5 reasons measuring social media isn’t always a good idea

The author believes in the power of data, but not at any cost. Here’s why.


Editor’s note: The following is a counterpoint to a recent debate on {grow} about social media measurement.

Social media measurement is a seemingly simple issue with a complex point. Or perhaps a “nuanced” point is more accurate. I obviously believe in data; it’s a big part of what I’ve done over my career.

Trying to measure whether something has a meaningful impact is something I support. And you should always measure … unless you shouldn’t. Here is what I mean:

1. Spreadsheets should never be a substitute for business instincts. Too many people fall back on spreadsheets as means to avoid risk and accountability. Using ROI is an excuse not to move forward with something they don’t understand.

2. Sometimes there is no ROI to measuring ROI. Just because something can be measured doesn’t mean it should be measured. If the cost of trying to measure an activity outweighs the gain, or eats too far into that gain, then why measure it? It doesn’t mean there was no gain. It means you have to decide based on more than spreadsheets whether you can mentally correlate enough benefit to continue the activity.

3. Understanding appropriate time horizons and objectives is critical. Numbers mean nothing if you don’t balance them against proper expectations. If you don’t have a solid, educated theory as to how long an activity should take before it starts showing its full benefits, how can you know when to stop or increase that activity?

4. Achieving a return on an activity is meaningless without knowing the return on activities you could have been doing. Companies have limited resources. They can’t do everything, so they have to maximize those that they undertake. Getting a 20 percent return on something is a failure if you needed a 40 percent return to make it a viable alternative to another activity that gets 30 percent. “Achieving an ROI” isn’t the same thing as “achieving success.”

5. Understanding the impact of measurement, both positive and negative, is critical. Measurement itself affects the behaviors and decisions inside the organization. How does measurement motivate or impact individuals? Does it do so in ways that benefit the customer or company in the short term, but cut its throat in the long term?

I’ll stop there, but the point is: It’s not whether you measure, it’s whether you understand what to do with it.

Do you agree? I would love to hear your thoughts on “rational measurement!”

Matt Ridings, aka @techguerilla, is the co-founder and CEO of SideraWorks, a new social business consultancy founded with Amber Naslund. This post first appeared on {grow}.

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