I want to go a step further in breaking down the dialog over social media metrics, in the wake of the Factiva roundtable. The questions I asked yesterday were what should be measured, why should it be measured, and what will the impact of those measurements be. Let’s start by looking at who wants to measure social media in the first place.
When a social media channel first takes off, the measurements that are important first are those that are relevant to the Content Provider. Take Marketonomy. I want to know what kind of people are reading my blog. I want to know what they find interesting. I want to know how to better target my content to build a better relationship with readers. Currently, those metrics are not very robust. I know how many people subscribe to my RSS feed, but I know next to nothing about them. I know which of my posts get read the most, but with the small ratio of comments to readership, I’m not always certain what drives those posts to the top. The metrics I wish I could get today are demographic. I don’t need to know *who* my readers are personally, but I would like to know have a general profile of their professional background and areas of interest.
Once a social media channel has some traffic, new measurements come into play. If you want to bring on advertisers or sponsors, you need to demonstrate the value of your channel over others. In print, you point to subscription demographics and circulation numbers to justify ad pricing. On the Web, you’ve got traffic. Of course, these metrics are open to gaming. Publications find creative new ways to inflate their circ numbers, just like Web sites find creative ways to inflate traffic. Content providers package pretty numbers to push up ad prices, and ad buyers poke holes in those numbers to push the price down, and the same game will certainly develop with social media.
Just like the current dialog in Social Media circles, traditional media has mounted periodic campaigns to introduce new metrics that justify more ad spending. I once worked for a magazine that tried to measure pass-along rates, and I’ve put the same concept into play with email campaigns using source codes. But these metrics are usually a sign that the provider doesn’t have leverage with buyers, which means they probably don’t have high demand. Just as traffic/circulation has been the bottom-line metric for traditional channels, I would argue that it’s going to remain the primary metric for most social media channels too–the more traffic you have, the more demand there will be to reach your audience, the less granular your metrics will need to be, simply because you’ve got waiting buyers.
But the complicating factor in all this is how a channel grows and maintains a robust audience, because once it reaches critical mass, it has a hungry mouth to feed. You’ve got to find worthwhile topics to cover, people to interview, or at least engaging people that will drive dialog and audience participation–and if they’re really that interesting, other people will want them too. That’s where other players in the value chain for delivering content often come into play, and other metrics matter to them. Whether you’re dealing with an interview prospect’s secretary, or an executive’s PR rep, or even if you’re relying on users creating content, the question is: Why should anyone bother driving content into your channel? The answer is that there must be some value they can derive from it, and one of two metrics will demonstrate that value.
For anyone actually engaging in social media, the important metric is likely Participation. The more people are engaged, the more people I have to talk with, or at least listen to. For anyone interested in getting content in front of your audience, like a company or PR group, the important metric beyond raw traffic is likely Influence–which is the power to impact the opinions, attitudes and behaviors of a target audience. In Social Media, traffic, participation and influence are certainly related, although the relationship doesn’t seem all that clear yet. You can have high traffic and low participation, and still have signficant influence–just as the Wall Street Journal has for generations. You can generate influence with low traffic and high participation–just as my former job at the CMO Council did with programs engaging a small group of leading marketing executives.
I’ll dig into the dynamics of influence more next time. For now, I’ll just repeat the argument that if you have significant traffic, you’re going to have high demand to reach your audience. More granular metrics will help you raise the value of reaching your audience, or compensate for a lower traffic numbers than competitors.