The Hidden Trap in Social Metrics

Analytics Ad Nauseum

“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”– Albert Einstein

We’re taken marketing by the numbers too far. We’re so in love with click rates, hot spots, funnels, search terms, conversions, email opens, visits, hits, downloads and all of that that we’re missing some of what’s important.  Yes, sure, marketing by the numbers is light years better than the marketing blind we used to do – pay and pray. I know that well because I was there, decades ago, when it was all guesswork. But now that we have analytics to measure almost everything, we’re tempted to discount, entirely, what we can’t measure. And that’s just wrong. And nowhere is this more tragic than with social media.

It used to be mostly pay and pray

To those of us old enough to have done marketing in the last century, to know is heaven. We used to guess at the message, guess at the medium, guess the delivery, then pay and pray. That was the real world of advertising before the web, especially for startups and small business owners.

I say pay and pray because we never really got to know in any real way how well the ads had worked. In theory we’d get that by ask every caller “and where did you hear about us?” But that never really worked for real business. Most of the time, the phone operator forgot to ask, or chose not to ask to focus on getting the order, not the info. And when they did ask, two thirds of the time the answer was useless. They’d cite some magazine we’d never advertised in. Big companies had research, focus groups, surveys, and perhaps better answers to our collective hunger for knowing. But in the real world, it was all just guessing. I routinely made marketing decisions based on what maybe a fourth of our customers told us about the source of their interest.

We lived with it because we had to.

Show me the money became show me the analytics.

I’ve read some of the best minds in marketing confuse “measurable” with “valuable.” Now that we have analytics, we want analytics. What can’t be measured isn’t worth doing. What’s the value of a like in Facebook or a follower in Twitter? Where are the metrics?

To some extent this makes perfect sense. Clicks are attention. Clicks become visits, and visits become conversions, and conversions become money. Why guess. You can know. You can get amazing detail on what works and what doesn’t work on a website, a landing page, a checkout page, and emails of course. A/B testing means immediate feedback and fine tuning results. As the Huffington Post rode its meteoric rise to fame, they did real-time testing on headlines and changed them, improved their traffic impact, in minutes.

Compared to what we used to do, this is heaven. Count me in. Except …

But aren’t there values we can’t measure?

Before I get to social media, here’s a more general example: the local television news interviews you as an expert in your field. You get featured, favorably, in a segment in the local television news. Tens of thousands of people see you as a local expert in your field. Is that valuable to you? Will it show up in your website metrics? Of course it probably will, right? You’ll see a bump in traffic. Of course that’s valuable. And it shows up in web traffic, leads, and phone calls.

But – and here’s the real problem – it didn’t show up at all during the months and maybe years of shoe leather content marketing that made that interview happen. That TV reporter called you that day because of all your published articles, speaking dates, lunches with journalists, meetings, conferences, and just showing up, over and over, for a long time. And during that long time, where were the metrics? Sure you can see the win now, in metrics, but were you able to track the analytics of every article, blog post, conference presentation? No. Were there analytics? Did you have metrics? No. But you still did the work. And it was still worth it.

Voila. There is still marketing that isn’t immediately measurable. Not everything is clicks.

The hidden trap in social metrics

Remember that marketing is essentially getting people to know, like, and trust you and your business. And that social media is a giant conversation.It’s amplified word of mouth. People gather. They look, they listen, they talk. The know like and trust factors happen over a long term in social media. They come from long-term presence, generating long-term relationships. You and your business win by offering useful content, contributing, standing up for values, representing something. Your social media persona must be useful, funny, and interesting. It must not be boring.

The hidden trap in social media is that focusing on short-term analytics – clicks, leads, visits, hits, downloads, conversions – doesn’t work. It’s something like trying to join a conversation as a corporate logo character, dressed up and in costume, spouting slogans and sales and marketing messages. People don’t want to talk to the corporate mascot. They don’t want to talk about offers, promotions, product announcements, and discounts.

In social media, we are all channels. And when we’re boring, people turn us off.

So there’s the fascinating trade-off. Social media done right generates long-term relationship, know-like-and-trust. I’m convinced it’s critical to business now and is going to be steadily more so in the future. But what works takes time, and doesn’t generate instant analytics. It pays off over the long term. The tree is going to fall in the forest, eventually. People will remember and recommend, more so over time. But to make that work for your business, you need to be there for the long term, consistently, offering value, and remaining patient. You don’t get immediate metrics.

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