There’s an interesting post on the Six Pixels of Separation blog today about metrics for social media. Here’s the problem that is set up:

Maybe we have it all wrong (and I’m just as guilty as the next person). Why are we looking at how many people have joined Facebook overall? Why do we care about how many people are following us on Twitter? There are countless online discussions about the quantity over the quality of these platforms, and we all know that it’s not realistic to have one person try to engage in any sort of meaningful way with 312,000 of their closest “friends.”

There is then some further discussion about things like “… engagement, attention, intention and time spent. All very interesting metrics, and all of them make most traditional media folks roll their eyes.” The post ends with a call for more thinking about the matter.

Even when I was in marketing, I never took those metrics relating to reach very seriously. For me, it’s always been much more about impact. How can we best measure impact? It’s harder, but possible. On my first blog, the main thing I tracked was comments. There weren’t many good web metrics available on the site that hosted that, so all I had to go on was page views and comments. Since I wanted people to be engaging with what I said, comments was the only metric I really cared about. On this blog, I’ve got much better data available. But I’m still mostly interested in getting ideas to spread – so the ones that I pay attention to are average time on the site/page, and comments (again!). Mark & I edit a journal called Innovation: Management, Policy & Practice, and I keep having arguments with our published over the value of page views on the journal’s web site. He loves it when the site gets a lot of hits. I’m a lot more interested in how often the journal gets cited, and how many people are actually reading the articles.

Since innovation is about introducing new ideas into the economy, and getting them to spread, we should get better about figuring out how to measure impact. I’m absolutely convinced that this is the key. Who cares how many people are exposed to an idea? I want to know how many people engage with the idea, who is taking it seriously, and how it’s being used. These are all harder to measure, but whether you’re writing a blog, providing a service or making a product, these are the things we need to know about. I guess in the end it’s a lot easier to measure a broadcast than it is a conversation.

Here’s something that I can’t figure any good way to write a whole post about, but it’s still interesting. Economist Peter Leeson talks about his book The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates in this podcast from EconTalk. The economics of pirates! How cool is that?

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

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6 thoughts on “impact

  1. Tim,

    I think that part of the problem is that if you want to quantify reader attention (or the like) then you have to make an arbitrary cut-off point of what attention is. As with all qualitative measures, the boundaries are fuzzy. I presume blog comments such as “Cool!” “I agree” would not be perceived as engaged as a much more involved comment.

    Page hits and number of “followers”, on the other hand, are much more black and white.

    There is also the problem of how to quantify the engagement of the silent majority that never (or almost never) comments. I, for example, follow a couple of blogs that influence me (in positive ways); yet I would never comment on them. There are a number of reasons for that, but none of them is being a “free rider” (although I might end up being one.)

    Perhaps the question is whether quantitative measures are a fair proxy for qualitative aspects of the system such as participant engagement. I am not sure what the state of the literature on this question is. Bur in some situations quantitative measures work very well.

  2. The silent majority issue is definitely significant. I follow something like 90 blogs through my RSS feed, but I’ve only commented on a couple. Now that I’m referencing some of them here there is something a bit more resembling a conversation, but even that is a bit iffy…

    I think part of the problem is thinking that you have to measure everything. In the end the best measure is whether or not you’re meeting your objectives. Which is tricky sometimes too. What’re good objectives for a blog, for example?

  3. Make it interesting enough that your PhD student reads it at 8.50pm on a Sunday night 😛

  4. 😀 That’s one possible metric! Although, eventually, I’d like to have people that don’t know me personally reading it too… I guess I can try to make things interesting enough that they’ll read it at 8:50 pm on a Sunday night too…

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