Last night I was poking around the socnets before going to bed, and saw that Beth Kanter had posted a link to Fast Company’s “Influence Project.” I’m keenly interested in ways to measure influence as part of the research fellowship I have with the Center for Social Media at American University, so naturally I was intrigued and signed up. It took me a while to suss out what they’re actually doing. While they recognize that influence isn’t about numbers of followers or fans, this is how they measure:
The scale of your influence, and therefore the size of your photo, is based on two measures.
1. The number of people who directly click on your unique URL link. This is the primary measure of your influence, pure and simple.
2. You will receive partial “credit” for subsequent clicks generated by those who register as a result of your URL. In other words, anyone who comes to the site through your link and registers for their own account will be spreading your influence while they spread theirs. That way, you get some benefit from influencing people who are influential themselves. We will give a diminishing, fractional credit (1/2, ¼, 1/8 etc ) for clicks generated up to six degrees away from your original link.
What I find problematic: It’s still in many ways a popularity contest. Someone with a lot of time on their hands could launch a campaign to focus on generating as many clicks as possible, which would certainly skew the measurements of that person’s true influence– if they’re not actively campaigning, how much are people actually clicking on their links?
Plus there’s the problem of the power law in this case–early popular adopters are going to rise to the top faster than later adopters and benefit the most from the Amway-like pyramid scheme of click benefits.
There’s no good measurement for influence right now. Part of that’s because there’s a Pandora’s box of factors to consider. I may be influential in recommending information about social networks or dog behavior, but completely ineffectual at recommending solid information on the cultures of Lower Slobbovia. Which measure of influence is important? Do we take a mean number of some kind to represent my overall influence in the world? If we did, how much weight should my recommendations on Lower Slobbovia play?
I know people are desperate to have quantitative metrics when it comes to social media, especially when thinking about ROI. I don’t want to see us falling back on paradigms that we’re used to, though, because they’re now becoming outdated and useless. Here’s a smidge of how I address this in Share This!, from the section “Avoiding the Newest Numbers Trap” in Chapter 4:
Someday, maybe even while this book is being printed, my dream of having an application that shows me “interestingness” in the social network sphere will come true. Flickr has this for photographs: There is an algorithm based on “[w]here the click-throughs are coming from; who comments on it and when; who marks it as a favorite; its tags and many more things which are constantly changing.” The best part? Interestingness itself, then, is constantly changing, based on these shifting variables, so there’s a good chance of finding both something new and something surprising when one goes spelunking through Flickr’s massive collection of interesting photos.
I’m not going to lie to you: This great shift in authority isn’t the easiest part of social networking’s brave new world to navigate. The tools give us tremendous power to change the culture around us, but they’re new, and our behavior and impressions are still based on operating within a hyper-capitalist-focused, hierarchical mindset. We have a lot of work to do on freeing our minds before the rest of our bits will follow.
Surprisingly, though, the uncertainty of the future of social networking tools is also the good news: Things are still shaking out, and we’re in a position to determine whether the reordering of authority will benefit people who previously did not have the access or the means to make their voices heard. Armed with a fundamental understanding of what’s taking place (by, ahem, reading good books on the subject), you’re primed to make the most of change.
The following is a talk I gave about ROI for Social Media at the 2009 Social Tech Training in Toronto, ON. The audience was a group of 90 or so people from Canadian non-profits.
When I first started thinking about metrics for social media, I wanted to start out reminding our group about some fundamentals of the sphere. Oh, and with a flying lemur, because Sam Dorman had a flying lemur in his presentation earlier that day.
I’ve got a little exercise to get you warmed up. Are you ready? Take a minute and jot down all of the breakthroughs in communications history you can think of.
No, no, seriously. Write ’em down. Or type ’em out, if you’re like me. I’ll wait.
Did you think of smoke signals? That’s one of my favorites. Yep. Papyrus, printing press. Though, if we were playing Boggle, you’d have to scratch that one off, because everyone says that one. Radio, television. Morse code. The Internet.
Now tell me: In whose hands have those tools ended up over the last few millennia? Who has been in charge of, and in control of, telling our collective stories?
This is why history needs you. We need you to create and share your stories.
Let’s talk for a minute about social capital. What is it? Just like monetary capital, social capital can be built up, spent, saved up, invested. It’s like a giant combination of influence and karma. The tricky part is, of course, measuring it.
There are a couple of things to keep in mind when it comes to dealing with your social capital. First of all, your organization, based on its mission and staff, has a unique voice in the world. Even if there are tons of people doing similar work to yours, you are still the only group with your unique perspective. This works to your advantage in social media, because your authentic voice is your most respected and valued voice. Forget brochure-speak — this is a world of conversations.
The other thing to remember is that a lot of social media culture is built on the “gift economy:” the notion that it’s a good idea to do things that are just good ideas. There’s no expected return when you do someone a favor, or when you take time to share research for free. You realize that it’s making the whole environment richer with your unique participation — you don’t expect anything else from it.
Which leads me to the next point: one-way streets go nowhere in this world. If you’re constantly posting self-referential items and nothing else, you’re not going to win a lot of support for the work you’re doing. This isn’t a broadcast medium; this is a place to engage with your community. (A good rule of thumb, for those getting started, is to post 30% of your own material, and 70% relevant-but-nothing-to-do-with-you material.)
What people are up to now
Why? Don’t forget this incredibly important quote, ever:
It’s still all about building relationships, telling your story, and taking potential donors through the process of cultivation, stewardship and solicitation
So, how are people using Facebook?
(More on this: http://mashable.com/2009/05/27/facebook-page-vs-group/ )
Credit: Beth Kanter and Allison Fine
What about Twitter?
Twitter’s pretty useful for a lot of aspects. You can get the word out, sure, but you can also:
It’s up to you to go looking for the conversations you want to have. You can easily set up searches for relevant names (of your staff people, spokespersons, etc.), titles of publications you’ve produced or articles that you’re mentioned in, and topics that are relevant to your work. You can then save those searches as RSS feeds, or in the application you use for Twitter. Another tip: put in URLs that you want to follow to BackTweets.com, and keep an eye out for who’s tweeting.
But! That’s not all! Then you’ll take time to respond to those people: you’ll thank them for talking about you, or you’ll direct them to a relevant article (that most likely doesn’t reference you directly), or whatever the case is. It’s gardening, in a way: you’re cultivating community by spending time with the people in it.
So how do I measure this?
Good question! Just kidding.
My friend Beka referred me to this fabulous 28-page Social Media ROI report from Peashoot (scroll down, it’s on the left — you have to give them your email address to get it). All the info covered in the report applies to commercial, for-profit enterprises, but there’s a lot to be applied to the non-profit world as well.
One of the biggest takeaways from the report is that it’s important in social media to not just consider traditional ways of measuring success. This is not about dollars raised, for example, as a direct measurement of the time you invest in having these conversations. There are other, more interesting ways — more qualitative than quantitative ways — to keep track of how you’re doing.
Here are some examples:
When working with these measurements, goal-setting becomes crucial. It’s important to keep your goals very tight, direct and focused, especially when you’re getting going. Choose timeframes that are small — having x positive conversations about your work per week. Also, keep your metrics, to start, within just a couple of services. Say that you’re going to work on your Twitter presence for the next two months and then stick with it, rather than trying to spread yourself too thin across multiple services.
What about blogger outreach?
Charlene Li has a great graphic on measuring blogging impact from her 2007 report, and I can’t say it any better than the Q&A that concludes this blog post that announced the report:
Q: Is there a standard ROI for blogs? A: Nope — sorry, it isn't that easy! Just as there isn't a standard ROI for a Web site, there's no standard for a blog. It depends on what the goal of the blog is and also how much investment the company (and the blogger) puts into it.
Q: What's the best way to measure the effectiveness of a blog? A: Again, it starts with the goal of the blog. I strongly suggest that companies start with the goal, develop metrics that measure the attainment of that goal, and find ways to assign value to those metrics.
Q: But aren’t blogs risky? How do you take that into account? A: We definitely take risk into account by generating scenarios that show the impact of low-likelihood but high impact events — such as a lawsuit.
Q: Our CMO/CEO/CFO won’t let us have a blog until we can show him/her the definitive ROI of a blog. Help!! A: It’s not an unreasonable request — they don’t really understand the value of a blog and see just the potential cost and risk. By going through the exercise of defining and quantifying the benefits, costs, and risks of a blog, you’ll be educating your C-level executives while also demonstrating the discipline that they expect.
Q: But this is heresy – you can’t put the benefits of a blog on a spreadsheet! You’ve just got to believe that blogs are a good thing because they develop conversations with customers. A: At the core of my bleeding heart pumps the soul of a pragmatist. Sure, I buy into all of the positive, feel good reasons to have a blog. But when your manager asks why the company has a blog versus spending more time and resources on XYZ initiatives, it sure would be helpful to be able to show a spreadsheet of those blogging benefits in dollars and cents.
To explain. No, there is too much. Too sum up.
A few final thoughts to take away with you as you venture out into the wild world of social media ROI:
I had the immense pleasure of spending most of the week in Toronto, training about 90 people on the ins and outs of all things social tech. It was an honor to join the other trainers, real rockstars of both American and Canadian social tech for social good worlds: Beka Economopoulos, Cheryl Contee, Roz Lemieux, Jason Mogus, Sam Dorman, Phillip Djwa, Darrell Houle, Samer Rabadi, Eric Squair, Tim Walker, Julia Watson… man, I felt smarter just hanging out with these peeps all week.
Here’s some links to the presentations and workshops that I led and co-led all week; thanks to the participants who took killer notes. There’s tons of incredible info on, and being added to, this wiki, so check back often: