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Here is how you measure social media

Measuring the quality of our social media and online community is very difficult.  In the end, we are trying to measure relationship, and relationships are very difficult to measure. 

Since we cannot measure relationship well, we are left to indicators.  These indicators help us get a feel for how those relationships are going.  Number of fans/followers, actions taken (liking, commenting, posting), sharing (retweets, share, word of mouth), and actual sales or end actions can all be measured.  But these indicators could all be in place and we could still miss what the core goal is.

The danger with these measurable indicators is that when we can wrap our minds around a measurable, we begin to move towards that indicator as the goal itself.  Like looking at the side of the road when driving, we drift towards what we are looking at.  We begin to ask questions like  "Well... how do we get fans?" instead of "How do we connect with people genuinely?"  When we drift like that, we move away from what we really wanted and what is really effective and into a game of increasing numbers. 

If we simply shoot for fans (or comments, or likes, etc.), then the people can feel it.  The passion and the relationship drain out.  We are left with numbers and the passion dries up.

If we can hold onto that relationship as the goal, we end up with all the the unknowns that we don't even know to ask for.  A coder that writes an app for us because he is passionate and just wants to help.  One fan paying for another to come to your event without telling you.  A follower who shares his passion with his pastor who preaches a series that inspires a congregation.  (I have seen all these things happen and much much more).

So what is an organization or business supposed to practically do then that justifies spending money on social media?  It is all relational vagueness?  I don't think so.  There are things we can measure, but we have to hold all of this in mind as we measure.

A balanced approach when evaluating your social media and community is to start with a soft measurable...  Subjectively ask "Are we vulnerable and genuine?  Are we caring for people well?  Do people feel a connection with us as people, not just with an organization?".  We may follow that up with "Are we doing better at these things than we were last week (or month)?"

After we know that, we can then look at the more traditional number to inform our (probably more accurate) subjective evaluations.  And we should do that.  We may evaluate that our community is strong, but engagement had gone down and look into why.  Perhaps conversations are breaking off into emails and private venues.  Maybe they are waiting for direction from us.  Maybe a decrease in numbers in an appropriate pruning and is healthy. 

I have been thinking about this issue for quite some time.  This is my summary.  Your first evaluation should be a subjective relational check and you should do this regularly.  This is more accurate than the dry numbers because it is a relational to relational check.  Your second step is to put the more concrete numbers on the table and see how they inform your subjective relational evaluation.  Track over time and evaluate... Are you developing a community or not?  You will know.  If you are, it is worth your time.