Ask yourself the following simple questions:

  • If someone subscribes to your blog, and follows you on Twitter, will you be able to match up those two separate expressions of interest?
  • If someone leaves a comment on your blog, will you easily be able to tell if they’re already engaged with you elsewhere, such as on Facebook or Twitter?
  • If someone retweets you, shares your content, Likes your Facebook, subscribes to your blog or engages with you in any way, will you be able to tell if this is their first time, a one off, or behaviour they have demonstrated in the past?

Don’t worry if you’re doubtful about the answers to these questions, because you’re in good company. The trouble is that as there is an ever greater range of ways in which people can share content and engage with businesses, businesses feel a greater need to spread themselves ever more thinly across a broader range of platforms.

But this in turn means that less attention is given to patterns which may well emerge, but which can only be detected if sufficient attention is given to the metrics. If a business has 10,000 followers on twitter, how is it supposed to know if one of those people has retweeted in the past, or is one of the 5,000 people who have also ‘Liked’ the Facebook page?

Are Social Metrics Killing Off Social Media?

The trouble is that at the moment there is no easy way to pull all this data together in a way which makes it quick, simple and easy to detect these patterns, and perhaps that’s a project which may be developed in the future. The fact is though that whether a business can recognise these patterns of behaviour or not, the patterns themselves still exist.

Imagine if you could tell whether someone has expressed interest in your company through retweeting you a handful of times in the past. By actively engaging with them, recognising what they have done, thanking them, and perhaps inviting them to comment on a recent blog post, ‘Like’ your Facebook page or even review a product which you’re aware they recently purchased from you, this would almost certainly not only result in increased positive publicity for you, but would also increase the probability of retaining a clearly loyal, and vocal, customer. A gold mine, no less, in the world of online marketing.

Sadly this is an opportunity too frequently overlooked and therefore missed by companies who feel that breadth, rather than depth, is what is important and that numbers, rather than people, is what keeps a business’s online persona ticking over nicely.

Of course, there are plenty of tools available, many of which are free, which enable businesses to track, monitor and evaluate their social media usage and effect. Indeed, a search on Google for ‘social media metrics tools’ generates nearly 10 million results! But this vast quantity of tools almost makes the problem worse, because with each new metric tool, with each new graph, pie chart or social media worthiness score, the business is one step further away from actually engaging with the prime mover of those statistics, the cause of the numbers, the force behind the moving charts and pie slices.

Too many metrics spoil the broth, and can lead to a narcissistic obsession which leaves the consumers, potential clients and loyal customers wondering just why they even bothered. A great way to lose the loyalty of your online band of 10,000 marketers and banner carriers for your brand is to obsess over the numbers they’re generating rather than to obsess, at least a little, over the people.

So What’s The Answer? Abandon Your Metrics And Focus On As Many Individuals As You Can Instead?

This certainly doesn’t seem a wise tactic, and I wouldn’t recommend anyone abandons their use of metrics. But what I would urge is a little less time spent obsessing over metrics as though they were the be all and end all. Remember, metrics are not the end – they’re not even the means to an end, because they only help show how a business’s use of social media is working, and this use of social media is only an effort to help drive more inbound traffic, engage with more real people, and foster a better and more accessible brand image.

But what is the point of going to all that trouble to create a better and more accessible brand image if, the moment someone attempts to engage with your accessible brand, they’re completely ignored because the business owner is too busy poring over a pie chart which tells them to sixteen decimal places just how well they’re doing at engaging with their target market?

If you’re already working your way through heaps of data thanks to Google’s Analytics (http://www.google.com/analytics/), and you’re checking your Twitter Reach (http://tweetreach.com), as well as reviewing your Klout Score (http://klout.com) on a daily basis, your Facebook Insights and your Twitter Stats (http://twittercounter.com) then perhaps it might be time to stop.

Take A Step Back From All Those Numbers.

Rather than spending three minutes examining the fact that your recent tweet resulted in you gaining 28 new followers, why not simply check your Twitter Connect tab and see who’s retweeted you, or mentioned you, or favourited one of your tweets, and send them a quick message of thanks, an offer of help, a question, or an observation?

Because whilst spending several minutes examining how many new followers you’ve gained recently will tell you how many more followers you’ve gained recently, spending that time engaging with some of those new followers could help turn them into new customers, or at least new flag bearers for your business.

For example, I noticed recently that on my Facebook Insights page the number of Friends of Fans grew by 6.66% in the past few days. Quiet apart from the potentially evil nature of that number, I realised that the number is just that – a number, which by itself is worth nothing. What am I doing to reach those additional 6.66% of people? What am I doing to actively encourage my Fans to share my content, links and updates so that the extra 6.66% of Friends of Fans will see that message, and discover my business?

I find that around 30% of the time when I actively engage with someone on twitter who has favourited a tweet, retweeted me, or even simply added me to a list, they will respond to me fairly quickly. Out of that number I generally find around half at least will repeat that action a second time, and if I engage with them a second time, this creates a pattern which becomes mutually beneficial.

I have some followers now who almost always make a point of retweeting my tweets, which massively expands my reach. By taking the time to engage on a personal and direct level with just half a dozen people I can extend my effective reach on Twitter by several tens of thousands – which is a much better investment of time than trying to add another couple of hundred followers or a dozen more Fans.

Now, a word of warning, because one of the dangers here is that businesses either assume that hurling a link at anyone who happens to express the slightest interest in their business profile is appropriate, or that abandoning the use of social media metrics and analytics is the sort of thing I’m recommending. I’m not. But what I am concerned about is that each time a new metric tool appears SEO managers and business owners immediately leap on the bandwagon and try to compete with each other.

I know several people who have become incredibly obsessive over Klout, and are checking each others’ score on a daily basis, endeavouring to be at least just one point above the other. The result of this is that not only are they spending an inordinate amount of time focussing on the metrics rather than one the people causing the metrics, but in several cases they are undertaking behaviours which could be considered black hat.

For instance, one way of ‘fooling’ Klout is to create several dummy Twitter accounts, and then both retweet yourself often, and sign in to Klout, giving yourself ‘K’ from those dummy accounts. Yes, it works, but really? Seriously? Is that an effective use of time? Is that helping to get your brand recognised by potential customers? Okay, it might impress your SEO rivals, but at the loss of real customers who may well have been retweeting you, mentioning you, favouriting and ‘Liking’ your page.

So the message is simple: by all means, use social media metrics, but sparsely. use them wisely, and don’t become a slave to them. Use only those metrics tools which provide easy to understand data, and make sure that you use the data to help strengthen your profile, not just to increase yet another metric statistic.

Spend time engaging with people through social media, and let them help you to increase your business. After all, isn’t it better to sacrifice a single percentage point on Klout to gain an extra dozen people sharing your updates and tweets to thousands more people, flying the flag in your name, and helping to generate real business, rather than abstract numbers?

 

How do you feel about the growing use of, and reliance on, social media metrics? Have you found yourself spending more time analysing your use of social media than your actual use of social media? Do you feel there is a danger that business owners may lose sight of the whole point of social media? Please join in the conversation and leave your comments below.