The metrics mess

Or more on how those Facebook likes are not engaging I'm not exactly surprised that I haven't seen much discussion in my social web streams this week over Simon Dumenco's timely Ad Age article - Metrics mess: Five sad truths about measurement right now.

For some time now I have been the curmudgeon in the room whenever a discussion has turned to social media, and I've been known to step it up a notch beyond curmudgeon when I have to listen to a long series of assumptions by "experts," all of whom seem to have extra-sensory perception when it comes to understanding how people interact with brands online. We just know, ok? Well actually no, not ok.

Seriously though, being that contrarian led me to write Facebook Likes are not engaging.

Now, I would never consider myself as someone with the capability or the intellectual heft to write the book on the importance of data, research, measurement or user studies, but to be able to help our clients at North I have to be confident that before I give them any advice re the social web, I must know what's going on with the brand online. Alongside that, I have to understand what the brand business goals are and how a digital strategy might align with those goals. It's never just about social web tools, as they are plentiful, it's really about DRUM™ - data, research, users, metrics. (Pithy I know, but it might just stick...)

In his article Dumenco makes clear there are many companies that supply good tools for online measurement - he mentions Lithium (which acquired and absorbed Scout Labs last summer), Radian6, Sysomos, Trendrr, Viralheat and Visible Technologies. All of these companies no doubt provide outstanding results more or less equally, but I like that he has this to say because it points to not only how complicated digital can be, but how measuring what users are up to can be too - "Though they vary in their approaches and comprehensiveness, they all face similar problems when it comes to parsing the principal currency of the real-time economy: thoughts expressed in often surprisingly elusive human language."

And then there's the Facebook 'Fans' conundrum.. where Dumenco goes bold - FANS AND LIKES: OFTEN MEANINGLESS (OR ONLY FLEETINGLY MEANINGFUL)

NORTH, DRUM, Facebook, Ad Age Click for larger image. Source: Socialbakers via AdAge.com

Here's an extract:

Coca-Cola, Starbucks and Disney top the list of numbers of fans -- not particularly surprising. But it doesn't take long for the chart to devolve into Pavlovian fanboy territory. Picture, if you will, the demographic that washes down Skittles and Oreos with Red Bull while checking out Victoria's Secret model galleries. Converse appears twice on the list (thanks to the Converse All Star shoe getting its own fan page) -- and, actually, Victoria's Secret also makes a second appearance, with its Pink sub-brand showing up just beyond the Top 10, in the No. 17 spot. The top 25, in case you're curious, is rounded out by the likes of Pringles, PlayStation, Monster Energy, Starburst, Nutella and Xbox, which should tell you something.

The truth is, many of the most-fanned (i.e., most-liked) brands on Facebook are already beloved by the "like"-prone nerd set -- a teen/collegiate demographic that can be both easily engaged and instantaneously distracted. Another way of saying "easily engaged": easily induced.

"Pavlovian fan-boy territory" and "easily induced," indeed. And then there's the "gloriously erratic, unpredictable and hard to read, human beings. Yes them..

In other words, seemingly meaningful facts -- absolute numbers about the usage of a certain term in the social-media sphere -- can actually be meaningless because they've suddenly become about something you don't care about at all. (Thankfully, Trendrr has technology, including so-called natural language processing, that can filter out off-topic tweets.) Social-media conversations are constantly being hijacked, both accidentally and on purpose.

One lesson we have to relearn every time we're seduced by stark new social-media data sets: Human beings are gloriously erratic, unpredictable and hard to read; the data they throw off is, too.

Anyway, read the article and make up your own mind.