Social Media Numbers That Don’t Mean Jack

As social media and other digital means increasingly blend into traditional PR, the macro goals remain the same:

Generate share-of-mind with the target audience(s), and if we’re living right, brand preference.

In the old days – say the 1980s after Nixon resigned, but before the Gulf war – correlating a story in a magazine like BusinessWeek to share-of-mind was relatively easy. Because readers paid for the BusinessWeek subscription, we figured most subscribers actually read the magazine, so we counted the number of subscribers as media impressions. The more media impressions generated, the greater the share-of-mind for the client.

Fast forward to today, everyone including myself evangelizes the virtues of social media, but the dots don’t always connect. Just because your content is tweeted, liked and linked doesn’t necessarily mean it’s being read – much less absorbed – in a meaningful way.

Here’s an example.

I noted last year that Forbes straddles earned and owned media offering a low bar for company types to land blogging gigs. You gain the cachet of being on a branded media property, and Forbes gains free content which it monetizes through advertising.

It stands to reason that if companies promote this content through social channels, more readers will find the content which in turn builds share-of-mind.

It’s all so logical.

Yet, the reality often deviates from the story line.

Look at this Forbes post from Jennifer Leggio who heads corporate marketing for Sourcefire. Shortly after publishing the post, the views number 194 even with the “shares” from Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter reaching 119.

social media, storytelling, business storytelling, business communications, PR, PR storytelling, The Hoffman Agency, Forbes, Jennifer Leggio, Sourcefire

Knowing there can be a lag between the share and when people take action, look at the same post a day later.

social media, storytelling, business storytelling, business communications, PR, PR storytelling, The Hoffman Agency, Forbes, Jennifer Leggio, Sourcefire

The ratio looks better with 250 shares among the big three and 702 views of the post, but the number of views – back to the concept that share-of-mind requires that people read the piece – are still modest.

Consider the 143 tweets by day 2. Assuming each person reaches an audience of 1,000 (to make the math easy), that’s a total audience of 143,000. Without accounting for the other social shares, this means .0049% of the audience reached by Twitter read the story.

I’d call that a sobering statistic.

Even checking the numbers this morning, four days after publishing, the ratio of social shares to page views is 941:275.

This has nothing to do with Leggio – a talented marketer – or the content.

The point is, it’s easy to be seduced by numbers that in reality don’t advance share-of-mind, much less the brand.

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2 comments

2 Comments so far

  1. Mary Planding January 28th, 2013 1:58 pm

    Great post Lou. Spot on! Numbers don’t necessarily lie, but our interpretation often distorts reality. SocMed numbers aren’t meaningful just yet because it’s STILL so hard to tie ephemeral behavior to the desired end result of advancing the brand.

    It does indeed remind me of the “good ole’ days” when we kept trying to justify ad media buys for unpaid vs. paid subscription magazines. The more things change, the more they seem to remain the same… ;-)

  2. hoffman January 28th, 2013 3:21 pm

    Now, there’s a line I’m going to “borrow:”

    “… it’s still so hard to tie ephemeral behavior to the desired end result…”

    Totally agree.

    Thanks for adding your perspective Mary.

    I think this macro topic is ripe for research and dialog.

    For example, our slideshare deck that went live last week has around 200 shares (among the big three) with over 32K views, a ratio that’s a far cry from the Forbes example.

    But we need to understand the “how” (and/or “why”) so we can make it a repeatable process.

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