Data, you need

This is a cross-post from Ranieri Communications…

Actual output from one of my dashboards

Have you seen Particle Fever yet? If not, you should. There’s a seminal moment when, on achieving collision, a Cern star states triumphantly: “We have data.” It’s the point at which the theorists craned their necks eager to see what the experimentalists could actually prove. Suddenly, this wasn’t theory any more.

If you’re in any way serious about your social media, you need to make sure you have data. Without data you don’t know what the current situation is, so you can’t measure where you’re heading, so you don’t know whether or not you’ve been successful. You need data to know whether your strategy is working.

What data exactly? Well, that depends on what you want to achieve. Say you want to use social media to improve your SEO. What makes you think you have a problem with SEO in the first place? What needs fixing? Better find out first, because that’s how you’re going to measure success. Or perhaps you want something more qualitative around reputation management. How are you going to quantify this? Where are you going to get the data from?

There are three approaches to getting data depending on how much time, expertise or cash you’ve got: manual, semi-automated, and fully automated. Here’s a quick rundown of each.

Manual: get typing

Everyone loves a spreadsheet. They’re amazing things and you can go a very long way by manually entering data that is publicly available and then drawing insights from it. The key here is to use data that you can compare like-for-like across social media channels to get an idea of how they’re doing. So, while Facebook’s dashboard for example is rich in data, and you should certainly be using it to improve your performance, a lot of the analysis isn’t available for other channels such as Twitter, or Instagram, or your blog.

At the very basic level, you can look at two essential metrics that work across all of social media: audience size and engagement. The audience size is the total potential audience you could reach with your message, so that’s fans of your Facebook page, followers of your Twitter feed and so on. Engagement is when people actually do something in response to reading about you, so they retweet you or they comment on your Facebook page.

Do this for your competitors too, build this up over time and you can start seeing patterns in the data. You’ll see spikes that correspond to activity, and how to develop more advanced metrics off the back of these. How about dividing engagement by reach to get insight into how engaged your audience really is? How about adding frequency so you can start forming an idea of tweet quality? How about requeesting access to the client’s Google Analytics and looking at how social media referrals to the website are behaving? Develop your own charts, stamp them with your logo, and you’ve got a bespoke measurement system. Port this to an online resource such as Google Docs, and you’ve got an online dashboard. Nice.

Semi-automated: learn APIs

If you’ve got an in-house geek (the one you keep in the cage in the corner and occasionally feed with Haribo) then they might like this: you can start getting involved with Application Programming Interfaces (APIs).

An API grabs the data directly rather than going through the manual procedures. So, by using the Twitter API you could directly interrogate the Twitter database and get follower figures, retweets, times of tweets and so on delivered direct to your machine rather than having to input it manually. You can also use the APIs of other social search engines such as SocialMentionand Social Searcher that do a lot of the grunt work for you, by searching across multiple social media sources and aggregating them.

So, by downloading the results of API calls, you build up a store of data that you can then aggregate and analyse, again in Excel. With a canny combination of download managers, batch files and macros, you can do this all with just a couple of keystrokes.

The difference here is in quantity and types of data and therefore insight: you can accrue literally thousands of data points detailing who said what, and when, and you can start understanding who your influencers are, and what your issues might be – plus those of the competition and therefore the industry at large. At this point you really do start understanding the landscape.

If you have a smattering of statistical knowledge you can also start charting the ebb and flow of debate. Moving averages show the underlying trends. Crossovers of moving averages are highly significant. And so on.

Fully automated: bring in the Big Guns

If fully manual requires investment in time and semi automated needs investment in expertise, then fully automated is the money play. Here, we’re talking systems such as BrandWatch andSentiment Metrics who have millions of sites categorised, crunching huge amounts of data using dedicated server farms. It’s the rocket science approach and while this is mostly the domain of large companies that provide consumer services such as telecoms companies, there’s also a strong argument to be made that smaller agencies can use them profitably by sharing the cost across several accounts.

Hands, APIS, BFGs: Which one’s right for you?

If you’re not storing and analysing any data currently, then you need to start, right now.

At the very least start storing reach and engagement, ideally alongside competitors. It’s a useful exercise as of itself because you really start to understand cause and effect, and get to grips with the concepts.

When you get the hang of that, and you’d like to dive deeper, see if you have a geek in your organisation, or a latent geek, or know someone who keeps one. They might be able to ramp you up to the semi-automated solution and then you become something of a social media data guru.

And when you’re finally seeing the shiny green numbers coursing through the very fabric of the Matrix itself, and you’ve landed that major social media account – or you’re a postdoc working at Cern – it’s time to hoover up as much data as you can possibly get your hands on. Even if you don’t uncover the secrets of life, the universe and everything, you’ll know what drives conversation, and that’s a decent second.

I really am not one of the most influential PR bloggers in the UK. Honestly, I’m not.

So it was with considerable mirth that I read Gorkana’s latest blockbusting news – that someone has, schlock horror, discovered who the most influential PR bloggers are in the UK! Wow! That was quick of them! The Ad Age Power150 has only been around for, what, at least five years. Apparently it’s news to Gorkana however.

And I’m 7th on the list. Sorry, 8th. Sorry, 9th already. They’re popping out of the woodwork as I type.

A quick backstory to the Ad Age Power150 (as far as my memory serves). It was originally Todd Andrlik‘s Power150, which I came across quite a while ago and thought it was a neat way to ‘measure’ blogs. Take of the publicly available metrics such as Technorati Authority (remember that?), normalise them out of ten, add them up, and you get a list of influencers. So I took that, applied it to the list of 100 PR bloggers that I followed at the time, and created my own list.

Naturally Todd wasn’t too happy that I’d copied his idea, so I put an attribution at the bottom, and in later versions of what became the PR Friendly Index I adapted a more graphical approach (that would appear to be broken on this new template), without normalising, which gave me something of a USP.

Along the way Sally Whittle also asked me for some help with her top secret project, which begat the Tots 100, and Jonny Bentwood also started his list of analysts along similar lines.

The PR Friendly Index got me a lot of attention and in fact I’d say it’s the main reason I appear on lists nowadays. Many people linked to me, not least because I provided little badges for them complete with code that included the links. But it just became too tedious to maintain – which, in a neat circular kind of way, is what Todd found, which is why he gave it, or sold it (I know not which) to Ad Age.

So it’s probably fitting that it all comes back to Ad Age, which is where the Gorkana list comes from (actually it’s a list from 10 Yetis, but Gorkana are shouting and pointing at it, as if it’s news which, just to be clear, it is not).

However, Ad Age really is just bean counting. Which brings me to the title of this post: I’m not influential. Look, Drew Benvie is below me. Drew is UK MD of the group that includes Hotwire, Skywrite and 33 Digital. Steve Waddington co-runs Speed, which I visited the other week. Metrica is an entire company of measurement professionals (whose competition entries I wrote two years back so I know them quite well too). These people are all much more influential than I am. It just happens to be that I got more scores via various metrics once upon a time because I had some good ideas occasionally. Honestly.

So I really wouldn’t go by the figures. I don’t really think Andy Barr, head of 10 Yetis, has had a very inspirational idea in peeling out the UK PR people from the Ad Age Power150 (it’s been done before). I’d find out who these people are first, and then take a punt.

Tracking the KPIs of Social Media | SEOmoz

Over the past year or so I’ve become fairly convinced that measurement through solid, universal frameworks of understanding is the key to success. However, often what I find is that clients either don’t really care about it, or that, if they do, they only really care about the ‘good’ metrics such as ‘Friends of friends’ in Facebook, which is akin to the alchemy of AVE.

The Conversion funnel is as good a place as any to start. Believe me, I’ve presented this to entire roomfuls of so-called marketing types who have never heard of it which frankly astonishes me (and did astonish me at the time – I really did have to stop my jaw from dropping). It’s been around for a long time, it’s simple, and, I believe, it works. Just take each segment of the funnel and figure out what you’re trying to achieve with it, and from that figure out how you’re going to measure what you’re trying to achieve, to see if you’re achieving it.

I’ve used AIDA in the past, which may be a bit simplistic because it doesn’t take into account repurchase. I’ve used a much more complicated version of the funnel which left people looking mystified. But this one is the Goldilocks funnel, I think. It’s just right.

And, praise be, the entire blog post is pretty good. I’m not sure it quite manages to bridge the gap between online activity and conversion (ie “Did we manage to sell stuff?”) but that’s something we’re all trying to do, and it probably falls into the space between your website and your ecommerce platform. Right?

Anyway, as I always do when I ‘repurpose’ (ie steal) other people’s content, don’t just sit here reading this, go over to SEOMoz and check out the full piece. I like.

What’s the ROI of “Merry Christmas?”: Measuring the Effectiveness of Holiday Cards – The Measurement Standard: Blog Edition

As I deleted my 100th electronic Christmas card, all I felt was annoyance — rather than merry or joyous or whatever it was supposed to make me feel. A good 50% of these mostly cold and soulless emails were from PR firms I’d never heard of. I assume they got my name from Klout or Cision or Vocus or any of the other list peddlers that bring as much joy and relevance to the season as Jacob Marley did. Which got me thinking…

Does anyone measure the effectiveness of these silly things?

KD Paine – ‘The Queen of Measurement’ – writes a lovely piece about ROI.

I wish I had her brain. She’s so good at picking out the important bits, putting them together in interesting ways, and showing real value. And I have a sneaking suspicion that, when she tells us that her clients often say “I’ve been meaning to get in touch…” on receipt of her cards, it’s more to do with her being damned good at what she does than the beauty of the cards. She could probably send a blank sheet of paper through and get a similar response. Now *that* would be an even higher ROI!

Anyway, one other point to mention is that I sometimes get guilt when I use snippets of other people’s posts on my blog. I know I’m giving them free publicity, plus a link, but part of me feels I should comment on their post instead. So, why don’t you jump across to Katie’s blog for me, read what she has to say, and respond?

Which are the most important social media metrics? (Hint: they’re nothing to do with social media)

I could write a book on this one. But there’s little point because a) I don’t have time to write a book, and b) other people have already written them.

So, I’ll be brief, not least because this is a blog post and not a book: the most important social media metrics are nothing to do with social media.

I’ve done a LOT of thinking about measurement. There are many, many things you could measure, but most of them are totally worthless. I guess the most frequently used measurements that are worthless are the obvious ones, such as followers on Twitter or fans on Facebook. OK, so they’re not completely worthless because you can gain insight from them, especially if you compare them with competitors. So, you can argue that the number of fans on Facebook is your reach, which is the equivalent of good old circulation, and that by comparing your page with the competition, you get an idea of how many people you potential reach in the ‘marketplace’ of conversation.

You can also do the same with other metrics that represent reach for other platforms, so, followers on Twitter, subscribers on YouTube, and so on.

So maybe not totally worthless. But certainly not unique to social media, and not a viable business KPI either. So let’s look – briefly, again, this is a blog, remember – at both of these.

First up, what can you uniquely measure in social media that you cannot measure anywhere else? Well, that goes to the heart of what social media offers that other media cannot. My take on this is two metrics that, as with all metrics, have plus points and minus points, and they are sentiment (how people  feel) and engagement (how they interact).

Sentiment analysis can hurt. Click image for source.

Sentiment is important because if you find lots of people are talking about you, but they all hate you, then you have a problem. But sentiment is tough to measure. If you leave it to machines, they can do lots of analysis but get it wrong (try getting a sentiment measure for  Black Friday on SocialMention for example – go on, try it, you’ll be surprised). If you leave it to humans, they can do less analysis and on the whole maybe get it more right, but can still differ between individuals (ie the person who just got married, got a pay rise and ran their first 10K the previous weekend might have an overall brighter outlook than the person who just buried the pet rabbit the night before). It’s also a difficult metric to action. How, exactly, do you improve sentiment?

Engagement is important because it’s pretty much what social media is for, that is, the two-way conversation that you just cannot do with any other medium. Here, you really can measure it, not least because Facebook’s new public-facing ‘People talking about this’ metric is measuring almost exactly that, and you can tie this in with, say, Twitter replies, comments on YouTube channels, and comments on blogs. Plus, you can do something about engagement, simply by encouraging people to interact. You could even argue that engagement affects sentiment, in that the most engaged brands tend to have the highest sentiment.

But as soon as you really analyse engagement, you start to see that most brands score dreadfully. And perhaps this is why people don’t measure it!

So sentiment and engagement are key social media metrics, but sentiment is tough, and engagement exposes the weakness of most social media programmes. And they don’t key into what your business is about.

And what is your business about? Well, generally it’s going to be one of three things: raising revenue; cutting costs; or increasing customer awareness. If you can do all three then you’re laughing, but really, everything your organisation does should address at least one of these imperatives. Communications generally, and social media specifically, should not be exempt.

So these really aren’t social media metrics at all. They’re business metrics that you apply to social media.

The question is: how do you measure them? Actually, I’m going to stop here and leave this as a question. I have some ideas, but I’d like to know: how do you measure whether you’ve improved revenue streams? How do you know if your social media has cut costs at all? And whereas raising awareness is probably social media’s natural home, how have you measured this?

If you don’t know, then you’re not really measuring properly. For every objective that you set in social media, comms or any other aspect of your work, you need to ask yourself which of these three imperatives you’re addressing. If none of them, then stop. Which is what I’ll do now.

Ranking top UK PR blogs using social network analysis | Much ado about nowt

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I’ve been playing around with NodeXL recently and found it quite an eye-opener. It’s a free social network analysis plug-in/add-on/strap-on/whatever for Excel and whereas I’ve known about social network analysis for a while, I’ve never really looked into it deeply. Tim Hoang was the ‘new Brendan’ at Porter Novelli and I’ve read this post before but just rediscovered it. He gives a really nice, straightforward account of his work with social network software and I think it’s going to come in handy both to understand this myself, and explain it to other people. Definitely worth a read and not, as Tim would have you believe, ‘much ado about nowt.’

Hans Rosling shows the best stats you’ve ever seen | Video on TED.com

You’ve never seen data presented like this. With the drama and urgency of a sportscaster, statistics guru Hans Rosling debunks myths about the so-called “developing world.

Sometimes I think TED is all about going ‘wow’ a lot with little real significance (as in: it’s easy to go ‘wow’ at someone moving pictures around on a virtual desktop with their hands but not so attractive when someone wants to urge action to save lives). But Hans Rosling shows the data in such a witty, engaging way with a serious undertone. So this is nothing to do with social media, marketing or copywriting, but one of those snippets that should be compulsory viewing no matter where you’re from.

Trends

Quite simply, some charts that may be of interest. For example, note how Apple is supplanting Microsoft in search volume; that PR may be peeling upwards away from advertising and even marketing; the relative fortunes of Google+, Facebook and Twitter; social media may be levelling off; and, especially heartwarming for me, Star Wars is much more popular than Star Trek (mostly).

All charts are for all regions and years except the politics chart which is just for the UK over the past 12 months (because a lot can happen in 12 months!) Click each chart to go to the Google Trends page for more information, such as the news items that account some spikes (A, B, C etc).

● microsoft ● apple

● ed miliband ● david cameron ● nick clegg ● politics

● hp ● dell ● ibm ● hardware

● advertising ● marketing ● pr ● social media

● social media

● google+ ● facebook ● twitter

● star wars ● star trek

Advertising, PR, sales, marketing: now you see it, now you don’t

People are visual, so it makes sense that they act on what they can see. But that’s not so hot when you need to deal with, um, concepts.

So, people ‘get’ advertising, because they know what an advert is. I don’t know what the figures are for the average number of adverts people are exposed to throughout their lives, but it’s a shockingly huge amount. We see them on broadcast, print and social media, and whether or not we mentally screen them out, we’re aware of them.

But they don’t, on the whole, understand PR. This is because PR is about placing articles or selling in stories in the media on a client’s behalf. If you don’t ‘get’ that then this might help: before I started in PR, I genuinely believed all those pieces with HP’S CEO’s name against them had been written by HP’s CEO. Then, when I discovered the unalloyed joy of writing bylines, and found myself one day writing one for HP’s CEO, I suddenly realised what was going on.

Advertising is bells and whistles, while PR is a sleek, black plane. Or, advertising is ‘look at me’ while PR is ‘look at them’. Or, advertising is Edwina Currie while PR is Peter Mandelson.

Likewise sales and marketing. Again, people get sales because they buy and sell things. In the same way they can ‘see’ adverts, they ‘see’ sales. But they don’t, I’ve found, understand marketing because they can’t see them. Markets might be big, or small. They might not exist at all. But they’re the environment you need to operate in, to sell effectively.

Increasingly, I’m finding that social media is about marketing. It’s about a lot of other things too – not least research, awareness, engagement, all those great things – but what I tend to find myself thinking about now is the market. Who are the client’s competitors? What are they doing? How can we measure ourselves against them? What does success look like? Generally, it looks like something you’ve done that is better than your competitors, from selling more things to getting more attention.

Sales is little regions of activity, while marketing is the tectonic plates that underpin all of this. Leave it too long and you’ll find the plates have shifted. Or, sales is Mount Etna while marketing is Pangea (not, repeat not, Pandora).

So I’m working in a double-blind area. It’s PR (Mandy in a Nighthawk) and marketing (a theoretical ancient unified landmass with a funny name). Would I prefer to work with my eyes wide open, in ‘real’ things such as advertising and sales?

Well, that depends.

What are the hours?