The Most Powerful Social Media Measurement Tool Money Can Buy

The Most Powerful Social Media Measurement Tool Money Can Buy - Brass Tack ThinkingWith so many pieces of information floating around we are more pressed than ever to find something, anything that can help us make sense of the mess. Tools and apps and platforms abound, smashing together data with alacrity, and pouring out more data as a response.

If you want to know where to spend your money so that you’ve got the best and most useful analytics tool for social media on the market today, I’m about to cut through all of that clutter and help you out.

Buy yourself a brand new (or slightly used), shiny current version of a Human 1.0, and the brain they bring with them. (Find a good one, of course, there are some lemons out there).

Measurement has become almost as bad of a battle cry as “influence” or “awareness” or “Community”. We have millions of pieces of information out there, and if we can come up with any way of distilling them into something that feels simple, we cry eureka! and slather it all over our reports like it tells us everything we want to know.

But software and tools and automated rankings and everything of the stripe leaves one feature off the list, the feature that only that Human 1.0 can bring to you:

Critical Thinking.

The ability to look at a number and ask hmmm, where did that come from? Is that accurate? Complete? Relevant? Does it matter? Why does it matter, and what other information do I need to pair it with in order to make it matter? What’s is this number actually telling me, and can I improve upon it by changing how we gather it somehow?

Only the human brain is capable of accurately and consistently critiquing and evaluating some of the most important qualitative things around data: context, nuance, sarcasm, unspoken implication, the dynamics of the ecosystem that sprouted the numbers, the impact that the gathering mechanism has on the numbers, understanding what other numbers and data should be related to one in order to make it potentially meaningful.

Data is a bunch of numbers. Alone, they mean jack, because they tell you nothing but a snapshot of something devoid of any context whatsoever. Even clustered together in “statistics”, without context or caveat, many of those numbers mean less than nothing themselves. Information is data more ordered, where you have some organization, enough so that some meaning can be interpreted from it . But what most companies are striving for is insight, the highest rung on the measurement ladder, the process of collecting and analyzing information that, when interpreted, actually yields something of value upon which you can make a decision.

You don’t get a cookie for running a report. You don’t even get a cookie for highlighting something on that report and saying ‘hmm, that’s really interesting.” Measurement itself is not the goal. Measurement is a tool and a process for finding insights, which are in turn information used to make better decisions. What to start doing, what to keep doing, what to stop doing. You don’t win until you say you can do that through your measurement efforts.

We accept far too much information, scores and rankings, even “research”, at face value. There’s so much of it, that we take the short cut of always presuming that the conclusions put in front of us are true, that the work has been done to make them useful and relevant and even correct. It’s the new generation of “if you read it in the newspaper, it must be true.”

The most valuable asset we have is our own minds, capable of incisive thought and critical thinking to help us find meaning amongst all that information, meaning that matters to us and not someone else. Tom Webster calls it “doing your own work”. Otherwise, the result is simply noise.

If all we’re doing is reporting on noise and putting in pretty graphics, we’re doing ourselves – and the painstaking work we’ve undertaken – a terrible disservice. We need people, human brains who can interrogate that data relentlessly, question its use and validity and contextual relevance, and transform it into information that enlightens us, that guides us, that’s completely relevant for our work and our achievements and our goals…and even lead us to another layer of questions we should be asking.

Anything other is just shortcuts. No one ever said this wasn’t going to take work, or investment for that matter. Find yourself someone with sleeves that need rolling, a head for asking really smart questions, and set them loose. It’s the best money you’ll spend not just on social media, but on your business.

  • Eric S.

    Do I even need to say I agree here? Heck yes. But an important add-on is this – you may have Human 0.5 already working for you, they just need training. Or a mentor. Or a consultant. Or maybe just some good tools to work with.  SO many businesses look at the Need to Measure, realize correctly it’s going to take a Human, and then despair at finding one.  The fact is you may only need a trainer to get your own Humans to the next level, then work with you to chart a new course in your brand’s unknown waters.  Buying Human 1.0 is great, but finding and building one is even better!

    • Amber Naslund

      Eric – Love that approach and clarification. Indeed, sometimes the very best talent is already under your roof. They know your business, already like you, and may just need a bit of education to help them get even better. Thanks for adding that to the discussion.

  • MicJohnson

    Amber: Another awesome post. You nailed it. Very timely as I was just talking about this topic with my partner today. I love reading your stuff and you clearly are one of the awesome people that understands and excels at critical thinking…among other things. Well done.

  • Brad Shorr

    Words of wisdom indeed! Along similar lines, it’s important to stay close to the action. If your company has been engaged in social media for several months or more, people within the organization should have a gut feel for whether it is generating results, because they will have engaged in conversations, fielded questions, passed along leads, reviewed community feedback, etc. Any business that relies on raw data to judge effectiveness is bound to go wrong. 

    • Amber Naslund

      Brad – Oh, how I love the point about sharing information internally! I don’t know when we decreed that we had to hoard data from everyone, but showing people what effective (or ineffective) programs look like is great for anyone to see! Not only can they apply that to their own work, but it gives them a sense of their own impact on the bigger picture, and that can be *everything* when you’re trying to get buy in and enthusiasm from broad reaching teams. Thanks so much for bringing this up.

      • Urs E. Gattiker

        This is very good and I am late to the party @AmberNaslund:disqus sorry for that :-)  
        @eswayne:disqus is, of course, correct 0.5 humans do a great job if they are trained and move up to the plate as a 1.0…. HOWEVER.

        I think often the issue is not necessarily to make sense out of the numbers we have but, instead, collect data so you measure for impact.  For instance:

        1.       What do you  need to measure?
        2.       Why do you want to measure it (purpose, rational)?
        3.       How do you go about measuring what is needed in the most effective way (i.e. what metrics show a relationship to key drivers top management cares about such as customer retention, leads and customer returns)?

        This might get us to collect less data but the ones we can use to show impact.Thanks so much for sharing.

        • Thu-An Bui

          Urs, you’ve nailed it – it’s not so much the volume of data that’s valuable, it’s that it’s the right kind of data. 
          Though having a robust data set does mean that you can segment the data every which way to Sunday and see some interesting things that gets you on the path of why / how / hrm… :)

          • Urs E. Gattiker

            @twitter-10111172:disqus Thanks for replying to this. Yes a robust data set can do wonders.  Unfortunately, most data sets are neither representative nor valid…. and therefore do not allow us to make generalizations from them.

            Of course we both know that I just wanted to say it again … :-)  
            Measurement is a crucial part of making strategy — but only if you know the question you are trying to answer. We have an increasing abundance of metrics that have resulted in some bad habits.  We must substitute meaningless and baseless metrics with those that provide us meanigful insights.
            We had the problem when we asked about this in our current poll….
            ===> ComMetrics poll results: Key trends for 2012?
            Thu-An thanks for sharing. Urs @ComMetrics:twitter

    • Thu-An Bui

      Brad, have you considered that perhaps those who are engaged in social media internally may not be objective? How does the bias affect social media strategy? You might be generating results, but where should you double down? Are you decreasing customer acquisition costs? Or increasing customer lifetime value? Gut feel does not answer these questions that can help you make decisions. 

      If we apply the critical thinking and questioning skills as Amber suggested above, we have to keep asking why, how, and how much resources (time + money) to put towards whatever programs we’re running or creating. Using both quantitative and qualitative data to judge effectiveness is necessary to optimize your resources. 

  • Sandi Amorim

    Years ago I heard this line in a course I was taking and it came to mind as I read this post:

    For possibility, add people. 

  • Doug S

    This reminds me of a tracking system I tried for my own business.. it offered monthly charts and whiz bang report automatically pulled from various pieces of software, all automated, how cool is that! … which ended up as a 30 page monthly report of which I had no idea where to start. I now have use a highly paid and well worth it human to collect the data points and deliver the data in a pertinent way. It’s not very whiz bang and requires some very low tech spreadsheet data entry daily… but thats the way she rolls… she’s slowly teaching me what to look for…

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  • Anonymous

    Relying solely on analytical tools and understating the impact that human emotion plays a role in social media devotion is missing the point, but I think you have to acknowledge that the market has decided that these tools and measures are how businesses make assessment.

    * Klout and to a limited extent other social metrics are getting more and more important.

    * The growing number of companies listed at that do nothing other than social media promotion indicates how strongly businesses want to get traction on Facebook and Twitter and these other social networks.

    * Using these tools and creating these types of reports is what some people create to prove that they are working: so these types of things are not going away any time soon.

    * Many businesses have shifted over their development and other efforts away from building websites and SEO to developing Facebook pages and social media.

    * Even Google is trying to get into this market and devoting significant resources here through Google+.

    The market is changing here. While the human effect can’t be ignored, its a lot harder to objectively quantify which makes it harder to bring up in larger organizations. There are some good tools out there and they are getting better, so there is some hope here.

  • Niall Cook

    “Measurement is a tool and a process for finding insights, which are in turn information used to make better decisions.” Amen to that.

    But even when you’ve got yourself a Human 1.0 (and let’s gloss over the fact that they are just as variable and expensive as software), you still need something to be insightful about.

    Rightly or wrongly, the business world has decided that these things are numbers. So the challenge becomes finding the numbers that best connect (and can prove that they connect) what you’re doing in social media with what your company is trying to achieve.

    For any companies for whom increasing brand value is a business objectives, I’d invite you to look at some research we just undertook examining the link between social media performance and brand value and growth (and yes, there is a connection and yes, we have proved it):

    Niall Cook
    Advisor and co-founder
    Sociagility Ltd

  • davinabrewer

    WORD. To all of it, and love that you point out that understanding shows what you’re doing right, wrong, what needs more help, what’s working and just as important, what’s not so you can stop. Context is key; data without foundation can be worthless ala all the counting of likes, fans, tweets. 

    The critical mind is needed not just to count numbers and ask questions; it’s the know-how to ask the right questions, look beyond the stats and put them in the proper context. It’s the most expensive investment, some smart, shiny humans which is sadly, the first shortcut too many companies take. FWIW.

  •!/michaelgaspar Michael A. Gaspar

    Great post.  Reporting can be superficial, but establishing actionable metrics is what can make reporting human. Even when reporting internally, data can be a distraction from innovation. Data makes my head hurt, action items make my brain happy.

  • Eric Wittlake

    Awesome. Data is just more data, and we are all flooded with it today. Even fancy reporting tools that highlight the “important data” assume you will know what to do about it, and have the wherewithal to confirm what an algorithm says is important actually is important, something I don’t believe many take the time to do.

    Just make sure you get the right type of Human 1.0. Many great, smart people today are not given to questioning the data. They don’t have the a curious nature when faced with data or reports and potential topline conclusions. Unless you dig far enough to get to the source of changes in results, it is very easy to draw the wrong conclusion. [I have even found changes that, on digging, were too "consistent" to feel right, and ultimately uncovering bugs introduced by a well-meaning developer that had made changes.]

    Thanks for writing this, awesome to see this coming from someone at a company that makes one of the more valuable tools in the market.

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  • Extreme John

    Great post title and I was convinced with the content. Indeed, there’s no better and powerful tool for analyzing social media but the human mind itself. After all, we’re humans.

  • Manny Cortez

    You had me at ”
    (Find a good one, of course, there are some lemons out there).”  I couldn’t agree more! People get so wound up in presenting the “numbers” that they don’t focus on what they actually MEAN.  You hit the nail on the head yet again ;)

  • Manny Cortez

    You had me at ”
    (Find a good one, of course, there are some lemons out there).”  I couldn’t agree more! People get so wound up in presenting the “numbers” that they don’t focus on what they actually MEAN.  You hit the nail on the head yet again ;)

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    amazing and thank you so much for the post

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  • Ogy Nikolic

    agree that there is too many tools & too few critical thinkers! :-)

  • Olga K

    Awesome! Just today I was talking with Vocus rep who promoted a package of 2 press releases/month  and one twitter/facebook listening app for a hefty price of thousands per year, paid in advance with no money back guarantee. Are they from another planet? 
     I thought you would mention another app to use! I am glad that you assure that our human brain is tool #1 :)  As a data integrator, I have seen endless streams of data – but only few humans who can make meaningful conclusions out of them. 
    I guess, we won’t be replaced by machines, after all :)

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  • Caleb Edwards

    This is exactly how I communicate the value of hiring a social media agency to my clients. Its not enough to have the latest social media measurement tools. You’ve got to have someone with critical thinking skills analyze that data and make meaningful recommendations about how to improve your social media strategy. I’m always amazed at how many clients feel like social media monitoring and measurement is not worth investing in. They understand the need to invest in advertising to get more fans but fail to understand the strategic importance of engaging those fans.

  • Bill Bean

    Critical thinking. #1 job skill? I think so. Spot on!

  • Tonya Becker-Haddadeen

    LOVE IT! You are so right Amber! As a Social Media Marketer for myself and my clients, I know first hand how important it is for one to get their information out there in a way that simply makes sense to not only themselves, but to their readers too! Our human brains can do just that if we put them to work! =)

  • social media statistics

    I think its a great information on social media measurement. I was looking for only this type of stuff. I would like to bookmark this page to here again to get some more information. 

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    That post was deep. A good one though. I think we all become overwhelmed with social media mainly because we don’t understand it as well as others who are doing so well with it. After all, twitter is essentially a popularity contest. This guy has a 1,000 followers, he must be important. I had better follow him. 

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