What Constitutes Value in Social Media Measurement?

measurementThis weekend, I read a few articles on public relations research that got me thinking (I think that’s what my professors were going for 😉 ) The general consensus is that public relations research is often limited to the evaluation of the products of short-term communication programs when what it should be doing is evaluating the products, processes, and the outcomes of both short- and long-term programs (Grunig & Grunig, 2001; Michaelson & Macleod; 2007). Of course, this statement assumes that organizations are conducting research in the first place… 

Social media ROI has been an ongoing debate ever since those who were dabbling in the space realized that they needed to come up with something measurable in order to convince reluctant executives that social media was a worthwhile investment of their organizations’ time and resources. Unfortunately, number of page views, clicks, conversions, tweets, mentions, fans, blog posts, etc. are all examples of products, not processes, not outcomes, and not necessarily long-term.

Processes refer to things like relationship-building and outcomes refers to the quality of those relationships (Grunig, & Grunig, 2001). 

A few days ago, my friend @AlanWeinkrantz tweeted:

The types of data we are used to capturing are numbers; we need to capture conversations and more importantly, streams.

I couldn’t agree more. I also think that words like “measurement” and “metrics” are stifling. I agree with scholars and think “research” and “evaluation” are a better fit. The idea is that organizations are conducting investigation that is purposeful, systematic and rigorous in nature and that they will use the results of said investigation to evaluate strategies and tactics. So I’m sorry for using “measurement” to title this post. Dang SEO keywords, rankings, and the very vicious circle I’m trying to argue against.

To clarify, I don’t think measuring products is a waste of time. I think we need to pay more attention to the processes and outcomes dimensions of social media research and evaluation. If we conceptualize social media as what lies at the heart of the Web 2.0 phenomenon – user collaboration, networking, sharing, and interaction; then it makes sense that in addition to counting the number of “X”, we research the quality of what is being said about our organizations’ efforts, programs and campaigns. Because quality is in the eye of the beholder, interpretative, and subjective in nature; the key is to know who you are, what you’re looking for and what you will do when you find it.

Super Bowl XLIV is in just a couple of hours… I’m SO VERY MUCH looking forward to Brand Bowl. The companies that spent gazillions of dollars on those commercials are going to get all sorts of ratings charts, bar graphs, and spreadsheets with numbers on them in the morning. The numbers will be huge and the companies may decide to buy ads in next year’s Super Bowl… But the kind of qualitative feedback they will get from listening to viewer’s *actual* conversations might make them reevaluate their approach (think Pepsi).

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