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Yes, I know what the social media evangelists say. After all, I'm one of them. Social media lets you have a conversation with your customers, partners, and suppliers. They'll let you know what they think of what you're doing, giving you feedback for free that you can't buy with expensive customer satisfaction surveys and focus groups.
And that's all great -- but how do you know if you're succeeding at social media? How do you know what you're doing right, what you're doing wrong, what needs changing, and what approaches need to be abandoned entirely?
On the regular Internet, the pre-social media Web, we measure success a number of ways:
- Money is the big one. How much revenue is your site bringing in?
- Traffic is a proxy for money - you figure if you rack up page views, money will follow. .
- Number of comments on your Web content.
- Quality of comments - unquantifiable but at least it's visible.
- Inbound links: Tough to quantify but you figure if you're getting a lot of people linking to and commenting on your articles on their own blogs, you must be doing something right.
But how do you measure success on social media?
Money isn't an issue -- nobody's found a good way to generate profits directly off of social media. Even Facebook isn't profitable. (Second Life, on the other hand, is profitable -- take that, all you people who say that Second Life is a failure).
It's not the number of friends and followers you have. I'm proud of having 1,826 followers on Twitter and 480 Facebook friends (although I know that many people have orders of magnitude more), but I'm aware that it's foolish pride, like having the world's largest collection of bottlecaps or blowing the world's biggest soap bubble. My parents would have said: "That and a nickel will get you a cup of coffee." (Obviously, this was an expression my parents learned long before the Starbucks era of $5 coffees.)
I have a couple of pieces of evidence that I use to determine whether I'm being successful at using a particular social media platform: I feel that I'm being successful if I'm gaining followers on a day-by-day basis, and getting replies to my posts. If my posts are being ignored, then I feel like I've failed. That's a major reason why I concentrate most of my social media efforts on Twitter; its where I get the most feedback.
When people ask me what the value of social media is, I respond "It's like a hallway conversation at a good conference. The hallway conversations and receptions at conferences are more valuable than the actual programming, because that's where you make connections with new business associates. Social media is like a great hallway conversation that goes on 24x7, around the world, and you never have to leave your desk to participate."
And yet that seems unsatisfying. I want better metrics. I want better ways to figure out whether I'm succeeding using social media, what parts of my social media efforts are working, and what needs to be changed or abandoned.
How do you measure success at social media? How do you figure out whether you're doing it right?