Friday, August 3

Balancing Acts: Social Media Measures

A few days ago, Lee Odden had a similar idea. Although I have a different conclusion, Odden’s piece is a must read for anyone hoping to understand a little more about combined ranking systems.

My decision to take a look at them began the day after I posted about Ad Age’s acquisition of Todd And’s Power 150. Jane S. (Jericho Saved) left a comment, asking “Is Todd’s considered to be more reliable than BlogPulse? Is BP even reliable?”

Other than BlogPulse being a better topic measure and Todd's being a better niche industry blog ranker, maybe the best answer is that most social media measures provide insight, but these insights are often misleading. Here is the oversimplified truth behind some of them:

Google PageRank relies on the uniquely democratic nature of the Web by using its vast link structure as an indicator of an individual page's value (the more links, the higher the page relevance). Importance: it provides an indication of how many other pages are sourcing "searched" information from that page to determine its search rank. Triviality: sometimes you don’t have to be first to be relevant (and not everyone searches on Google). (Bonus: Mac users can get a free dashboard widget at Apple.)

Alexa Traffic Rank is based on the usage of millions of Alexa toolbar users. It is the most common gauge to determine traffic. Importance: it provides an excellent snapshot to see which direction your Web site is moving from a broad perspective. Triviality: traffic doesn’t necessarily mean you are getting the right traffic. (Bonus: Terence Chang recently offered some tips about Alexa.)

Bloglines is a free online service for searching, subscribing, creating and sharing news feeds, blogs, and Web content. Importance: the more subscribers and bookmarkers, the more likely these subscribers will visit your blog. Triviality: There are many subscription services, which is why some people are now pushing FeedBurner as a better measure. However, keep in mind that some subscribers are likely to add a blog to multiple readers, which means the measure is likely less than. (Bonus: ProBlogger asks if full feeds increases subscription rates.)

Technorati tracks 94.9 million blogs and over 250 million pieces of tagged social media. Its authority system, which is one of the most criticized (for some reason), ranks blogs based on links from other blogs in the last 180 days. Importance: the authority rank indicates how many other social media participants consider your post relevant enough to comment about it on their blogs. Triviality: Meemes and other link lists can artificially inflate ranking. (Bonus: Make Money Online shares one strategy.)

Digg and other news aggregators allow user submitted content to be voted on by a community. Importance: a post that gets "dugg" by hundreds of members will most certainly increase traffic. Triviality: member alliances can increase diggs on content with little substance. (Bonus: Digerati Marketing recently posted some Digg tactics.)

Social Networks can include any number of places, ranging from to Facebook to Linkedin to (if we’re being honest) Twitter. Almost all of them (including Technorati, which has "favorites") have some sort of “connection” mechanism. Importance: friends can mean the difference between exposure and no exposure. Triviality: it’s relatively easy to make friends and connections. (Bonus: If you ask, 90 percent of those asked will add you, unless you are a troll.)

Content/Frequency/Comments is another measure that has been around for a while. It was recently re-popularized by Edelman’s complex Social Media Index. Importance: the frequency of posting and number of comments all contribute to increased traffic. Triviality: posting too frequently buries good content and comments can all too easily be inflated. (Bonus: Here are the top ten tips that have been around a long time.)

Conclusion. Everybody likes the rankings, traffic, comments, diggs, and, well, whatever (yeah, me too). They create conversation, attract attention, and demonstrate momentum even when social media pundits weight the numbers toward those areas they excel (and we all know they do) or attempt to game the system.

At best, it seems to me that it is these measures and the gaming of them that slows social media from becoming more mainstream (as it makes the average business owner skeptical of blogs). At worst, it detracts from what communication people are supposed to focus on: the company's overall strategy and the true measures of success (like market share, sales, etc.).

Put plainly, Seth Godin doesn’t have a successful blog because he ranks 8,311 on Alexa or 13 on Technorati. Godin has a successful blog because his online brand is consistent with who he wants to be perceived as and, more importantly, he sells a lot of books (The Dip, released May 10, is still #447 on Amazon).

In sum, the best measures of success come from achieving results that are derived out of a sound business strategy. Certainly, any of these measures can help provide a performance snapshot (assuming you avoid the temptation to game them), but the active pursuit of them won't do much more than distract from what really matters.



Rich on 8/3/07, 2:58 PM said...

Famous Words:

"Hi Harry,
Your account has been disabled because you have violated Facebook's Terms of Use.

Abusing the features of the site to spam other people is not permitted. In addition, it is a violation of our Terms of Use to use one's account for advertising or promotional puroses.

I'm sorry, but you will no longer be able to use Facebook. This decision is final.

Thanks for your understanding,

Customer Support Representative

A recent Facebook story brought to my attention at This story mirrors what some people are calling a change of "face" for Facebook.

Sweet Tea on 8/3/07, 2:58 PM said...

Very, very interesting. So, do you think what is needed is actually a measurement that can't be manipulated? How many times have I seen,"I'll fav or digg you if you do the same." Social networks work much the same. "You be my friend & I'll be yours then we can comment on each other's blogs even if we have no interest in what each other is writing."
Some people are willing to pay to get stumbled or dugg. Maybe we should just produce content and not care if a blog is #1 or # 12999?

Rich on 8/3/07, 3:17 PM said...

Hey JS,

I do not think there is a current social media measure that cannot be weighted, but that is not to say they aren't useful. Likewise, I don't personally have a problem with people swapping comments, etc.

However, when a communicator (advertiser, marketer, etc.) for a client or business owner on their own they might be skewing their numbers to the point that it hurts them. For example, if I paid someone for Diggs (I don't), and a story gets Dugg up ... then I would be delusional to think that my paid Digg means I have good content.

Sure, I think all these measures and systems mean a lot for bloggers (I like comments and diggs too) because most make money based on online models that are built around traffic and clicks.

Most average businesses are not. For the average business, the real measure is sales or mark share or something more tangible. More simply: what good is a restaurant owner with 500 friends and no one eating dinner? (There are ways to make a blog work for a restaurant though). In other words, the real measure of success is the same with or without social media: number of diners.

I think for your blog, specifically: ignore the comparatives to other people and focus on content. If you write great content that means something to someone, then those numbers will go up anyway. The growth (not the comparative sampling) will indicate your success.

Of course, if you invent something in the next week or two, then you measure might be totally different (like, um, sales?) :)

My pleasure. Thanks for inspiring it.


Sweet Tea on 8/3/07, 3:42 PM said...

I suppose I'm doing as you say then.
I like diggs and all the other stuff but not because I want to sell something. The more people who visit my blog the more likely I am to reach the people I'm looking for. So I promote everywhere. It's also made more difficult because I can't even write a description of what kind of people I need. They could be anybody.

Rich on 8/3/07, 4:04 PM said...


This is oversimplified, but this shows why you have been successful. I am writing a piece on viral marketing and using Jericho as the example.

I will more fully answer your question then. But what I will tell you know is, whether you know it or not, you had a strategy, set out to achieve with tactics, and have accomplished measurable results (and I don't mean Diggs. :)

There is not much difference than that.


SaveJake on 8/4/07, 10:28 AM said...

Thank you again. This gives some information that may help us to take our cause even further. The more we understand, the more powerful we can become.

I know we can use this to move ahead!!!

Rich on 8/4/07, 3:02 PM said...

Thanks SaveJake,

Glad it to know it will be useful. Incidentally, Robert Scoble said Facebook is the new Rolodex. Of course he does; he has 4,200 contacts on it. ;)

Best, Rich


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