Misleading Social Media Engagement Metrics and ‘Crappy’ Best Practices

eMetrics Summit
eMetrics Summit

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media platform data all have different meanings, and some metrics are grossly inflated. “Those reach metrics aren’t meaningful, and until we start making those distinctions,” consultant Gary Angel says, “we’re going to be misleading the people who need this information the most.”

Company and nonprofit executives either accept flawed data, or they simply dismiss it. Angel, Digital Mortar CEO, told the eMetrics Summit in Chicago that giving the same name to fundamentally different metrics is not standardization: “You’ve got to do some work to make reach metrics comparable, and if you’re not doing that work you really haven’t standardized the metrics you are giving people.”

Too often, leaders decide to adopt unique best practices designed years ago:

Best practices are no way to make important decisions. Best practices are what other people learned in their business. Your business is unique and distinct. That’s what analytics is about. I have started countless best practices… I know how crappy most of them are, how specific to unique situations they often are. Best practices are guidelines that happen to work for somebody else.

Instead, Angel tells clients to use current analytics in decision-making. “Best practices should be used to sort of set the broad table for the research questions you want to look at, not to be adopted wholesale,” Angel says.

Strategic priorities instead must be “translated” into key performance indicators (KPIs). A focus on business customers, for example, means understanding why people care about your product or service, as well as competitors. “What’s the story you need to tell them?” Angel asks. “If you’re not answering those questions when you talk to creative people,” Angel tells analysts, “you’re not setting the table for them to do a good job.”

“Stop making up KPIs,” Angel rants. “If you pick engagement as a metric, you darn well better be able to prove that you’re really measuring engagement, and that engagement has some kind of positive relationship to business outcomes.” He’s talking about the hard work it takes to be taken seriously in the C-suite.

If analytics move up an organizational chart to executives, too often the data are never sent down to site developers to learn what worked, Angel suggests. This is one piece of the communication problem large organizations have because of silos and poor management practices. Angel also says it is natural to look for easy measures – time on a page, scrolling to the bottom, or completing a form – but “those metrics almost always suck, they don’t mean anything.”

The eMetrics Summit founder and author Jim Sterne, described how a small group of web analytics professionals first met in Santa Barbara, California in 2002. The field later became known as digital analytics.

Social Media Metrics (2010)
Social Media Metrics (2010)

Digital Analytics Association (DAA) Executive Director Marilee Yorchak says there are now 14 local chapters with quarterly events around the nation, and a new chapter may open in Vancouver. PayPal Head of Customer Experience and Experimentation Kuntal Goradia offered examples of how digital analytics involves a continuous process.

eMetrics Summit
eMetrics Summit

Partner and Evolytics President Carey Wilkins says successful organizations have strong connections between stakeholders. That involves cultivating solid relationships.

The DAA is not the only group of skeptical marketers. Jeff Bullas says number of social shares, for example, serve as social proof of credibility. Yet Facebook inflates the numbers to include a view as seeing just one pixel for three seconds. Bullas calls the metrics “hope and optimism.”

Better to just recognize flawed data as crap. Only then may we begin with a strategic focus on goals and objectives. From there, organizations may be able to measure what really matters in their unique situation.

You can read more about analytics in Social Media Communication: Concepts, Practices, Data, Law and Ethics second edition (2018).

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