‘So what’ metrics coming of age

Posted on: June 21, 2011

In late 2009 (as part of my MSc) I wrote a paper entitled The social web: commercial and civil society perspectives.

In this critical review I found that much of web 2.0 literature failed to follow all the way through from theory (why businesses and society should care about the social web) and evaluation (what is actually happening in terms of use and online presence) to consequences (what it all means in terms of structural shifts and change).

Instead one of these pieces of the puzzle was often missing, meaning theory was disjointed from reality – and practitioners were unclear on the wider reasoning and aims behind their ‘social web activity.’

From the civil society perspective, research was largely failing to connect theory about democratic deliberation and emancipation to empirical evidence regarding definitive changes in policy and decision making by public authorities. Whereas in the commercial realm, industry press often focused on compulsion and the fear factor – warning that businesses ignore web 2.0 at their peril (without being specific about benefits).

But almost two years later the conversation about online engagement is shifting further towards “so what metrics.”

This could be seen most recently when Pew Internet research highlighted the connection between online and offline civic engagement in the US:

It’s noteworthy that the engagement metrics here aren’t just about passive participation — clicking a “Like” button on Barack Obama’s Facebook page or otherwise engaging in virtually mindless acts of “slacktivism.” What Pew is measuring are intentional, physical, IRL actions — rallying, voting, arguing — that stew together, physically and palpably, to form a democracy.

Megan Garber

And most recently at the Social Media Influence 2011 conference:

The Great Fan Grab has happened. Now what? Do you really have those quality fans you hoped for? Measuring fan value was spoken about in almost derisory tones at #smi11: ‘It’s about conversion and actions, not likes or Fan Love’ was the cry. The pressure of client CMO’s having to justify and explain social budgets is putting real world pressure on the metrics. There was a sense of ‘So what?’ when fan volumes and growth were spoken about. Quality, not quantity, became a unifying theme across a number of presentations.

David McNamara

So the bottom line – impact is en Vogue and the metrics are growing up. Meaning…

For society – we are really starting to interrogate the dream of the web – that our ability to connect like never before – to learn, exchange information, discuss, empathise and communicate our opinions to the powerful will mean stronger democracy and social justice.

…And for markets – we are peering into the reality of social business – whether research, development and distribution of goods and services is really better, more efficient, more successful, sustainable and fit for purpose when enterprises are finally able to hear and bring people into the heart of their operations.

Counting what counts is in… racing to a million likes / followers is out.

Waiting in line cartoon by Hugh MacLeod


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