How Big is Your Social Media Pond?

We all want to know if we’re a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big a pond and that’s what Social Media analytics is all about. Yet, never in recent memory has something that so few people understand commanded so many different measurement tools. The people in the industry tout their Klout , Twitalyzer , PeerIndex, etc. scores like they’re magical numbers. We can be grateful for the most part people no long use the number of followers as their measuring stick.

Yes, businesses of all sizes are starting to “invest in social media” as if talking to customers and providing good customer service is anything new. And with all business investments we start talking about the ROI (return on investment), and the need to quantify the success of the efforts. I agree with this desire, but the reality is throughout history, it’s been impossible to measure the ROI of these factors beyond happy customers almost always translate into better sales.

While I don’t have issue with the measurement tools (as many industry thought leaders seem to), I do take issue with how organizations take these numbers and use them to compare the “success” or “influence” of their customer engagement in social media.

To stress this point, I’m going to pick on my favourite tool of the hour Twitter.  Despite being around for several years, the last 12-18 months or so have seen more tools hit the market to measure peoples Twitter influence then anyone can keep track of. Organizations are now regularly looking at peoples Klout or Twitalyzer scores before hiring people, having them speak at events or simply in-house to measure the success of their  Twitter marketing efforts.  This is where these tools are being misused.

While the tools clearly show you how one specific Twitter ID is doing compared to all the other Twitter ID they are tracking (what percentile it is in), people are missing the big picture. They haven’t told you how big your specific pond is. These tools use a variety of different measurement factors in their algorithms and being high in one or two factors can have a dramatic impact on your score, yet your audience (pond) is so small that in reality it’s like saving 5 out 6 people think I’m a genius when surveying my immediately family (BTW it's my sister who doesn't agree).

Case in point for several weeks (even as I write this), my Klout score (@aknecht =  73.22) was higher than Oprah Winfrey’s (@oprah = 72.8). Does this mean I yield more influence and have a greater impact on the world through what I tweet then Oprah? Of course not, Oprah is followed by over 4.5 million people while my meagre following of around 1,700 are not even on the same planet. Yet, there are companies/organizations who make these blind comparisons on a daily basis which is simply wrong.

What these numbers simply mean in my opinion is that my influence amongst all my followers is comparable to what Oprah’s influence is on her audience. What is missing is the multiplier effect. If she were to tweet something that would have an impact on a mere 0.1% of her audience then 4,500+ will respond and if I were to do the same 1.7 people will respond. Ultimately both Oprah and I are reasonably big fish (there are bigger ones) in our own ponds, the difference is the size of our ponds.


Elmer Boutin said...

Good thoughts here, Alan. There has been a lot of talk about measuring social media influence lately and yours are certainly well taken.

I think as these tools evolve they will get better. It takes time to refine something past "How many followers" to something really useful. From what I read, the folks at Klout understand their system is far from perfect but they are working on getting better. Let's see how things how things go in the coming months.

Morgan said...

Great article Alan. I agree completely and wrote similarly in a post called "My Klout Score is a farce" http://www.pmorganbrown.com/2010/11/brands-beware-my-klout-score-is-a-farce/

I think what these tools miss is the difference between active influence (the reach/impact you have by being noisy) vs. latent influence (the reach/impact you can have should you choose to use it, by way of who you are.)

You may have more active influence at any one point in time, but Oprah clearly carries much more latent influence that she can deploy when/how she chooses.

The tools do a terrible job of balancing that. And I agree. I am rooting for the tool makers, but am vociferously against brands using this intel to guide marketing decisions/investment. No data>bad data, etc.