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In Search of social media metrics

There are perhaps no stranger bedfellows than search marketing and social media. Search, on one hand, is perhaps the most measurable medium to hit the planet. Social media, on the other, encompasses a very large number of tactics with various degrees of measurement. Nonetheless, the two are intricately linked and frequently co-dependent.

In short, social media sites are built to be “open.” This means that not only can anyone publish, see, interact with or share content, but it also means that this content will be rapidly crawled and indexed by the major search engines. A classic example of this would be Digg, a very popular social bookmarking site that assumes that the wisdom of the masses is greater than the wisdom of an editor. As users post and then “digg” content they like, the most popular content rises to the top. Content is most frequently news articles or blog posts, but can include images or videos.

But it doesn’t stop there. The SEO beauty of Digg is that when a user posts a news item, he gets to create his own title and description for the content. And depending upon how clever the digger is, that newly created meta data will help the content appear for keywords that real people are using every day. Even better, one doesn’t need to wait a month for Google to crawl an addition; Digg is crawled very frequently by the engines. For example, one day I posted an interesting news article on a topic dear to me. Within 30 minutes, I received a Google Alert for my digged article. A quick search for the keyword had my digged article occupying the top spot within the search results. In this sense, Digg is multipurpose; it both surfaces the best content among its community as well as extends the reach of this content via the Google index. The same is true for all other social media platforms, including YouTube, wikis, and so on. 

Knowing that social media sites fuel a good portion of all online content, how best to measure reach, interaction and affinity? I asked a few industry brains what their favorite metrics were, and the results clearly suggest that we are very early in this process. According to Toby Daniels, VP of Business Development for Mint Digital, it is important to first assess what people are doing online. “What percentage of your users actually create content versus those that sit back and passively consume?” he asks. “The general consensus is that 9% create, 11% are spectators and 80% consume.” He looks forward to a more sophisticated analysis over time so that design can cater to both the creators and consumers.

Charlie O’Donnell, co-founder of Path 101, also cares what people are doing, but suggests that quantification is not always in our best interest. “The more our digital experiences become personal and human, the less they will be able to aggregate our activities into bar charts and line graphs,” he notes. In the case of Twitter, he suggests that registered users means very litter, but that “the volume of usage by each individual user is extremely important. It’s not about how many people use your service, but do they use it more each month, because then you’re building a community of passionate and loyal users.”

Volume, or change of volume is perhaps the most utilized metric. In the world of Digg, these metrics might translate to number of articles “digged,” number of “diggs” per article, or number of comments on an article. For YouTube, the metrics might be views, increase in views, or honors awarded to the site. For blogs, popular tools such as Technorati or BlogPulse help identify blog volume and volatility. And wikis are frequently assessed for volatility in changes made to an entry.

Credibility, via sites such as Facebook, is another metric frequently mentioned. Sam Lessin, co-founder of Drop.io states that the number of fans that “actively opted to seek out and pro-actively ‘friend’ a company or organization – even opting to receive updates – is an amazingly deep endorsement. Aaron Kahlow, Founder and Chairman of the Online Marketing Summit reiterates this thought, noting that the majority of the summit’s registrants come from “simply seeing their friends had joined” via a Facebook profile or mini-feed.

At the current moment, all of these metrics exist in isolated buckets, leaving many longing for a greater offering. Jorie Waterman, a former colleague, shares this vision. “I would be really excited if there were a dashboard of social media metrics around a keyword or keyword phrase.” Daylife.com, a “connection engine” that determines content’s popularity based on a wide variety of traditional and social websites, gives us a glimpse into what this future might be. Until then, Mark Skidmore of Range Online Media offers a few hands-on tips. “At a basic level, any marketer can track keywords that are highly relevant to a brand through Google alerts to gain a better understanding of where a brand is online and more importantly where it is not yet appearing.”

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