Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Have social media statistics and authority lost their value?

After reading an interesting blog post in the Harvard Business Review titled "Return on Influence, the New ROI", I was feeling quite proud of myself for actually keeping up with the HBR.

I was taken in by the author's claim that she had created a new metric ("Return On Influence", or ROI - I know, it's confusing), whereby she identifies the value of a single fan/follower of her client, which can in turn be used to demonstrate the value of investing in said client to potential advertisers. Sounds like a good idea, right?

Then I read the comments. Yikes.

I kid you not, the first line of the first comment reads, "Respectfully, this is complete nonsense."

He goes on to express his disappointment in HBR for publishing the article at all.

As I scrolled through the nearly 50 comments posted at the time, I was not surprised to see a familiar debate unfold - questioning the process of determining statistics, accusations that the statistics are valueless, stating that this is nothing new, and so on. Eventually the comments question the validity of the author's professional credentials, and finally HBR for even allowing the article to be published.

For me it begs the question - have statistics as they pertain to social media, and to some degree, the notion of "authority", virtually lost their value?

Don't get me wrong, I understand there must and always will be value in measuring statistics... I mean it's not as if I don't track how many readers I get on this blog. But some of the other statistics - the fancier, more compounded ones (ie, Return Of Influence) - are always so debatable. And the more that social media flatten our world such that more opinions are heard, does that threaten the whole notion of authority? 

For example, we have blogs, both liberal and conservative, dedicated to exposing the bias of the mainstream media (MSM), however both sides insist the bias is in the opposing direction. Is that even possible? But I digress.

My point in this post is to pose the question - would we do better to collectively acknowledge that there is value in social media, and stop searching for that "perfect metric" that proves exactly how valuable it is? 

I don't have the answer to this question, but I must say, I think about it a lot lately.

Ironically, one of the commentors on the HBR post referenced a website called ROI of Social Media. I'm pretty sure their "ROI" is the one most of us are familiar with - Return On Investment. I'm going to read it now to see if they're onto something.

In the meantime, please share your thoughts. Do you have a standard set of metrics you find convincing? If so, why? And if not, why not?

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