Posted October 7, 2010 10:46 am by with 6 comments

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OK, so having a definitive answer that is the beginning and end all is not very reasonable but the headline got your attention, right?

The social media measurement quandary is one that has been around since the start of the social media age and will no doubt be around for as long as social media is. Measuring success of social media for businesses is not as easy a task as counting followers and friends although many would like you to think so. After all, that is the easiest metric to keep an eye on but even at this early stage in the game most marketers have deemed it marginal at best.

A study conducted by Vocus and Brian Solis was reported by eMarketer and found that marketers are already suspect of large numbers of followers and their true value. Better said, it is all about popularity vs. influence, with influence being the desired target of most marketers.

The new report from Vocus and FutureWorks principal Brian Solis throws a healthy dose of skepticism on the supposed correlation between popularity and influence. The report—provocatively titled “Influencer Grudge Match: Lady Gaga versus Bono”—surveyed 739 marketing and communications professionals who work with influencers to gauge their perceptions of what makes an influencer.

While the numbers pointed to more marketers seeing influencers with smaller groups of tightly connected friends being the more desirable target v. larger groups with loose or no connection (57% v. 44%) how they end up measuring success in campaigns falls back on quantity trumping quality. Presumably this is because it’s the easiest metric to obtain and is more objective (or is it?). The chart below bears this out.

OK marketers so what is this saying? You want to have your cake and eat it too but this is not congruent is it? Too often, the intent (what you like to provide for measurement) has little to do with the reality of marketing and social media.

Rather than just admitting that there is a gap in measuring effectiveness of social media and working to find ways to provide meaningful measures of success and / or failure, marketers turn to their Pavlovian response of giving people any measurement to prove their worth. Apparently, whether there is any relationship between the measurement and reality is secondary. That’s too bad because what is really at stake is the credibility of social media as an effective marketing tool and this does nothing to help, but plenty to hurt, the cause.

Oh well. What’s a marketer to do? Any thoughts?

  • We discussed this “survey” on HubSpot TV last week. The problem with all the data is that it is based on the opinions of marketers, not hard facts. I sort of don’t care what marketers _think_ defines influence, what I actually care about is what will make more people actually take an action – click a link, recommend something, register for something, buy something. None of this opinion data really answers the key question.

    • Honestly, Mike, what data in the Internet marketing space addresses the real user? We report left and right on innovations and other things that the ‘industry’ will use but the vast majority of people (as in customers) will never know even exists. Our industry is incredibly myopic and doesn’t pay attention to the right things. The first company to specialize in what I call “reality research” will have a big winner on their hands.

    • Mike,

      You say you don’t care about what marketers think. But it looks like HubSpot does care: HubSpot often tells/shows/educates marketers all the time on how to use their influence in order to get people to “click a link, recommend something, register for something, buy something.”

      You are targeting marketers (your customers) and trying to “influence” them with the fact that you have the knowledge & expertise they need or want in hopes that they will share that information (or their experiences) in order to “influence” others to take a certain action with HubSpot, right? Otherwise, why would you (or any of us for that matter) bother to do any of this so called social marketing?

      I would think as marketers we’d want to know if our customers think we are popular vs. truly influential. Having that answer surely changes the game that’s being played socially…and that’s a hard fact.

      And at the end of the day, misusing the term “influence” is the issue with social media. There is a complete lack of understanding what influence really is. Add SEO to the mix and you get even more confused marketers (ahem, page rank authority does not equal influence; blog rankings do not equal influence; etc.).

      A lot of agencies, businesses and people throw the word “influence” around like they know what they are talking about (they usually do not). PR agencies are they WORST offenders of this because they use “impressions” as a mark of influence and now, unfortunately, they are using that same mindset in the social space. Their clients are brainwashed to think “numbers = influence = quality.” (Hello AVEs! 1990 is calling and they want you back!) Let’s not even get into the sentiment discussion…

      When most people use the term “influence” what they are usually referring to is ‘potential’ popularity and ‘potential’ reach, not actual influence.

      Regarding Frank’s point:

      “Rather than just admitting that there is a gap in measuring effectiveness of social media and working to find ways to provide meaningful measures of success and / or failure, marketers turn to their Pavlovian response of giving people any measurement to prove their worth.”

      That gap is usually cause by a lack of planning that includes measurement. It’s that simple. If people planned and planned for measuring, they would see that it’s often the weakest links that become the strongest influencers…not the other way around.

      Beth Harte
      Serengeti Communications

    • @Mike – I tend to think the sum total of opinions of people ostensibly immersed in the study and practice relating to influence do matter. That’s in large part why we have surveys like this one, or summits like Inbound, to trade thoughts and ideas. Since both Hubspot and Vocus cater to this market segment, presumably it’s especially important to understand their perceptions.

      @Beth – Your point is well taken. I think you are right — it all has to start with an objective — where are we going, and what are the mile markers along the way?

  • Quality Vs Quantity has been question that has been answered several times online by various sources. Social media remains the effective marketing tool but measuring social media success is not easy as it requires measuring popularity Vs influence. If quality is good quantity will automatically improve for businesses. The aim should be always to provide quality then this will push up quantity like increase in traffic and sales.

  • Frank, thank you for a terrific discussion. This piece is compelling as you pointed out in the headline’s hook. Well played. To Mike’s point, I find that in my own micro offline channels, what appears to resonate with my customers and thus make me an influencer to them is dealing directly with their woes. I think of it as rolling out a red carpet for them alone, opting even exclude the nearest relative to my audience. Like I’m Rusty and Wally World is mine – all mine, to quote the prophet Daffy Duck. Man, someone will reap the whirlwind once he/she figures out how to bottle this, but my customers want Wally Wolrd all to themselves. Who wouldn’t? Influence, again in my tiny ecosystems, has always seen the most traction when I make my customer’s problems the exclusive club the two of us are sole members of. MLK didn’t have Twitter, Gandhi didn’t either. Quality in any single relationship I have trumps the amount of relationships I have. Make an algorithm for this and you’ve uncovered uranium! Thank you again.