One of the numerous quotes attributed to Albert Einstein is: “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” This is true in business, as it is in other areas of our lives. It has always been true, for example, of public relations. My wife trained professionally in the art and science of PR, and one of the ongoing issues is proving the true value of gaining media and public exposure. There are methods, of course, and PR agencies spend time tracking these benefits. But, ultimately, it comes down to seeing improvements in related – but not directly connected – issues. And maybe, right now, this statement is most true of social media.

Many senior executives are demanding impossible levels of measurement and “proof” before they approve the use of social media for their companies. And others that are trying to use social media end up abusing the channels because of a need to be measuring and counting specifics. Let’s call a spade a spade: companies want to know how they will get more money for their social media spend.

That’s a reasonable question. But the way to go about measuring it might not be.

Seth Godin wrote a great little piece last week that sums up what I am thinking about this:

Clean bathrooms

The facilities at DisneyWorld are clean. It’s not a profit center, of course. They don’t make them clean because they’re going to charge you to use them. They make them clean because if they didn’t, you’d have a reason not to come.

It turns out that just about everything we do involves cleaning the bathrooms. Creating an environment where care and trust are expressed. If you take a lot of time to ask, ‘how will this pay off,’ you’re probably asking the wrong question. When you are trusted because you care, it’s quite likely the revenue will take care of itself.

I’m a big fan of Richard Stacey and his insights into the world of social media. A few weeks ago on his blog, Richard highlighted the dangers of measuring the wrong things when using social media for business purposes, especially when using Facebook. Once again, I think he’s spot on. His article is definitely worth a read.

His point is that:

Social media does not ‘do’ large numbers it ‘does’ small groups. Social media does not have scale built into it, in the way that traditional media does. The benefit you get from social media therefore does not lie in the numbers, the ability to ‘engage’ a lot of people, the benefit lies in in the ability to create relationships with very small groups of individuals, at any one moment in time. Critically, therefore, these contacts have to deliver something of significant value – i.e. hugely greater value than that associated with the sort of metrics that Socialbakers are measuring (likes, shares, comments etc) in order for the effort to be worthwhile.

Measuring social mediaSo, what should we be measuring, and how should we be thinking of social media? The answer to this question is a bit of genius from Richard. Advertising requires an audience, and so in social media we’re using measurements of our “audience” – incorrectly. But social media actually is at its best when it engages individuals.

As Hugh MacLeod memorably stated “If you talked to people the way advertising talked to people, they would punch you in the face”. This doesn’t mean that advertising doesn’t work, it means that advertising needs an audience in order to make it work, or as I, rather more charitably put it, “The great thing about advertising is that no-one take it personally”.

The value of Facebook, and all of social media, lies in the ability for your consumers to tell you what they think of your brand and, potentially, to help you improve what it is your brand does. Pushing ‘engaging content’ out through Facebook is a total waste of time – consumers don’t want engaging content, they simply want a brand to be listening to them and answering their questions. Now if you can do this at scale in a platform neutral way (i.e. listening to consumers wherever they want to talk to you – blogs, Twitter, Facebook, forums etc.) you will be creating something of value – albeit Socialbakers won’t be able to measure it. In reality, as I have said before, you don’t need to attach metrics to Facebook, Facebook itself is metric – it measures what people think about your brand.

…. marketing directors are being encouraged in the deluded belief that Facebook is some form of media platform that allows them to reach lots of people, rather than a tool that lots of people can use to reach brands often with content and requests that brands are unprepared to respond to (a tool for which, incidentally, consumers will not be prepared to pay – as my research with the students also confirmed).

In a later blog entry, Richard goes even further to suggest that creating engaging content for Facebook is a waste of time. I tend to agree with him.

Thanks, Richard, for this excellent insight. How are you using social media? What are you measuring? And how do your measurements influence what you are doing with social media?

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