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My Problem With the Fast Company Influence Project

The latest social media meme to roll around is Fast Company’s Influence Project and I’m going to take the role of pissy curmudgeon on this one.

Fast Company wants to find out who the most influential people online are right now. In order to figure this out, they’ve devised the following measurement criteria:

1. The number of people who directly click on your unique URL link. This is the primary measure of your influence, pure and simple.

2. You will receive partial “credit” for subsequent clicks generated by those who register as a result of your URL. In other words, anyone who comes to the site through your link and registers for their own account will be spreading your influence while they spread theirs. That way, you get some benefit from influencing people who are influential themselves. We will give a diminishing, fractional credit (1/2, ΒΌ, 1/8 etc ) for clicks generated up to six degrees away from your original link.

So let me get this straight. An individual’s measure of influence is how much they can bait their peers, friends, and followers to click a link? Anyone else think this sounds more like a popularity contest rather than a measure of influence?

And when it comes to measurement, here’s yet another dubious claim to measuring something humanistic using only a quantitative scale (and a rather paltry scale at that). Fast Company, if you really want to understand online influence, slick graphics (in Flash!) and linkbaiting isn’t going to cut it. Start asking WHY individuals gain, maintain, and utilize influence and then maybe I’ll take your little parlor trick seriously.

Or am I wrong?


UPDATE 7.7.10: Alexia Tsotsis at SFWeekly digs a little deeper and demonstrates the crass nature of this whole fiasco, implicating both Fast Company and Mekanism in some rather shady doings. Talk about tarnishing your reputation.

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Adding Qualitative to Your Social Media Measurement Mix

I should probably offer Mark Schaefer some sort of kickback since his blog never fails to stimulate new ideas. A couple weeks ago, he wrote a post on measurement in social media. Now you’re probably thinking, “Yet another blogpost talking about measurement? Why in the world is that so special?” It wasn’t just the content that was special…the post sparked some interesting comments around the necessity of measurement and types of measurement to consider for social media.

When most folks talk about metrics and ROI and all the various forms of measurement, they’re usually referring to a quantitative methodology. You know…like measuring number of Twitter retweets, Facebook fans, online WOM mentions, blogpost traffic, generated sales, etc. These are things that can be counted and evaluated fairly easily so long as you know why you’re doing it in the first place. Just measuring for the sake of appearances really isn’t going to help you or your organization get where you want to go. Which leads us to…

Why measure at all?
I’m not going to go into this too deeply because there are so many super-smart folks who’ve already made a compelling case for measuring online activity. I will merely add that measurement is a form of feedback, which is critical to learning what works and what needs to be improved. How will you know if your latest online customer engagement program is succeeding in meeting its objectives (you did establish objectives, right?) if you can’t measure the results.

Why add qualitative?
Because sometimes your quantitative data lies to you. Not deliberately, of course, but all those quantitative metrics you’re racking up may not be telling you the full story. This is particularly true in the area of social media where we’re trying to gauge not only action but more emotionally-charged and nebulous qualities like sentiment and beliefs. For instance, when a fan says they “love” their iPhone, what does that mean? Or when someone else tweets that your company’s sales efforts are old and they suck, what’s happening here? A strictly quantitative measurement approach likely will not dive deep enough here to give you tangible results you can use to connect with your customers and make necessary adjustments.

What kind of qualitative measurement methods can you use? The major knock against qualitative is the perception that it’s time-intensive, which can be true. But you have to weigh that through a cost/benefit analysis: is what I’m learning here worth the investment of resources? Still unsure? Then take a page from the work of social scientists and build a sample. Dont’ try to eat the elephant all at once. Your purpose here is to build bite-sized understanding. The key is to construct a random, representative sample that’s going to give you intelligible feedback on the sentiment of your customers (the whole topic of how to build good, measurable samples for social media probably should get a blogpost of its own).

Interviews: These don’t have to be long. Your objective here is to go deeper than a standard quantitative survey by uncovering the more subtle meanings of what “love” and “suck” mean for your customers.
Observations: The simple truth about us human beings is that we often say one thing only to turn around and do something rather different. There are plenty of reasons for this, but figuring out ways to observe our participants is a good way to get closer to actual action that drives behavior.

Do you still need quantitative?
YES! There’s no either/or proposition here…the best measurements will combine both quantitative and qualitative methods. Once we have a working hypothesis (we have to know why we’re doing this in the first place), it’s a recursive process where we use qualitative research to figure out what questions we need to ask, construct quantitative research to gather data, then another qualitative round to complement our data by delivering further depth of insight.

Okay, so it’s a rather high certainty you don’t have time to do recursive research, but the point here is that it’s important to not overuse quantitative measures. How can you best incorporate qualitative methods into your own plans? Or if you’ve used particular qualitative tactics, how well did they work for you?

photo credit: hutchscout (via Flickr)

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Sales Are Driven By Relationships Not Ads

How do you communicate with your current customers? Do you only send them mail when you’re launching a new product or email them when there’s an upgrade to purchase? Have you taken a good hard look at what you communicate and how often you communicate it? Is it all BUY, BUY, BUY?

If so, that’s a prescription for buyer fatigue. The reality is that sales are driven by relationships not broadcasted advertisements.

In many ways, this is nothing new. Years ago, when I took over as director of membership development for a professional association I encountered similar outreach attitudes. The only time the association sent a message to a member was when their membership was about to expire. For first year members, the communication path was to send an overwhelmingly large welcome packet (or the “hernia kit” as it was jokingly termed) and little else until their membership expiration notice nine months later. As you can imagine, that did nothing to build the kind of engagement necessary to guide that new member toward renewing for a second year. Does this sound familiar?

When I entered, we assessed the plan but we did more that just retool around specific objectives. We knew what we wanted: renewals. What was missing from the prior plan was what our members actually wanted. They wanted value, they wanted a relationship with the association, they wanted to be recognized as more than a walking wallet.

Take a look at how your company is building relationships with your customers. If your only communicating more ways for customers to buy, then you’re likely not cultivating the long-term relationships necessary to generate more sales to your current base. And this is a base that – if they’re wildly engaged and passionately loyal to your company – are going to spur referrals.

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