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Choosing the right Metrics to Define Social Media Success

August 12, 2010

Einstein once said: “Try not to become a man of success, but try rather to become a man of value”. (or a woman 😉

In social media, how do you measure success and value?

Here’s my answer:

From time to time, I see success in social media portrayed by some as ‘thousands of followers or millions of fans’. I even see a business forming around “building up a follower base on a massive scale”.
Wow! And according to some, having a huge follower base does translate to a lot of value, doesn’t it?

Beyond questioning the validity of such calculation, one can first wonder if a follower is very different from an email addy in an email list?  I don’t believe so.
Do you get more people viewing your tweets compared to people reading your emails? Probably not, though no real study exists to demonstrate what I said, only casual observations like here and one key learning of a recent Forrester study: A mass of followers that ‘like’ the brand but never return to the fan page is far less valuable than a handful of followers who frequently share brand updates with friends.
Recent data on Twitter seems to validate that brands and people are defining success in numbers and that Twitter has become a broadcasting mechanism. I’m not sure this is true. The ‘big mouth’ always skew the results when you mix them with others in your analysis.
If I’m right, those successes aren’t social media marketing successes. In social media, the value lies in your capital to influence.

So I have a problem with defining/buzzing success with such metrics.

When Einstein wrote his quote, he was talking about the intention supporting our actions and self. Choose value instead of success. In general, value breeds success anyway. But if success is the sole intention powering your actions, beware; because the initial intentions have a tremendous influence on our actions!  As a matter of fact, there are situations where success (as in “what’s in it for me”) appears easy so we feel tempted to dive in quickly. However, in a lot of cases, the lack of value (as in “what’s in it for them”) associated with the solution found makes it unsustainable.

The root cause of all this?

Some of the mechanisms to create connections are flawed (or misused). Twitter’s ‘follow us’ and Facebook’s  ‘become a fan’ are too easy.  Hire an intern for a few days, tasked with growing your follower base and you’ll get those huge numbers we see all over the place. Our herd mentality is impressed by them but there isn’t much into it really.

There is a  category of brands and so-called social media experts that think communication is just one big mouth -> They’ll hire an intern.
There is also a category of brands and people believing that social is our best and default form of communication and that it’s made possible thanks to 2 ears 1 mouth -> They won’t hire an intern (or at least not with the task to grow blindly their base of followers).

The latter category defines success in terms of value. They aren’t looking for a large quantity of anonymous followers or fans. They want to ask selected people to ‘become a follower or a fan’ after they’ve determined there’s a mutual benefit in a possible 2-way interaction. You believe engagement takes place in small circles of interconnected communities of interest. You believe the network will relay your message if you do a good job at telling it in the first place. They don’t need control, it’s all about influence.
The brands and people in the first category define success in term of numbers. They want to broadcast. They hold the megaphone and talk to a crowd. They don’t care who the followers are. They’re just a name in a database. They need to keep control of them (of course it’s just an illusion of control). It’s all about them.

My advice: Companies should spend a little time finding those VALUABLE people they want as followers and engage with them so that 1) they become followers and 2) they evangelize the brand through WOM. This will certainly help them more in the long run.

The true measure of a brand’s social capital is defined by:

  • The level of engagement with its network
  • How much its network is talking about them to other people outside of the network

Give me your opinion!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 13, 2010 7:07 pm

    I checked out your blog entry and I couldn’t agree more! I like your comparison of an engaged group of followers to a tribe. Expect this word (as well as “community” and “ecosytem”) to become a buzzword within the Twittersphere shortly. We are past the point of aggregating massive amounts of twitter followers and are entering a different phase where “less is more” and “quality trumps quantity.”
    – Angel

  2. August 25, 2010 4:43 pm

    For sure, numbers definitely don’t translate into value. But defining value is a difficult task for any brand: value to the marketing department = lots of good buzz, but value can also mean how much of an increase in revenue the social media campaign has contributed to.

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