing, for people who wouldn’t understand them, even if they did!

    RE: face-to-face networking – I partly agree, but partly was pointing to how a parallel amount of time could be wasted, trying to quantity what percentage of conversations with external people have provided what level of organisational return. The thing w/ networking – on or offline – is that you have to have the conversations, even if you don’t know which ones are going to prove beneficial. There are probably dozens of relatively meaningless chats, for every time that you meet a key new partner, or get introduced to a new funder, etc… but you can’t know until you’ve spent the time (beyond a certain level of judgement), which conversations will ‘pay off’… or which ones will pay off some time much less immediately, but still be important ‘irons in the fire’…

    Thanks again for the the feedback and sharing!

    Liam

  3. Great post! I think we fully agree. It’s all about balance.

    If you were to be in physical conversations 100% of your time, it’s obviously too much (unless you’re a professional drunk or politician :-)) It’s clear, however, that a good amount of time spent on networking is very useful, no, indispensible, even though concrete effects and impacts may be quite some distance down the line.

    Now, with electronically mediated conversations, there’s this compulsory need to measure every _direct_ effect _immediately_, really only because we think we can. But just like with physical conversations we can’t, of course.

    If you need to measure anything at all, why not stick to rules of thumb saying that your employees can (or even should) be on social media a healthy percentage of their time, without pseudo-exactly accounting for the direct results of their hunts?

    Much more useful, however, is to try and measure the general conversational buzz about your organization, using it for strategic and tactical aggegrate analysis, without trying to identify individual fake causes of fake effects.

  4. Absolutely! Nothing more to add 🙂

  5. OK: no to Social media value by numbers but yes to measuring social media blogs – I score this one as mega. [Maybe some managers when they get home paint by numbers too?!]

    Do make sure it gets into your new book, Liam

    cheers

    paul

  6. Liam!
    Thanks for this – spot on! I really like your bullets giving examples of the benefits we are looking for from networking – in cyberspace or at meetings. What is at the heart of all these benefits is communication, connection and relationships. This comes back to what you often talk about, I think – the ‘soft’ side of activism – human interaction – often oh, so immeasurable and improvised. Business people like to say ‘you can’t manage what you can’t measure’ but that’s the thing – but who is to say what only counts are those activities which you can manage? After all, most innovation cant change comes out of a creative process which is not linear, and is only partially planned….as the anarchist in you will, I’m sure, agree – our challenge isn’t just an obsession with trying measure everything, it is also the obsession with trying to manage everything! Great post. Thanks! Peace and love. veena

  7. Thanks Paul! There’s definitely a chapter on the pitfalls of measurement and how it links to attempts to control the uncontrolable 🙂

  8. Yeah – there’s a whole progression here that goes from ‘attempts to measure everything’ to ‘attempts to control everything’ to ‘don’t trust anyone else to do anything right’… there’s a very negative underpinning theme about how people perceive others, which gets in the way of strong relationships, good results and new ideas…

    And there’s also a whole alternative line that can be better for each of those things, which seems to start with assuming the best of others 🙂

    Thanks for your thoughts!

    Liam


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