Social media measurement causes unsavory (and ineffective) marketing behavior because unlike the rest of our marketing key performance indicators, social media metrics are out there for anyone to see.
Was it a surprise last week when Presidential wannabe Newt Gingrich was (allegedly) busted for having 1.3 million followers on Twitter, most of which were bots and fake accounts? Not really. It may have raised an eyebrow that someone applying for the most important job in the world would (allegedly) stoop to fakery to boost follower counts. But despite some initial reluctance, politics has embraced the social media Egosystem as much or more than any other industry.
(Nice analysis on it from Ian Lurie over at Conversation Marketing)
Being a former political consultant myself, this kerfuffle got me pondering about social media measurement and the bigger lessons of key performance indicators. I see five.
1. Visibility of Social Media Metrics Drives Behavior
How much do you think we’d be talking about twitter followers or Facebook likes if how many you have wasn’t attached to your public profile like a goiter?
If on every website you visited you saw a number in the corner that showed how many email newsletter subscribers they had, we’d be putting a lot more emphasis into our email programs. We care about twitter followers and Facebook likes disproportionately not because of the power of the medium, but because we keep score in public.
There was a time when there was a lot of news coverage of comparative website “hits” but largely that kind of “story” went away with the fortunate exit of hit counters pinned to the footer of your site. Everyone knows that data from Nielsen, Compete, Quantcast, Alexa and their ilk is only semi-accurate unless the site chooses to report actual numbers, so we’ve mostly accepted the fact that website traffic is a dull topic not worth our curiosity or bile.
2. Our Belief That Bigger is Better Makes It So
Every legitimate social media consultant in America will tell you that it’s not about how many twitter followers or Facebook likes you have, it’s what you do with them. (and good job by Kellye Crane and Mack Collier on that in the CNBC.com coverage of Newt-gate)
In terms of driving measurable behavior, conversions, revenue, loyalty and advocacy, etc. they are of course correct. Number of twitter followers doesn’t mean a thing, right? Wrong.
The reality is that social media measurement is a very public dick measuring competition, and we buy it hook, line, and sinker. Why would Newt not only (allegedly) pay to build a following that dwarfs the other candidates, but then have the audacity/stupidity to brag about the advantage?
Because it matters in the court of public perception. Twitter is used monthly by just 8% of Americans 12 or older, according to Tom Webster and Edison Research, yet the penetration rate amongst “thought leaders” “celebs” and “media” is damn near 100%, and that drives its role as an arbiter of popularity and fame.
We may not like it. We may not even choose to admit it. But it’s disingenuous to suggest that number of twitter followers has no impact on how you or your organization are viewed by the vox populi. It’s not a key performance indicator, it’s a key popularity indicator.
3. You’re Not Much Better Than Newt Yourself
Yes our fascination with the public nature of social media measurement causes some issues. But the bigger problem is that the whole system is a house of cards.
Guess what? While most of your Twitter followers are probably real people they probably don’t see your tweets, much less respond to them. It’s stunning how many marketers – even in major companies and agencies – don’t understand (or choose to ignore) the massive difference between twitter followers and actual twitter reach.
If you have 10,000 followers, do 10,000 people see your tweet? Absolutely not. Many of those people do not use Twitter any longer (abandonment rates have been reported to be as high as 50%), may not be logging on to Twitter today, may not be logging on at a time where your tweet shows up in their timeline, or may use Twitter as a “social telephone” paying attention primarily to @replies.
The reality is that we do not know how many impressions each Tweet generates. We can determine engagement rate via clicks and retweets (I use Convince & Convert sponsor Argyle Social for social communication because of their incredible metrics). But, we cannot determine impressions, because Twitter will not show them to us. Hmmm, I wonder why?
Think about it from an email perspective. Twitter followers is the number of subscribers you have. Twitter reach (impressions) is your open rate, and that’s not available.
A bunch of Newt’s followers are (allegedly) robots. But the net effect of a robot and an actual person that didn’t see your tweets is exactly the same.
4. Facebook Likes Is Just As Bogus
To their credit, Facebook at least shows us actual impressions in their Insights social media measurement console.
But the reality is that in our zeal to accumulate as many “likes” as possible for our fan page (largely comprised of people that already like us, so we’re putting forth extreme effort to preach to the converted), we mostly neglect to notice that a very small percentage of those fans see our carefully crafted status updates.
A report from Pagelever (fresh out of beta, and the best Facebook analytics package available, by far) studying 400 million fans found that just 7.49% of fans (on average) see the status updates from any particular brand. This is because of Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm that sanitizes your news feed based on you and your friends’ propensity to interact with status updates from each brand and person to whom you’re connected on the platform.
Using our email analogy then, we can say that on average (your results may vary), the “open rate” for Facebook is 7.49%, and the “click-through rate” (the interaction rate shown in Insights) mostly ranges from .25% to .9%. Much, much lower than even a middling email campaign.
I’m thinking you’d see a lot less crowing about your 50,000 Facebook likes if you had to report and talk about it using unsexy but true numbers: “3,750 active Facebook likes.”
5. Play Your Own Game
Despite the gold rush, social media is still a nascent industry. One symptom of immature markets is an overwhelming fear of doing it wrong. Nobody wants to lose their job as CMO of a major company because of some newfangled medium that didn’t exist five minutes ago.
This creates a culture of comparison, whereby instead of spending the requisite time and effort crafting a bespoke social media strategy that uniquely fits our company and its culture, we instead yearn to do it just like the other guys.
Share of voice. Comparisons of twitter followers, Facebook likes, and YouTube subscribers. An over reliance on case studies. Even social media competitor audits (and I do many of them). All of these are byproducts of our collective fear about playing our own game.
Should you learn from your competitors and other companies “doing it right” in social media? Sure, but don’t lie to yourself. Realize that the numbers we proudly toss around like silk sashes are often fictitious hair shirts. Proceed accordingly. And with caution.