Showing posts with label measures. Show all posts
Showing posts with label measures. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 9

How Simple Decisions In Social Media Make Big Differences.

social media
Social media can be a mean sport in some arenas. It can be so mean that sometimes the media overreacts, like Popular Science. The publication will abandon comments, claiming that a politically motivated war on expertise has eroded the popular consensus on "scientifically validated topics."

They don't want to be part of that, even if they still will be (whether they have comments or not). They might even have it wrong. The whole of science is not to continually reinforce "scientifically validated topics" but to investigate the known and unknown. After all, more than one scientifically validated topic has been turned on its head. There are things we don't know. But that's a topic for another time.

Do comment sections really make a difference? 

My interest in this topic was inspired in part by Mitch Joel, who suggested websites could turn comments off, at least until someone develops better technology to keep them free and clean. His point was that online conversations have evolved. Comments are anywhere and everywhere nowadays.

Specifically, people are more likely to share a link and/or add their thoughts elsewhere — Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Medium, or some other platform — than they ever will be to leave a comment at the source. Let's face it. Websites and blogs haven't been the center of the social universe for some time.

Today, social media requires significantly more elasticity and adaptability and the conversations that revolve around content are much more hyper-extended. They are smaller, shorter, less formal and more fragmented discussions about articles and posts. It's as if all of social traded sharing for substance.

This is vastly different from the days when bloggers used to covet comments as a measurement (despite never being able to explain why Seth Godin could succeed without them). Years ago, there were primarily three ways to respond to an article or post — you left a comment, wrote a rebuttal (on your own blog), or shared it as a thread in a niche forum. It made things orderly but also exclusionary.

That is not the case anymore. Now, some articles can sport a dozen mini-conversations within the same platform, initiated by people who might have little or no connection to each other. It's fascinating and fragmented stuff, which is why some pros like Danny Brown look to close the loop on fragmentation.

Livefyre sounds like a decent solution, but not everyone cares for it despite going a bit beyond what Disqus "reactions" used to offer before they discontinued them. Other emergent comment solutions worth exploring include Google+ comments or Facebook comments. They draw mixed reactions too.

For me, I think the issue is something else beyond nuts and bolts. Errant comments, like those that Popular Science complained about, are manageable. Moderating comments by setting permissions isn't as hard as some people make it sound. And if fragmentation is a concern, Livefyre might mitigate it.

All that sounds fine, but it never gets to the root issue. You see, there is only one fundamental difference between comments at the source and comments away from the source.

Do you want comments to be part of the article or about the article?

Comments made at the source become part of the article. Comments made away from the source, even if they are ported in by a program, might relate to but are largely independent of the article. The difference is that simple, and this simplicity is deceiving.

science and faithIt's deceiving because when someone comments, where someone comments and to whom they comment to all have a bearing on the content, context, and character of that comment. It's deceiving because people tend to write to the author at the source (or other commenters) while they tend to write about the author or source material (sometimes slanting the intent to serve their purpose) away from the source. And it's deceiving because comments away from the source will never have the same kind of physical attachment or quasi permanence that those comments closer to source seem to achieve.

Right. Most people do not search for reactions when an article is older than a week. Few have the appetite to scroll long lists of link shares that aren't really comments, whether they are ported in or not. And, unless there is historical or outlandish content, even fewer read comments bumped to page 2.

So when Popular Science made the decision to abandon comments, they didn't just make a decision to suspend spammers and people they fundamentally disagree with on topics like climate change and evolution. They made a decision to disallow different viewpoints from becoming part of an article. And they more or less told told readers to write about the content but not to the authors of that content.

In a few weeks' time, their decision will likely be sized up for its pros and cons. But make no mistake, it was still the wrong decision. Silence is no friend of science.

You see, neither science nor faith need to shirk at a politically motivated war on their mutual expertise. The truth is that they are not nearly as polarizing as some would have you believe. Science and faith are like brothers in attempting to understand the unknown, often inspiring the other to stop and think.

What Popular Science could have done instead was create a white list of commenters better suited to scientific discussion, perhaps with differing but conscientious viewpoints. Such an approach might have moved their content forward, leading to breakthroughs or a better understanding of science.

But what do I know? I've adopted a different outlook altogether. Comments, I think, work best when they are treated like someone who calls into a radio talk show. If you could talk about anything you want, what do you want to talk about today? The comments are yours or we can chat in person at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas on October 19 during a 3-hour social media session.

Friday, December 9

Reconditioning Engagement: Not What You Think

During my class last weekend, I said it plainly enough. If you want to create a true online community, you need to look beyond "being on" a social network. You or your organization need to build one.

It doesn't have to be the next Facebook. It might even be tied to the functionality of your site, with differing degrees of community, as not all communities are created equal. And that's all right. Not everyone needs a strong community. Weak communities can produce equally powerful outcomes.

An oversimplified observation between strong and weak communities. 

BlogCatalog, for example, has a reasonably strong community. It used to be more robust than it is today, but there is no mistaking it as anything less than a community. People identify with it, invest time in it, connect with other members, develop friendships, and sometimes take action on its behalf. There are others too. As clunky as it can be, Ragan has built a community. So has Recruiting Blogs.

Kickstarter, on the other hand, has a weak community. It's one of my favorite sites, but the structure of the site doesn't necessarily create relationships between members as much as it creates them between backers and creators. People do identify with it and invest time, but connecting with other members is relatively rare and members take action on behalf of the creators more than the site. The same can be said about DonorsChoose, another favorite of mine.

Google+, as it exists today (tomorrow may be different), and Twitter aren't really communities. You can build connections, followings, events, lists, and loosely aligned links. But it doesn't necessarily build a community. And then there is Facebook, which can be used to create some semblance of a community. However, most organizations do not.

The difference is largely in how we define, view, and establish engagement. And today, most organizations define online engagement in terms of likes, clicks, shares, comments, etc. as Richard Millington reminded me the other day on Feverbee.* His argument is both right and wrong. And here's why...

Actions indicate activity, but not engagement or community. 

The cornerstone of Millington's argument is that people who "like" a Facebook page aren't active enough. That is a fair and valid point. However, I know people who live in my city that aren't very active either. Does that make them a non-member of the community? Or our community any less than a community? I don't think so.

That is not to say that Millington is wrong. He is right that Facebook pages aren't the best places to create a community. And he provides several alternatives.

However, that doesn't mean it cannot be done. I manage some pages that have all the elements of a community, even if the actions are not always evident. I also belong to a couple of Facebook groups. One in particular, which is private, is truly a small and vibrant community. Although it lacks the scale of something like BlogCatalog or Ragan, we all contribute and interconnect, from time to time, and have conversations. Some more than others. And that's okay too.

But more importantly, it seems to me, organizations don't necessarily have to build a community to create engagement (unless they want to encourage members to engage with each other). And that leads to another observation. Engagement is not measured by actions (outcomes maybe, but not actions).

This was a direction I moving in when I wrote an article about how word of mouth happens offline more often than online. When I pulled in the Keller Fay study, which looked at online activity as opposed to offline activity, it was to dispel the notion that the number of "likes" somehow means that the page is engaged. The study proves that many users are not even active, let alone engaged.

But there's more. If the same brand enjoys 880 million offline conversations during an average month, including 442 million active recommendations to buy or try it, it is obviously a highly engaged brand despite those people existing independent of any community. Likewise, looking at those numbers again, nobody discounts the half that have nothing to do with a purchase like social media skeptics always want to do with social media (e.g., they think unless it results in a sale, it's a waste).

Beyond that, nobody can really track all those silent conversations and conversions that manifest when we least expect it. I was reminded of one the other day.

I was speaking with my aunt over the holidays and we were talking about education. Before I could tell her what I thought about a specific issue, she told me what she thought, which I recognized as my own thought.

"That's uncanny," I said. "I was just going to offer that up."

"Really?" she said. "I just read an article about it."

"Really?!?" I just wrote an article about it. Where did you read the article you saw?"

"Oh, you know, come to think of it, I think it was on your blog."

We laughed, and my mind whirled at the same time. She is not a member of "my" community. She does not make any measurable "actions" online. And yet, she was obviously engaged by the article when she was reading it, and based upon her response, possibly influenced by it.

Sometimes I think the communication industry is so busy attempting to measure social media that we forget how real engagement works. Ergo, if you read this post (or at least some of it), you were engaged for a period of time. What happens after that — whether you click, comment, or share — has nothing much to do with it, unless you want it to.

*If you read the Feverbee post, which is a good one, please ignore my comment there. I misread his post, which cited repurposed content from my blog, and then made a statement that "this" was misleading. He meant how people define activity is misleading. It happens.

Wednesday, December 15

Exploring Networks: Two Accounts, One Upside Down

Faux Social NetworksWhen most people look at a social network account, the first thing they notice is numbers. The general assumption is that someone with 10,000 followers is more important than someone with 1,000 followers than someone with 100 followers.

The thought process is so ingrained, some public relations practitioners even subscribe to the idea that bloggers need to have a certain amount of followers before they will work with them. Some social media practitioners claim there is a follower threshold colleagues must reach before becoming experts (as if). And even otherwise bright individuals seem to be locked into their own notions of who ought to rank where and when; the same people who called for others to throw off authority years ago.

Last week, I had an opportunity to look behind the scenes at two social media programs, using Twitter and Facebook. For the purposes of this post, we will call the accounts Program X and Program Y. Both are relatively new, about three months old.

Program X, by the numbers.

Twitter, 201. Facebook, 184. (TwitterGrader, 83. Klout, 32. TweetLevel, 34.)

The account can best be described as moderately active and reasonably responsive, with more than half of its followers seeming to be a logically connected by common interests. It is obviously still in its infancy, doubling in size every few weeks.

Program Y, by the numbers.

Twitter, 2,567. Facebook, 1,539. (TwitterGrader, 98.7. Klout, 36. TweetLevel, 35.)

The account can best be described as more active than average but not always appropriately responsive, with more than half of its followers seeming to be unrelated to any common interest. At a glance, it seems successful, growing in a much more erratic fashion, with brief leaps and long plateaus.

Program X, behind the numbers.

If you shared common interests that the account Tweets about, you might meet other people who have common interests. While small, there seems to be several areas for common ground that all the followers share. And, when the account is mentioned, it responds appropriately and also engages other people about topics you might expect (beyond talking about itself).

When it links to created content, it has an average number of shares. The visitation percentage to the content, however, is much higher (something 'influence' systems do not measure), around 20 percent. Even more telling, as a location-based business, are social check-ins. People seem to check-in with increased frequency, doubling every month since Facebook added the feature. More frequency would probably propel the account forward.

Program Y, behind the numbers.

Even if you shared common interests that the account Tweets about, you might think twice. Assuming you don't look at just numbers, there is almost no common ground between the followers. While the account is also mentioned frequently, some of the mentions seem to ring hollow, almost as if automated accounts are talking to each other.

Likewise, the amount of RTs seems to have no connection to the frequency of tweets, debunking the notion that RTs are necessarily demonstrative of value. In fact, this is probably why there doesn't seem to be any correlation to site visits and network activity. The number of visits to its content site from networks (something 'influence' systems do not measure) is less than .5 percent.

Value Assessment.

While one account seems to be ten times the size, it has roughly the same value, with Program X undermining its own long-term ability unless action is taken now. One of the side effects from an abundance of low-quality followers (spammers, follower chasers, and auto follows) is that the account creates more noise, but that noise is best described as static.

It's also impacting in that the follow rate of new, unsolicited followers is almost 3:1 between the two. In terms of those algorithms, it's even more telling. Twitter Grader falls right in line with the perception and not reality. Klout and TweetLevel overestimate both accounts in terms of what they call "influence." I am not surprised. Both Klout and TweetLevel tend to perform at their weakest toward the lower and higher ends of their scales (lumping most active people in the middle).

There are dozens of accounts that I follow that have much more meaningful engagement but are 'rated' lower by comparison because they are new, less active, or simply have no aspirations to become "popular" on social networks. You know. They are people, with very different uses for Twitter and Facebook than becoming popular.

So where is the real problem between these accounts? My guess is that one is operating on an erred objective — to create a successful social media program (or the perception of one, banking on the idea it will be real one day). There are a few consultants who do this all the time.

Conversely, what the organization would be better off doing is tying its objective to the organization's output/offerings and then communicating that in a creative and meaningful way rather than wish for buzz and awareness. I sometimes wonder what percentage of professionals know the difference. Or their clients for that matter.

Tuesday, December 7

Learning The Hard Way: Three Anti-Case Studies

social media
There is another side of measurement that people are sometimes afraid to talk about. It can best be described as reverse benchmarking — what happens when companies experiment with social, over focus on numbers, and then prematurely cut programs?

Sometimes they find out months later that their decision was a bad one. And sometimes, not always, it's too late to recapture the momentum. Here are three case studies and some lessons associates of mine learned a few years ago. All that is missing are names to protect mostly those who mean well.

Three lessons learned the hard way.

• An engineering firm set out to position itself as a subject matter expert, employing social media as one of the tools. The owner understood it, but the team of engineers did not. Two months after the program was suspended, the firm was asked to bid a $1 million job because of something read on their undervalued marketing asset. The return could have paid for the program for years, even if they would have never seen another bid (but they would have).

• An nonprofit organization switched from a social media expert to a public relations firm that promised bigger network numbers. They received bigger numbers on social networks as promised, but their annual fundraiser earned 10 percent less than the year prior. The excuse was the economic climate, but the truth is switching from engagement to broadcast was the difference. Higher numbers did not translate into higher donations because the firm didn't consider the connections or communication.

• A restaurant decided to reduce its social media budget, one of the heftier cuts from an overall marketing budget while entering a traditionally slow season. The owner didn't think twice because they didn't consider their presence significant based on social network numbers. But what they missed was that the real order boost was coming from people who promoted them on one-off networks. Incidentally, they also didn't know social accounted for their fastest-growing revenue stream (four times the investment) because people would check in but not redeem discount codes.

When you focus on the wrong measurements, you will lose.

While pursuing direct response sales is often pointless in social media, marketers need to remember that all communication decisions can eventually impact revenue weeks and months and years after the decision is made. It's something to think about, especially because social media numbers tend to lie on the surface. You have to dig deeper to get at the truth.

Thursday, October 14

Setting Objectives: The Answer Isn't Always Sales

One of the most daunting prospects for many public relations professionals is measurement. And, for those also working in social media, the measurement issue remains a mystery. (Given how much several of us have written about it, who knows why.)

Don't misunderstand me. Most people are starting to get measurement. It's relatively easy to understand. But where students and some professionals seem to struggle is in setting indirect objectives that mean much more than frequency and reach. In fact, it's indirect objectives that are generally more sustainable and more likely to become deeply entrenched in our psyche.

Setting indirect objectives with public relations and marketing concepts.

Again, when people talk about objectives, especially marketers, they always fall back on sales. But sales do not have to be the objective (even if sales will eventually show up as an outcome). You can change public perception and preference instead.

A recent study by HNTB Corporation underscores this point. According to its findings, almost 9 in 10 (87 percent) Americans who have access to public transportation take advantage of it. Almost 7 in 10 (69 percent) Americans feel there are many times when public transit is a better option than driving. And nearly half (49 percent) think local, state and federal governments don't invest enough money on it (of course, this desire drops dramatically when asked who will pay for it).

How did this happen? Was it because a mass transit company promoted itself with cheap fares? Was it because public transportation gurus tweeted about the bus every day on Twitter? Was it because the researchers only interviewed people who don't own cars? Was it because someone produced a slick ad campaign to make riding the bus cool? Very likely, it was none of the above.

The appeal of public transportation is part of a shift in public perception.

• One in four people believe public transportation reduces traffic congestion.
• One in four people believe public transportation saves individuals money.
• One in seven people believe public transportation benefits the environment.

While I expected these numbers to be higher (given how often people say they use public transportation), the outcome is apparent.

You don't have to push market to generate revenue. Sometimes you only have to change the perception of the public. If more people believed in, preferred, and used public transportation, then demand would increase, regardless of any other factor. As demand increases, so will revenue. Unless, of course, you operate with poor service.

Wednesday, April 21

Defining Engagement: The Value Of People

There seems to be some push back against the notion that social media "fans" can be valued at $3.60 each. But Vitrue, a social media management company, doesn't miss a beat. The $3.60 valuation tag placed on people is just the "tip of the iceberg," they say.

The message seems to resonate with plenty of companies, as Vitrue includes Ford, P&G, Best Buy, Unilever, Pringles, and plenty of others. Companies that ought to know better, in some cases. What's more, Vitrue doesn't seem to consider those fans owned by the brand. It boasts the combined total of its clients as their fans, about 45 million. People they "manage" every day.

Why don't most communicators accept the $3.60 valuation?

Adam Singer provides part of the answer on The Future Buzz. He provides eight points why that valuation is off beat, before pointing out the premise is flawed. Worse, they mislead companies in thinking that hordes of fans are final frontier.

Sean Williams provides another part of the answer on Communication Ammo. He offers four points, before noting that the formula fails because it sells the idea that social media is all about increasing advertising impressions.

Oliver Blanchard, who can be found at The BrandBuilder Blog, had a brief discussion on Twitter. Because he is outcome oriented, he points out the pitfall with two sentences under 140 characters.

Outcomes have value; people are priceless.

The real problem with valuations like the one Vitrue floats is that it mistakes an online environment as nothing more than media. People behave online much like they do offline in that their interactions mimic spatial actions. The only time online actions resemble media is when the engagement is media oriented (like watching a program on Hulu).

Placing a "value" on fans can be likened to claiming a product can earn media impressions simply by sitting on the shelf of a supermarket, based on a ratio of everyone who walks in the front door, even if they skip the aisle where your product is located. And doubling, tripling, or quadrupling those impressions is only a matter of adding another row of product.

Using this logic, Brillo could be placed on every shelf on every aisle and capture all past supermarket visit impressions times the total number of products. It's absurd, especially because many "fans" never return to the product page once they friend it, especially if they were driven there by a one-time incentive. Thus, every fan is not equal to any dollar amount.

And that leads us to the second biggest danger in the formula. An overly formulaic approach that relies on reach as the end measurement as opposed to a singular portion of the equation, devalues customers. After all, if we were to be so brazen in our attempts to monetize the value of people, then the Vitrue valuation gives equal value to window shoppers and customers (which also happens to be the biggest mistake among online crowd sourcing). Except, that temptation is also wrong.

Net, net, as tempting at it is to count up some 1 billion "fans" we've touched online for our clients, beating Vitrue almost 20 to 1, I'm still inclined to believe that the people we've touched are worth more than $3.60 per head. As a matter of fact, people are priceless. Outcomes have value. Engagement is an investment. And impressions are nothing but potential.

When you understand this and do the math, you get different results. You know, the kind that suggests ten people on the showroom floor of a car dealership might have more, um, "value," than 100 people who will never buy one.

Vitrue devalues its industry with a weak message.

All this made me really curious what Vitrue did. So, I took a look. It does offer some value, specifically in providing Facebook and a few other marketing-oriented applications. This, combined with some investor affiliations (like Steven J. Heyer) gave them a leg up despite being a late start-up company in social media. There is nothing wrong with that. It's not an ignorant firm.

What is happening here is the same thing that happened in public relations. Executives wanted someone to put a price tag on the return on investment, so they did. Public relations did it by counting column inches against ad rates or Rolodex card counting. Marketing did it by overemphasizing cost-per-impression. And Vitrue does it here in much the same fashion. All of those formulas did more to devalue their respective industries than any other.

But what's most striking about such counting systems is that people generally want to believe them. They want to believe them much in the same way that they were actually relevant to the clients listed beyond the sale of a single application.

But this shouldn't surprise you. Rule No. 8 in advertising is "people are irrational." That simple truth doesn't change with the favor of a title that can condensed to an acronym. CEOs and other decision makers are equally swayed by all sorts of messages, even when those message value them at $3.60 too.

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Thursday, December 17

Influencing Nothing: Social Media Influencers

There is seldom a week that goes by without at least one early social media adopter advising companies to target "influencers."

And every time I read such advice, I cannot help thinking that for the best intentions, some of them are missing the point. In attempting to transplant the media influence concept onto social media, they drift further and further away from the truth.

Individuals as "influencers?" Not really. It seems much more likely that real influence is a function of authority, credibility, and ideas than anyone who happens to enjoy some temporary position of popularity based on comment counts, follower counts, or any other algorithmic measure.

Authority. Whether they are "popular" or not, people in authority have influence. The owner of a social network, for example, can order the change of any number features, leaving members to weigh any changes against the value of their connections on the network. Sure, some people might gripe, but their "influence" is confined to the length of membership.

Or, if you prefer an offline example, the President's approval rating has dipped below 50 percent but he still has significant influence in this country and a somewhat diminished influence in the world. His predecessors have much less influence after leaving office, naturally. The same can be said for authors, who tend to be as good as their last book once the buzz dies.

Credibility. The primary reason the media became influential is because they remained objective and largely unbiased, which is a fundamental criteria in being credible. Journalists pursued the truth, with their influence only waning in the last decade in favor of affirmation-slanted journalism, advertiser pandering, and tabloid sensationalism.

With social media, credibility might be established with authority, but credibility will dictate whether or not they will retain any influence once they leave a group. Pander too much to "friends" or tactical "followers" or attempt to profit off those relationships and the crowd that followed certain people at the last expo will be gathered around someone else. (We've all seen it.)

Ideas. Establishing credibility is long-term investment in new ideas or the ability to draw new perspectives on old ideas. While there is always healthy discussion on whether or not content is king, it certainly is a commodity that separates real influence from perceived popularity or a temporary association. Ideas build credibility.

For example, some people are followed because they are popular or were recommended by someone else. Other people are followed by smaller crowds because they consistently add value. But on any given day, someone with great ideas related to a specific subject will surge ahead for a variable amount of time.

Where does this leave the influence brokers?

Considering that none of the above is trackable beyond maintaining real time insight, it leaves them on a path to nowhere. In some cases, in terms of social media, several influential adopters have already fallen by the wayside as their authority drifted away with the loss of a position, their credibility was crushed by making some questionable choices, or their ideas didn't measure up beyond a flash in the pan.

The real takeaway here is that individuals aren't influencers at all, but rather the actions that some individuals take have influence within very specific spheres that do not necessarily cross over into other spheres. And not surprisingly, the most credible communicators know it.

David Armano frequently reminds people that a surge in popularity doesn't always mean quality. Jay Ehret has enough insight to know people and companies ought not bend to consumers and keywords for want of traffic. Geoff Livingston took time out from his travels to include a line about people who are "legends in their mind." Shel Hotlz recently cautioned companies that catering to consumers can fragment a brand much like a "Yes Man" eventually destroys his own credibility. And Valeria Maltoni purposely made it a point to avoid sensationalized topics that help boost popularity. The list goes on.

The other list, those who preach influence as the key to the equation, goes on too. I thought of including links to them as well, but don't want anyone to mistake one bad idea as indicative of them being bad people. They're not. They are instead stuck much closer to the middle of their social media thought process.

Suffice to say that the best of them know they don't influence me or anyone else, but sometimes they have an idea that might influence me and everyone else. And the most mistaken think they and others have influence over people indefinitely and across almost any subject.

Monday, October 12

Tossing Baseballs For Business: Scott Anthony

Last week, Scott Anthony, managing director of Innosight Ventures, applied the wisdom of Boston Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein to explain measurement. Espstein implied that some people focus too much on baseball.

"When you're putting together a winning team, that honestly doesn't matter," said Epstein in reference to J.D. Drew's relatively low number of runs batted. "When you have a player who takes a ton of walks, who doesn't put the ball in play at an above average rate, and is a certain type of hitter, he's not going to drive in a lot of runs. Runs scored, you couldn't be more wrong. If you look at a rate basis, J.D. scores a ton of runs."

Anthony goes on to tie in business management to his article at Harvard Business Publishing, saying that business managers can learn a lot from how baseball general managers build and manage their talent portfolio. How do you really know if you are focusing on the right metrics?

Communication works much the same way. Sure, I frequently write about the importance of communication measurement. It's important. Unmeasured communication is non-communication.

However, that is not to say that all measures have to dictate the course of communication, especially with social media where people have a propensity to add too much weight to the wrong metrics. For example, I know one company that wanted to drop its Twitter account and focus on Facebook based upon the number of members alone.

In this particular situation, it turned out that the positive impact of their communication was reliant on a certain percentage of people who were engaged both on Facebook and on Twitter. Specifically, those who were engaged on both networks tended to be evangelists who considered the Twitter account their personal connection whereas they viewed Facebook as a group for everyone. Contrary, the Facebook group consisted of participants, advocates, and evangelists.

Much like J.D. Drew's relatively low number of runs batted, separating the network into mere count columns does not always lead to the right conclusions. And in this regard, Anthony's observations for innovation might apply to communication. It would require a robust categorization scheme for classifying the type of communication, the reach of the communication, the engagement level of the audiences, and market circumstances (especially a competitive analysis).

Whereas Anthony said better metrics give Epstein a competitive advantage over his rivals, I might say that a better interpretation of metrics will often deliver a competitive advantage. It also ensures Advertising Rule 9 receives due diligence.

Tuesday, August 18

Measuring Impact: Nielsen

In May 2008, fans of a cancelled television program, Jericho, dumped more than 4,000 pounds of peanuts on the doorstep of Nielsen Media Research. Shipping peanuts had become the statement of choice for the fans, who had secured a truncated second season after sending more than 20 tons to CBS.

But the nuts sent to Nielsen were different. The statement wasn't a call to action as much as it was a measure of their displeasure with the people who control what people watch based exclusively on the viewing habits of a shrinking few. They blame a flawed and antiquated rating system for the demise of the series. And they are not the only ones to feel that way.

This week, there was more talk about dumping. And this time, fans of television shows weren't talking. According to the New York Times, it is the owners of the four major broadcast networks; cable channel operators, including Viacom and Discovery; three of the country’s biggest-spending advertisers, Procter & Gamble, AT&T and Unilever; and two of the biggest advertising agency holding companies, GroupM and the Starcom MediaVest Group unit of the Publicis Groupe. And the conversation did not include dumping peanuts as much as it included dumping Nielsen.

Nielsen, which possesses a monopoly on the rating system for television, would not comment. It has been trying to prove its ability to catch up on the measurement curve for years, with plans that it once said would take five years or even a decade to execute.

But times have changed. It only took Facebook nine months to add 100 million members and Apple to celebrate 1 billion application downloads for the iPhone. In terms of communication, especially social media, we frequently talk in terms of what can be accomplished in 90 or 180 days. So it's no surprise that words from the CEO of Nielsen say old world to many of them.

"Innovation is a process," says Dave Calhoun. "And it has to be a well-defined process."

Translation: It will take a long time. And it may take long enough that the opening of his story in Fortune last year might not read as funny as it did then. Not much has changed. If anything, it has gotten worse outside and inside as indicated from this internal memo sent to employees after the Financial Times had broke the story (hat tip: James Hibberd's The Live Feed)...

"As you know, our Company is committed to measuring across all screens – known in the industry as “three screens”: television, computer and mobile – as part of our long-term strategy. Over the last three years, we’ve invested more than a billion dollars in research and development as part of this effort. As with all of our measurement science, we’re working closely with our clients, whose input and engagement has been consistent and constructive.

You may have read the Financial Times article published late last week, or the subsequent articles appearing in a number of publications over the weekend, about the potential formation of a new three-screen consortium. While our Company policy is not to respond to speculation or future announcements, we have been in direct contact with many of our clients, including some cited in the original article. Much of what was reported by the Financial Times remains unclear, and many of our clients are themselves looking for answers to questions raised by the story. What is clear, however, is that three-screen measurement is at the center of our strategy. Just as clear is the commitment of some of our largest clients who have recently renewed multi-year contracts with us for television, online, mobile and other measurement services.

We continue to move forward helping our clients understand and measure media consumption anytime, anywhere."

Of course, nobody would have understand media measurement if, you know, Nielsen could count everyone. You know, like Arbitron (no, not seriously).

Wednesday, July 29

Defining Terms: Critical To Communication

I serve on the board of a nonprofit organization, and one of the conversations that continues to creep into meetings is one I've learned to stay away from. The conversation is whether or not the organization wants to retain its only public fundraising event.

On one hand, it is the organization's only public event. As such, it tends to be its most visible asset and among its most likely to be covered by the media. Those who would keep the event always point out that it is profitable, but that profit varies from year to year, depending on any number of factors that include the economic climate, auxiliary fundraising, and the location of the event. More than that, they say it has become an integral part of the organization's reputation.

On the other hand, it requires significant staff time and volunteer support. In some cases, those who would prefer to let it go generally dismiss the attendance and any profit as a measure of success. And in doing so, they generally do not consider auxiliary features that may impact the event such as whether the speaker is local or national, whether the organization hosted a silent auction, and whether media coverage has any bearing on the long-term success of the organization.

What's Missing Is A Definition

As simple as it sounds, what's missing is a definition. What constitutes a successful event? Profits? Attendance? Media coverage? Public relations (as the event benefits individuals, companies, and other nonprofits)? Without a definition, the outcome of the event (successful or not) is merely defined by each individual perspective. And that's never good.

Some people tell me (some of them students; some working professionals) that measurement in communication is optional. And yet, even beyond communication, it seems to be a critical component.

Benchmarking is important too. And so is considering any number of tactics.

Knowing these things or even asking about them can make a big difference in understanding whether it is a worthwhile asset or not. For example, we might ask what factors are contributing to or detracting from the success of the event. Do national speakers attract more attendees than local speakers? Does a silent auction add tangible value as a profit generator or, perhaps, an outreach in contacting businesses that have no other means to contribute? What about the value of the event to the community and whether or not that has any bearing on the decisions being made? What do any event sponsors think? What about visibility, branding, and reputation? Was the communication handled properly? Were all elements on time? And so on and so forth.

There are any number of questions to ask. But until they are asked and answered, no one really knows whether or not the event is successful or if it is a critical function of the organization. And unless we define success with some measure, we're not communicating as much as we're having an idle conversation about what seems to be. We might as well argue about the weather.

Unless Definitions Are Universal, Communication Becomes Idle

I don't mean universal in the global sense (unless we're talking about global issues); I merely mean universal in a stakeholder sense. For the organization, that might mean the board. For something else, that might mean a community or department. For a couple, it might mean two individuals (even though couples sometimes try to infuse outside opinion). And so on and so forth.

What makes definitions so critical?

For example, if we take something as simple as "I'd like to go to the park on the next nice day," we might have any number of varied responses on any given day on whether we ought to go to the park. Some people like it hot. Some people like it cool. Some people like moderate and partly cloudy. There are a lot of "nice days" out there, dependent solely on individual preference.

However, if we define the "nice day" with something more concrete such as "when I say a nice day, I mean about 78 degrees, moderate humidity, with a light breeze," then everyone knows when we might go to the park, even if they don't agree with the definition.

Why is that important? Because without the definition, we might find ourselves debating about whether or not to go to a park when we're actually disagreeing on the definition of a nice day. Or, we might debate whether to have an event, when we're really disagreeing about what makes an event successful. Or we might debate the varied opinions of ROI for communication, but only because we haven't even defined what ROI means, or an outcome, or whatever and whatnot.

We see the same problem with Congress right now. Congressional leaders are debating about universal health care. The hold up seems like it is about health care, but it's really because no one has offered a definition. While most people want "good, reliable, accessible health care for everyone," nobody has taken the time to define it beyond the sound bite. According to Peter Fleckenstein, here are some highlights of a working definition that differs from the sound bite.

It happens a lot in politics these days. People tend to vote on sound bites; we ought to be voting on definitions.

Developing Definitions Requires Empathy

Empathy is the capability to share and understand another's emotions and feelings. We might expand that concept to include definitions. If we can do that, then we increase the propensity to have meaningful dialogue because even if we don't agree on the definition, we can at least understand where the other person is coming from. As Steve Covey once said: "Seek first to understand, then to be understood."

Sure, there will be those times when we cannot accept or ever hope to understand a definition because it is, um, wacky. And in those cases, we might put our energy elsewhere. If we cannot accept a definition, then all the rest is idle chatter.

Make sense? Always start with a working definition. And if you don't think it's important, well, then have a nice day. And all the best.

Friday, March 27

Considering Impressions: Do They Count?

Anyone who has read more than a single post on this blog knows I'm outcome measurement oriented. So it was no surprise to come back from a presentation today to see a few inquisitive e-mails regarding my advertising impression post on Wednesday.

"Did you change your mind about measurement?"

No, but I do understand human behavior and human behavior suggests that impressions — frequency — do count across the entire spectrum of communication. They might not be outcomes, but they are an important part of the equation.

Specifically, no single source of communication — advertising, public relations, marketing, social media — exists in a vacuum. It works together. When communication messages across all media are aligned, the outcomes are generally more substantive than singular communication streams because it accounts for sensory capacity and orientation.


Sensory capacity and orientation are two factors that help determine how much influence a "cue" might have to a person. Or, in other words, each person's sensory capacity and orientation determines how the environment looks to that person. And, knowing this, we also know that any cue in that environment does not guarantee that the person will perceive the cues as we do nor does it guarantee the person will react the same way they perceive the cue depending on how they perceive it.

For example, some new parents become concerned when their babies do not react to animal mobiles over their cribs. But what they do not consider is that these babies see a mobile differently than their parents do. Babies see it differently because of their sensory capacity, orientation, and familiarity with the objects. Laying under the mobile, babies with developing eyesight (capacity) only see the bottoms of the animals (orientation), which diminishes their ability to recognize the animal shapes (familiarity).

Thus, babies (and people) are only influenced by a cue when they become sensitive to that cue. And one of the most important determinations of whether someone will be sensitive to a cue is dependent on past experience and familiarity. And now that this is understood, let's consider advertising and communication again.

Impressions count because they establish familiarity.

A cue, like an onsite product review, only has influence if the prospect has the capacity, orientation, and familiarity with the product to capture their attention. If someone has been exposed to several print advertisements, television advertisements, news stories, blog posts, direct friend referrals, etc., they will automatically gravitate toward reading the review of that product over the review of another product that they are being exposed to for the first time.

When you ask them what they attribute a product purchase to, they will most likely say the review because it was their last impression before the point of purchase. However, it was a collective number of positive impressions across all media and non-media that influenced their purchasing decision because without multiple exposures (capacity) during various activities (orientation) that established familiarity with the product. In some cases, a review might not have any influence at all because by the time a person is looking at a review, they might only be looking for a validation.

We even see this to be true in social media. Very often, it is not a blog alone that drives the traffic to top name social media bloggers. Rather, it's the in-person presentations, workshops, classes, books, articles (and in some cases, even advertisements), that establish enough familiarity from enough vantage points to engage and possibly influence people online.

So, in sum, I never changed my position. At the end of the day, it's all about outcomes. But outcomes cannot be achieved with a singular communication stream. We need advertising, public relations, marketing, and social media to work together, even if their various advocates have different capacities and orientations that cause them to debate the details.

Wednesday, March 11

Revealing Weakness: Brian Solis On Authority

Brian Solis, principal of FutureWorks, writing for TechCrunch, asked yesterday if blogs were "losing their authority to the statusphere."

Specifically, he wondered about the relevance of the Technorati Authority Index, which used to be the leading measure for bloggers to benchmark their rank. The theory was that the more blogs that link to your blog, the more authority you had in a subject area to be considered an "expert." However, as Solis alludes to in his post, engagement no longer occurs blog-to-blog or on the Internet.

Conversations are fluid.

While Richard Jalichandra, CEO of Technorati, told Solis the team is actively entrenched in the creation of a modified platform that embraces widespread, distributed linkbacks to blog posts in order to factor them into the overall authority for affected blogs, everyone seems to miss the point. While linkbacks, comment counts, retweets, votes, and all that other stuff is useful, it will never provide an valid indication of influence, authority, or status.

Real measurement doesn't happen according to online measurements. It happens as a function of the customer or reader experience. It's no longer about social media. It's about tangible real life engagement.

Conversations move everywhere. Blog-to-blog, blog-to-social network, social network-to-blog, blog-to-phone, social network-to-presentation, blog-to-physical location or office or classroom, blog-to-text message, and text message-to-whatever. They do not end with the blog nor do they end with the Internet. They continue wherever people may care to take them.

The measurement of these conversations isn't so much about who is talking about something as much as it's about someone taking action like shaving their head or walking the streets of Edinburgh in a bra. Anything else is just an adoption of the erred thinking that led some public relations firms to count column inches as a measure of success. Real measurement doesn't end with the number of "media hits" or column inches, it begins with them.

Or, to put it another way, the measure isn't that the story ran, but rather what people do once the story runs. "Media hits" or column inches are only a function of reach. And while reach can be beneficial, the wrong message still falls on deaf ears, no matter how many ears happen to hear it.

Online measures are interesting, misleading too.

We've been researching this area in public relations for years, but recently saw the same thing after an interesting occurrence on Twitter, after two different people pointed to two different posts.

Based on various online measurement models, one Twitter participant (Tweeter A) — with approximately 14,000 followers, high level of engagement, and significant number of retweets (someone else repeating what they "tweet" with citation) — is generally thought to have more influence than one (Tweeter B) with 300 followers, a lower level of engagement, and fewer retweets. However, when they pointed to posts on this blog, the opposite was proven true.

Twitter A drove 24 people to a post. Twitter B drove 103 people to a post.

So who really has more influence? Twitter A only succeeded in influencing a fraction of 1 percent of their followers while Twitter B influenced a whopping 34 percent of their followers. Ah ha. See that? Perception doesn't always equal reality.

The same can be said about comment counts too. I'm fairly certain that veteran communication and marketing bloggers like Geoff Livingston, Valeria Maltoni, and Lewis Green all shake their heads when they publish an important post and nobody comments. (Meanwhile, other bloggers publish meaningless posts and net 40 or more.)

However, what online measurements may never capture is how those seemingly quiet posts move people to apply new strategies and tactics that they've never considered before. Or maybe the content was simply profound or precise enough that there wasn't anything more to say, and the communities they've nurtured tend to avoid gratuitous exchanges such as "your best post yet."

Ho hum. It just goes to show you that The Skipper might not have been as popular as Ginger Grant, but there was no mistaking his authority.

So if Technorati really wanted to create a measure that would make the service relevant again, they might consider that, despite the fact that I doubt anyone can create an algorithm capable of peering inside the human soul. And even if they could, I suspect we wouldn't want them to.

Monday, January 19

Measuring Communication: ROI Meets ROC

There has been considerable time and effort invested by hundreds of people in attempting to demonstrate a return on investment for communication — advertising, marketing, public relations, and social media. It began as far back as, well, since someone first realized it might be measurable. In fact, any search on the subject will turn up any number of efforts, with some providing better explanations than others.

For my own part, I've been working, on and off, to refine a measurement formula for the better part of two years. My hypothesis is simple: the return on investment is related to the intent of the communication and the outcome it produces.

I | O = ROI

However, since last year, there have been several people who have noted that ROI means something different to business. In finance, for example, ROI means the ratio of money gained or lost (realized or unrealized) on an investment relative to the amount of money invested. When considering that definition, it becomes reasonably clear that ROI might be the wrong term for communication measurement, especially because not all communication produces outcomes that yield direct returns.

While this doesn't change the hypothesis, it does place a greater emphasis on establishing the connection between direct and indirect results because if we narrow the definition to only recognize direct returns, the greater portion of any communication plan will be diminished and working professionals will continue to misidentify incidentals such as conversations outcomes. Instead, I propose the real measure of communication is exactly that — the return on communication or ROC.

[(B • I) (m+s • r)/d] / [O/(b + t + e)] = ROC

For the next several Mondays, I will be writing a series about the above formula as illustrated within a free 5-page abstract, Measure: I | O = ROC a.k.a. The ROC, which defines a revised formula for communication measurement across advertising, marketing, public relations, internal communication, and social media. It has already been proven effective in measuring individual communication and ongoing campaigns.

Tuesday, December 30

Dispelling Myths: Online Authority

In between some satire, there always seems to be some seriousness in conversations about online authority. Some social media participants want to measure this stuff, even if it for the sole purpose of vanity or perhaps selling snake oil.

There is enough of it that Jennifer Leggio lent a near perfect expose entitled "Twitter popularity does not equal business acumen" on ZDNet. The article mentions several reasons that online popularity doesn't equal much of anything. Her hope was to dissuade executives from considering popularity as a measure.

"My point that [the number of followers] should be a very, very small consideration for enterprises still stands," she concluded.

She's right. Equating online popularity to influence or so-called authority is much like equating real-life popularity to influence or authority. Online, some participants seem to forget that Jerry Seinfeld might make a fun spokesperson for Microsoft, but Bill Gates didn't place him in charge of R&D.

Eric Peterson, a web analytics expert, also poked some fun at the topic, pointing to Twinfluence, which measures velocity, social capital, and centralization. But then asks if “influence” is the best measure of success in social media. Or should people pay closer attention to something like the Twitter Ratio as a measure?

The answer is neither. Social media measures generally consider reach. And reach is, well, reach.

Influence cannot really be measured online because it suggests something that online measures do not account for — changes in behavior or actions that produce outcomes (sometimes offline). Simply having a large number of readers or friends or followers doesn't mean you have influence over them. And even if you did, that influence may be limited in scope.

There are other challenges too. As Shel Israel once pointed out: if someone has three followers, then who those followers are might make all the difference. Or, turning to one example I like to use, there are several social network owners who have less friends than other participants.

This simple fact touches on why authority cannot really be measured online either. Most professionals have friends who are experts in their field that have yet to be concerned with developing an online presence. And, if they were participants in one of a thousand social networks, they may or may not ever be popular. Yet, there is no denying their authority.

What can be measured online is reach. But sometimes, having ample reach isn't all it's cracked up to be. The wrong message communicated to tens of thousands of people instead of a few hundred is still the wrong message.

Friday, November 21

Gaming Perception: Don't Mind The Masses

It wasn't long after TechCrunch reported that the Google SearchWiki would employ a "Digg-like voting feature to search results (which also changes the ranking) as well as user comments" that there was a need to clarify that the SearchWiki would allow members to customize search results when they are signed in to their Google accounts (like bookmarking) but that would not influence the greater search engine. Good.

“I much prefer the sharpest criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the masses.” — Johannes Kepler

But what if it did? There seems to be plenty of people who would celebrate the day despite that the following month would come with a hangover. For all the celebration of groundswell, the masses are sometimes susceptible to becoming entranced by deliberately gamed popularity.

It's also becoming an increasingly contentious concern for companies applying social media to their communication plans. In an effort to be more responsive to customers, some may fall victim to following the advice of the so-called masses while actually following only a few who have the ability to mesmerize a majority.

"The broad masses of a population are more amenable to the appeal of rhetoric than to any other force.” — Adolf Hitler

Just prior to Apple announcing native applications to the iPhone, Web-based applications and games were all the rage. One of the first html-based multiple-player games, KingdomGame, was an immediate hit. It was fast, fun, and engaging enough that small pockets of forum-based communities began to evolve.

Today, the traffic has tapered off to a fraction of what it once was as the developer began infusing a few beta tester ideas — beta testers who were backed by their perceived popularity among the masses. By listening to them, the average play time has grown from five minutes per session to more than an hour, with the most engaged players signing in three, four, or more times a day. The actual majority, on the other hand, were either driven away by the diatribe of the few or quietly quit as the game became too time-intensive for the average iPhone user. In other words, the buzz did not support the outcome.

The phenomenon is not limited to games of chance and entertainment. Social media elite sometimes knowingly and sometimes unwittingly back the masses without so much as a second thought. For most, it makes sense. For some, they establish a "tribe" of followers who will help push some of the most preposterous ideas in exchange for a little attention from the most popular person they know.

It's not limited to the social media elite either. Many companies, from small startups to the Fortune 500, are running an increased risk of fooling themselves into listening to the echo chambers they create. They toss out ideas to their readership or extended networks, and those "tribes" almost overwhelmingly support the predetermined direction already established by a few within the company or the few who invest enough time in the network or group to hold sway over the rest. It's surprisingly easy to do.

“A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority.” — Henry David Thoreau

None of this is meant to discount the validity of social media, but only to remind companies engaging in social media that the pursuit of popularity and the outcomes of popularity will not always meet. Sure, there are valid benefits to social media when it is applied strategically, but diving right in without a plan or becoming too entangled in what the presumed masses might be saying can kill a company just like most hit-or-miss work-by-committee outcomes might produce.

Or, in other words, while the masses might be right sometimes, they can also be very wrong, especially when they are led by a few favored personalities. When you look at history, the masses are usually well-suited to expressing a need. But it still takes individuals who can innovate solutions and balance the needs of the many with the virtues of the few (and I don't mean those few who claim credibility has been redefined to mean the he or she with the biggest tribe).

Or, in other words, if Google ever did flip yet another switch and make voted search results public, which one day it might (because you know it can), we can all expect that the entire infrastructure of content will be gamed from the start, perhaps with one persistent 12-year-old stealing a Shakespeare sonnet to promote a personal haiku or, more seriously, a presidential candidate staffing hundreds to vote down an underfunded opponent. Heh. Don't drink the Kool-Aid.


Thursday, August 7

Fighting B2B Blog Boredom: Ragan

Christine Kent at recently revived a June Forrester Research report that suggested the number of business-to-business (B2B) firms that started blogging in 2007 was down compared with 2006.

According to the report, corporate bloggers ran into roadblocks stemming from a misalignment between invested effort and expected returns. The report included a survey that demonstrated 20 percent of marketers and communicators say they’re still not doing corporate blogs because they don’t see the need or the value.

Of course they did. Of course they don’t.

When the International Association of Business Communicators and Benchmark Ltd. surveyed more than 1,000 communicators in 25 countries last year, they found that only 70 percent of those surveyed measure the effectiveness of what they do. Only 61 percent said they considered measurement an integral part of the public relations process. Why?

We don't have the money. We don't have the time.

If a company doesn’t see the value of measuring communication, it seems pretty likely that they won’t see any value in blogging or social media. After all, chances are that they don’t see any real value in most of their tactics.

But even if they did, would it really make a difference? Given how misaligned some communication tactics are to the company’s business objectives, probably not. There are ample examples of communication tactics that measure public relations by the column inch and advertising campaigns by how much someone’s wife might like it.

While Ragan offers quick tips, it’s really much simpler.

If your company is considering any communication tactic, whether it’s a blog or brochure, why not start by asking the right questions like “what do we hope to accomplish?” And I don’t just mean social media. I mean everything.

Objectives tend to make all communication more cost effective, less time consuming, and — most importantly — measurable. Otherwise, it’s all too easy to find yourself running around crazy on a tactical treadmill, hoping that lightning will strike twice because the media ran a similar story last month or because the competitor seems to have a successful blog.

For example, while Kent mentions that executive bloggers should not expect massive participation with every post, one might also wonder if participation is always a prerequisite for a successful blog. Perhaps, but only if participation was one of the objectives, and someone has the foresight to define who they want to participate, and maybe why they want them to participate, and what constitutes participation, and possibly how this participation might further the company’s underlining strategic goals.

Simple. Unless you ask the right questions and provide some objective answers, there is no value in social media or any other communication for that matter.


Tuesday, May 20

Taking Aim: Nuts To Nielsen

It’s not a great year to be Nielsen. Every time the company attempts to move forward with Anytime Anywhere Media Measurement — A2/M2 — someone is ready to stop them: clients, competition, consumers.

For Project Apollo, a three-year joint project with Arbitron to monitor buying and radio-television habits of 5,000 households, it was clients. They did not want to pay for the results. Consumers weren’t thrilled with the number of tasks they were asked to perform either. It’s not as cool to be a Nielsen family anymore.

It might not be that cool to work at the company either. Jericho fans dumped 4,000 pounds of peanuts on the company’s property last week. It’s a statement to Nielsen that its small sampling sizes are costing consumers their favorite shows, even when they have enough fans to support a convention.

"It's an antiquated rating system that does not count 99.999 percent of actual TV viewers," Jonathan Whitesell, a Jericho fan and organizer of "Nuts To Nielsen!", told Tampa Tribune on May 10.

"We respect the passion of the 'Jericho' fans, but the decision to cancel the show was made by the network, not by Nielsen," spokesperson Gary Holmes said in a statement after receiving the nuts. "We measure programming that is viewed live, on a video recorder and on a PC, and we are confident that our ratings provide a fair measure of what people are viewing."

But fewer and fewer agree. Diane Mermigas, editor-at-large at MediaPost, recently called Nielsen the “about as inane an advertising value as can ever be justified” in her article about other initiatives to find effective measures. She’s not alone.

The differences between Nielsen ratings and other measures continue to grow, more and more shows are seeing 20 percent to 25 percent ratings gains when DVR viewing is calculated and some other are shows doubling their viewership online. It’s easier to get the numbers from TiVo or local cable companies that can count everyone.

A recent Universal McCann study supports how much the Internet has changed. More than 80 percent of the online population watches video clips online and their choice of viewing options goes well beyond YouTube. If you forget to set the DVR, there is always Hulu, CBS, or Apple iTunes.

It’s also one of the reasons CNN’s Veronica Del La Cruz asked how many people watch live news last Friday night. “Fifty percent? Maybe?”

We’re paying attention, she said, before outlining CNN’s iReport, which allows anyone to submit live reports and videos online. More than 900 of these videos have also been featured on CNN. The idea, which originally grew out of citizen submitted coverage of Hurricane Katrina, represents an opportunity for anyone to decide what might be newsworthy.

“Use the tools you find here to share and talk about the news of your world, whether that's video and photos of the events of your life, or your own take on what's making international headlines. Or, even better, a little bit of both.” — iReport.

What makes this significant for Nielsen is that if the company hopes to survive the long-term, it might consider that it has customers on two sides of the aisle. As consumers continue to lose faith in Nielsen, the more likely consumers will pass on being a Nielsen family. Not to mention, no one wants one company to collect all the data.

In fact, from what Whitesell and Jericho fans tell me, Nielsen is not to be trusted. And these fans are not alone.

Anyone who has a show facing cancellation (most recently, the show Moonlight) is continuing to send Nielsen a message — Nielsen might be confident in the rating system, but they are not. It’s a mounting public relations problem that Nielsen has yet to successfully address. For many consumers, Nielsen’s truncated research, not actual viewers, is the only reason their show was cancelled.


Monday, May 19

Taking The Next Step: Michael Port

If you’re not familiar with Michael Port, he is a high profile business coach who has provided consulting to more than 20,000 business owners in the last two years. The Wall Street Journal calls him a “marketing guru” and his first book, Book Yourself Solid, was a national bestseller.

His newest book, Beyond Booked Solid, was released in April. I’ve had the galley on my desk for several few weeks now, meaning to review it. But as a member of the audience the book is intended for — someone who has a decent stable of loved clients but is sometimes short on time — I had to place the review on hold.

Ah yes, irony. Or maybe not. We’ll see.

“With every new success comes new challenges and this repeated cycle is a constant state of being for the entrepreneur. Each time we solve a problem, we begin a new game at a higher level, in which are facing new problems,” reads one of the opening paragraphs.

He’s right. People, especially entrepreneurs, who are not continually facing new challenges, are not moving forward. They might not even be entrepreneurs unless they are moving forward. It’s about that simple. And simple is one of the reasons I’ve always liked Port.

You only have to watch his dismantling the concept of the elevator speech on YouTube to immediately appreciate him. Elevator speeches sometimes circumvent one’s ability to learn something about a prospect. A better solution is to apply a thinking process over the quick fix. Sure, sometimes quick fixes and systems work. It depends on who you are and what you do. And this is where it gets tricky.

On one hand, Beyond Booked Solid is the book I needed ten years ago. That’s when I faced some of the challenges it addresses the most: a small business owner who wakes up to find that they put themselves on an imbalanced life treadmill, never thinking for a moment that there were other options (even though I had already been there before).

For the most part, it’s the by-product of someone who sells service. Sooner or later, there are not enough hours to sell, even with new staff and outsourcing.

This is where Port’s book works best. His book helps service professionals come to the conclusion that at the end of the day —whether they are a doctor, attorney, instructor, or other service provider — there are more options than simply filling every hour of every day, especially if it throws your life-work balance out of whack. What always seems to work better is saving some time to invest in building a better business model, the one that allows you more resources not less resources at the end of the day.

Port even tackles the excuses that might be standing in your way.
• My system is too complicated for me to explain to other people or write it down.
• I couldn’t trust anyone else to do it better than I do.
• I’ve had systems, and they’ve been a waste of time and I don’t want to spend time fixing them or developing new systems.

Personally, I’ve always been amazed by the number of people willing to put cannot in front of something that can be done. Even last week, I felt my skin crawl when a subcontractor said “I just can’t see it” to a viable communication tool. Right on. I get it.

I don’t see how someone could land on the moon with a computer less advanced than a pocket calculator, but they did it. Part of the success was developing a system (multiple systems), possibly more complicated than many business systems, and it got the job done. Then again, there is that tricky part.

As some people know, I’m not a big fan of systems. However, every now and again, I ask myself if whether I am against systems or the abuse of systems. For example, having an elevator speech was never meant to be a scripted memorization as much as an ability to define what you do. It also only works if you can make it work for you. Port did that. And that’s what makes systems work, provided there is a thinking process behind them.

There are several standout areas in the book, but I’ll stick to highlighting two. Port walks the reader through how to document processes and then provides several personal examples of how he applies it. Second, to illustrate possibilities, he provides some solid case studies as a guide, providing business owners some flexibility. The case studies are not as engaging as those in Accidental Branding by David Vinjamuri, but they serve their purpose.

Do you want to be a franchise? Create a product line? Purchase and rebrand businesses? Diversify your market presence? Etc. And because he asks the right questions, many people will find the right answers for themselves.

Of course, many will not want to do any of these things because not everyone is comfortable with the idea of transforming their service into a business model, which is why not everyone is an entrepreneur. As this is the case, I’m not sure Beyond Booked Solid will appeal to as large of an audience as Book Yourself Solid did. However, it’s nice to know that someone wrote a book that reminds professionals that there are many other options.


Wednesday, March 12

Exploring Rank: EntreCard’s Impact On Alexa

My wife owns a fake Rolex. She bought it for $20 in Mexico. It’s good enough that it even has a screw-backed case and automatic second hand. Yep, just like the real thing.

Some people are impressed that she owns a Rolex, never knowing it isn’t real until she laughs and tells them. Last time it needed a battery, the jeweler even had to take a second look. He said most people would never know; it was the best “Folex” he had seen.

Alexa ranking is a little like that. People use it for all sorts of algorithms and bragging rights. But the thing is, Alexa rank, which they say measures popularity and traffic on the Internet, is becoming much more like a “Folex” than the real thing. For me, it took an EntreCard experiment to see what others have said for years.

EntreCard Reveals Some Alexa Weaknesses

A few weeks ago, I placed an EntreCard ad banner, which is basically a blogger ad sharing network, on our Back Lot blog. The Back Lot blog is an experimental storefront blog that mostly helps non-profit organizations.

The reason was simple enough. From time to time, I add widgets and other online tools to the Back Lot blog in order to gain a better understanding about how they work, especially to see if they might work for some some social media clients. Sometimes I add these widgets here too. Sometimes I do not.

What struck me after a few weeks was not only the impact of EntreCard on the blog, but impact of EntreCard on Alexa. With EntreCard, the Back Lot blog eclipsed Copywrite, Ink. blog in terms of Alexa ranking. Specifically, it looks like the Back Lot blog receives almost three times the amount of traffic.

However, I also know from multiple analytic programs that this is not the case. This blog averages about 300-500 visitors every day as opposed to Back Lot, which averages about 30-40 visitors every day. So what’s the difference?

• There is high percentage of Alexa tool bar users on EntreCard.
• Many Alexa tool bar users who read this blog subscribe to the feed.

The net result is that this blog looks like it is losing traffic despite gaining traffic whereas the other blog is maintaining but looks like it is increasing. So yesterday, I thought I would add EntreCard to this blog and see what happens. I'll report on it in a few weeks.

Of course, all this is not to say Alexa is bad; it has its place in the world and some people are really good about putting it to work for them. There plenty of people who have even written up twenty or so tips.

Some of those tips work. Some of them aren’t really related to Alexa at all, but they might help gin up traffic anyway — that is, if you are looking for traffic. Not everyone places traffic high on the priority list. Some folks, like me, measure other outcomes.

Sometimes Alexa Comparisons Work, Sometimes They Don’t

What really strikes me about all this is that I could make a lightly visited blog appear to have more traffic than a respectfully visited blog with 10-20 times more readers. Even more amazing to me is that some people know this, but still count Alexa as a measure of their success in between transparency posts, including comparisons to show how their blogs are gaining ground on other people.

Please don’t get me wrong. Alexa can be useful for some measures, just not in the way some people use it, including multi-rank measures. Likewise, I’m not saying anyone who boasts about their Alexa rank is questionable. Rather, I liken it to wearing a fake Rolex. But unlike my wife, they never tell anyone.


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