Stop Focusing on Bullshit Social Metrics and Start Focusing on Real Value

by on June 30, 2011

I’ve always said that the best social media strategy was, “Appeal to the Ego’s of Others”. We see it all the time. Badges, Gamification, Stats, etc. all help keep an individual engaged with whatever app or widget you have created. In thinking about this though I have noticed a trend lately of, pardon my French, bullshit metrics. How do I classify a bullshit metric? It’s simple. If there is no science or actionable insights behind it. It’s bullshit.

My Posts are Worth More Than That!

Today I received an email that was going to provide me with ROI on every Facebook interaction I had. It even told me that my current posts to Facebook were worth something like $3.00. Bullshit. Zero basis in fact and this company has no access to any conversion metrics I may or may not apply to any of my social media activities.

Influence, Seriously?

Influence, easily the hottest topic in the social media sphere these days. 100% ego driven. The social media world wanted some measure as to how they scored. (A way to quantify hanging out in chat all day) This score led companies to want to market to those people who scored highest, or put them higher on their service priority list. My opinion: Steeped in Bullshit. Yea, these influence algorithms will boast deep scientific research and insights that will take you to the promised land. In my opinion they’ve simply productized data that they’ve mashed up to present to your ego.

I’m not Really a Negative Nelly

I hate having to say this all the time but the reality is that I am a HUGE advocate of social media and the real business insights that can be extracted from it. So as to not end this on such a negative note I’ll throw out some actions you can take to produce real actionable and measurable results.

1. Be Human – Scale the social space by applying the proper resources. Those are humans behind the keyboards just like they are humans in your physical store locations. Don’t treat them any differently, bullshit influential or not!
2. Be Helpful – If someone needs help with a product or service you have proper knowledge in, be helpful!
3. Listen to your constituent groups – Answer their needs with niche or improved products and services based on their FREE feedback.
4. Extract actionable data – What are your competitors doing? Where is your market trending? What are the needs of your customers?
5. Engage and Empower Existing Communities and Recognize Brand Advocates – I worked with a museum at one point in my career and their mantra was to “build” an online community. The best advice I ever gave them was to recognize those that were already making YouTube videos, posting to Flickr, advocating on Facebook and Tweeting their experience. No “Building needed” simply recognizing these people in tangible ways grew that community 100 fold in six months! With measurable results and deep actionable insights I might add.

These are just a few. Master the basics people. Stop worrying about complex bullshit zero value algorithms that your CFO or client is going to call you out on anyway! At the end of the day, he or she is still going to ask you where the money in the bank is.

I welcome your comments.

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About Keith
Keith is Director, Marketing & Communications for Carbonview Research. Carbonview is a full service market research company working with ad agencies, brand managers and interactive professionals. Keith's passions include marketing, measurement, social media and his family.


  1. Randy Zwitch on June 30, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    (Time to flesh out what I tweeted to you earlier today)

    The more I play around with Klout, the less it makes sense to me from a measurement perspective. Because I can ask people RT me, I increase my “amplification”? By goofing around making measure puns, and generally bs-ing with people I’ve never met, I’m somehow influential in web analytics? I think not.

    But even worse than that, if I sign into Klout each day, I can add Klout points to my followers (or something…again, doesn’t make sense)? has no real value for me visiting each day. There’s no content other than my score, which changes based on whether I tweet or not, or use Facebook, or LinkedIn. I’m 1-in-500 billion…so give me an offer to Subway!

    No thanks, I already ate.

    The more I think about social media, the more I think about business activities like a face-to-face meeting with a client. Is the value easily measured? Nope. Is there value…in some cases yes, in some cases its just a vacation masquerading as work. So a company needs to understand that their customers are *somewhere*, and talk to them there.

    That’s all the value I need to know.

  2. Keith on June 30, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    Thanks for the comment. A few thoughts:

    1. Don’t ever think that you are in no way an influencer. I read your tweets daily and the stuff you share is always great stuff. Who cares what an algorithm says.

    2. There is a reason I didn’t actually use the Klout name in this post. This is because I really think those guys are super smart and I am a huge advocate for agile development and experimentation. I think they really do understand our needs and they are trying to work more towards bringing us data that is relevant. At the same time I understand your struggle with the data there. It just doesn’t bring you enough actionable insight. Your not going to stop being YOU for the sake of pleasing a machine. That’s not your audience.

    That being said, it would be interesting to know what types of success metrics the companies that are leveraging things like Klout perks are using. So I’m open to the discussion and wish them well. It can only help the industry.

    3. Finally, as I said in the post there are things you can measure and there is certainly value that can be extracted from the social media space. What I am seeing all too often is people putting the ability to measure something ahead of purpose. You need the strategy and purpose first.

  3. Michele Hinojosa on June 30, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    Hi Keith. First of all, thank you for making me think.

    Where I’m struggling here is that you’ve essentially disregarded influence, but I’m not seeing what you argue is more important. Yes, apply resources, be helpful, etc. But for #4 where you talk about extracting actionable data – what do you recommend? If influence isn’t “it”, is something else?

    I agree influence can be ego-driven – for the person whose influence is being measured. Being concerned with your own influence is definitely something that may cause you to fall in the lake and drown.

    However, to flip around from a company’s side, and what they would hope to get from influence. Playing devil’s advocate to you here – there’s an argument that a business can use “influence” (whatever you want to call it – impact, klout, whatever) to determine how big a deal something is, how far a positive or negative message will travel, and act accordingly. Let’s say a company receives a lot of social media engagement, and they use it to decide who to respond to, in what order. (I’m putting aside whether it’s right or wrong for them to use it like that.) Is it not then actionable? If it’s actionable, is that then okay?

    I’m also struggling to see how this is so new. You argue it’s not right to prioritise service based on influence. But social media isn’t reinventing the wheel, and this sounds analogous to other preferred customer programs. Doesn’t American Airlines give customer service priority to Executive Platinum members? Doesn’t a restaurant give preferred treatment to a celebrity, or a reviewer? Is this different? Should it be?

    I wonder if the issue is not that influence is completely invaluable, but that it’s a tiny, tiny part of the puzzle. All things in context, after all. Is this the overall message – stop being obsessed with it as the SOLE determinant?

    You suggest at the end that your CFO or client will ask about money. Curious then your perspective on tying to revenue? Is that the ultimate message?

    I suppose I am just asking to hear more ;-)

  4. Keith on June 30, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    Michelle, A couple thoughts.

    1. i’m not discounting influence all together, I just don’t believe it’s currently a very valuable metric. Will it get there? Maybe. If we can apply segmentation and other factors it may become a very viable metric.

    2. As I said in the Twitter chat, I never want to see a company use “Influence” to line people up as to whom they may take care of first. You’d be pissed if they did that at the grocery store. No one has to agree with me but I wont be recommending to my clients that they check a Klout score before responding to someone. Just like you wouldn’t do that in a physical setting. I see ZERO difference between the two.

    3. Influence as a metric for outreach. I guess that’s a possibility but that was my point about engaging existing advocates. I’m not a huge believer in buying fans or engaging just because they have a specific influence score. Its only my opinion but I believe that methodology to be flawed.

    Now what you said here

    “I wonder if the issue is not that influence is completely invaluable, but that it’s a tiny, tiny part of the puzzle. All things in context, after all. Is this the overall message – stop being obsessed with it as the SOLE determinant?”

    is exactly what I’m thinking. In terms of weighting I give it very little. I say the same about machine generated sentiment. It’s not there yet, therefore it is not relevant. As I said above, there are better places to focus your effort and resources.

    As far as the revenue metric. YES. It always leads back to revenue and sustainability. I tread light ground here as i don’t want the message to become “Every tweet should drive revenue” but yes that is certainly an important metric. One I will explore further in another post.

  5. Randy Zwitch on June 30, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    Thanks Keith. I wasn’t trying to feign a self-deprecating stance about web analytics, just that I don’t publish articles (yet!) and ‘start the conversation.’ That’s how I see influence…more about shaping a conversation and less about commenting at the margins.

    Maybe that’s why “influence” is so hard to measure. What are we talking about, really? Since a measurement service (that may or may not be Klout, noted) is defining what’s important in determining their algorithm, how does a business tweak that to make it important to THEIR business problem/need?

    In some ways, I wonder if social measurement will eventually go like credit scoring. There’s *the* FICO, all of the FICO offshoots, and then custom algorithms developed by lenders themselves.

  6. Jim Novo on June 30, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    The tendency to invent new online Marketing metrics is directly correlated to the frequency of stable, definitive metrics proving an idea, technique, or platform is worth much less to a business than people think it is.

  7. Keith Burtis on June 30, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    Randy, This is the perfect time then. I am formally asking you to join the Measure Mob. Lets get you speaking your mind here :) Of course if you’d like too. Lets talk early nect week and get you in the contributor column :) .

  8. Keith Burtis on June 30, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    Thanks so much for the comment. That short comment in and of itself really sums it up and could be a valuable blog post in and of itself. So my simple response; Agreed!

  9. Ned Kumar on June 30, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    Hi Keith,
    A good post in bringing the issues with influence upfront. However, I am going to be in the minority and argue that influence is an important component but it is the measures & how it is used that is faulty.

    I would be the first one to agree that the current [in]famous measures like Kout, PeerIndex and a few others are far from perfect. In fact, a couple of them can even give an erroneous indication of the person’s influence (and can be gamed).

    Part of the problem here is folks really not understanding what influence is. Influence is very context based – I might be influential for a certain situation/need but absolutely non-influential for another situation. So creating a generic measure and using that to prioritize is a bad model to start with.

    Also there are many types of influence, or to put it another way influence can arise from multiple factors. One could be well “connected” in the network, or one could be highly “reputed” in their field, or one could serve as the “bridge” among critical networks etc..

    Bottom line, I think the Klouts & Peerindex etc. are trying very hard to make their ‘metric’ more robust but given the nature of influence, it is a challenging and seemingly impossible task (unless there is some dynamic nature build into it based on certain inputs). I don’t think those scores are ready to be used for commercial purposes yet but they can definitely be used by folks to get relative measures – and more importantly learn what is working and what is not.


  10. Jim Novo on June 30, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    Ned makes valid points here and I don’t think we are in disagreement.

    What I object to is people throwing out random, not scientifically tested metrics based on opinions / a vendor / PR view of the universe as legitimate measures of “truth”. I believe social can generate value, the real question is under what circumstances and what the value is versus alternatives for the same investment.

    Social Marketing can work for some situations, not for others, and understanding the difference separates the people who are in “Marketing” from those in “Advertising”. The people in Advertising (in my opinion) frequently make poor decisions in the social area; Marketing folks get it because they are customer-centric.

    Marketing people generally start with the Customer and work backwards to the Media, as opposed to Advertising people who start with the Media, and often try to force linkage forward to the Customer.

    Which kind of person are you, Marketing or Advertising?

  11. Ned Kumar on June 30, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    Jim, excellent points made on “looking at the circumstances” and “starting with the customer”. Forget about doing any complicated stuff – just by focusing on these two factors a firm can solve most of their problems :-)


  12. Keith on June 30, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    OK Guys, Great feedback, however we seem to have skidded a bit off the point of the article from the legitimacy of metrics like influence and standard valuations of a fan, the latter largely ignored, to whether social media itself is legitimate.

    Jim, as for the answer to “Marketing or Advertising” I would certainly fall in the marketing bucket but would even like to think I am more than that. I’m a marketer with a customer centric focus who enjoys extracting useful insights from website and social data. I might even be better described as a customer or end-user advocate.

    Just recently I wrote about a concept called S.C.A.D. ( )where one of the main points was that WE as niche professionals within the digital ecosystem need to realize that the digital universe does not revolve around the measurement professional, the strategist, or the developers but rather we all need to be working in harmony to meet the needs of the customer or end-user. Social Media is in most cases a big spoke on that wheel that makes our digital lives turn. It’s certainly been my area of focus over the last 5-6 years as a digital professional. I would welcome you both to listen to our Measure Mob Podcast as social often becomes the largest topic. Heck, we should have you both on!

    Jim, again I thinked you wrapped this succinctly with, “What I object to is people throwing out random, not scientifically tested metrics based on opinions / a vendor / PR view of the universe as legitimate measures of “truth”. I believe social can generate value, the real question is under what circumstances and what the value is versus alternatives for the same investment.”

    My gripe is similar in that we want to use these (in my opinion) fairly useless “influence” metrics and “standard valuations for a fan” just because they are getting attention and buzz. Attention and buzz don’t make them business worthy in my book.

    Thanks again for the feedback guys, and YES, every situation, every campaign, every “circumstance” requires and deserves that the practitioner(s) build around the specific needs and objectives.

  13. Jim Novo on June 30, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    Keith, guess I was not clear, when I said “Which kind of person are you?” I meant people reading this post should ask themselves whether they are viewing the social world through the right lens. There is a tendency for many people to view online issues from an Advertising perspective, which I think fuels this creation of useless metrics, as if doing so fills a “gap”. A much better approach would be to view these issues through the broader Marketing lens, where these same people would find there are plenty of metrics already available for the task at hand.

    For example, I don’t often find in all this talk about creating “influence” any mention of the “influence-able” issue, the audience for the influence. If you create influence but the audience is not particularly influence-able, then have you created any value?

    Think about it.

    This is a really simple example of the difference between the Advertising and Marketing views. The Advertising view assumes the creation of influence has value; the Marketing view would start with the audience / customer and ask, “Are they influence-able?” before assuming the creation of influence would have any value.

    There are proven ways to measure “influence”, but these approaches are difficult to implement. This should not be an excuse to substitute “easy” metrics that deliver a false sense of value.

  14. Keith Burtis on June 30, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    Jim, great way to explain that. Again, I agre with you here. I often talk about the culture of social in my talks and your right on.

  15. Ned Kumar on June 30, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    My response was about influence metrics and the fact that there is nothing wrong with using the concept of ‘influence’ per se but the need to understand what you want accomplished and how you want to go about it.

    Bottom line, don’t depend on the tools & measures out there to decide who the influentials are for your business. If you really want to do a good job then you have to look at your context, your customers, and your specific objectives for the given task.


  16. This Week in Social Analytics #5 at TweetReach Blog on June 30, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    [...] Stop Focusing on Bullshit Social Metrics and Start Focusing on Real Value Keith Burtis takes to task metrics that either have no basis in fact, or those that don’t drive business value. Good conversation in the comments, too from Michele Hinojosa, Randy Zwitch and others. [...]

  17. Have social 'influence' scores become another FICO? | on June 30, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    [...] (the web analysts and marketers most likely experimenting in these new channels) are speaking out pretty loudly about understanding the positives and the cautions behind these [...]

  18. Todd Randall Jordan (@Tojosan) on June 30, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    Solid read.
    Talk about serendipity! Just today, over a Twitter lunch, I was asked about a specific ranking system, and how I got to be #2 there.

    Some immediate feedback I gave:
    1) I could be #1 if it was important. <-snark much right?
    2) It's not important outside that index.
    3) It's not a single thing they measure.

    Ultimately I told them it's not just about numbers. Ranking, followers, etc aren't the goal. The proliferation of such indexes is above all else distracting.

    It's a huge distraction for those newly exposed to social networking and those tools at the same time. It leads to the follow on conversation topic – how can I get more followers – don't I need lots of followers to sell me/my product?

    Tees for example, to some it might seem logical to follow/follow back everyone on the Internet. Interesting not everyone on the net wants your tees. Better still to find the people that want tees and connect with them. <- in either case your 'index' score makes zero difference, even if the latter is more effective.

    Beyond this topic, love the solid understandable writing here. Glad to have you along.

  19. Robert Madison on June 30, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    Great post, Keith! I think we’re gonna get along just fine!

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