Measurement Silos: Are You Measuring Media or People?


When you listen to social media, what paradigm do you bring with you? Are you thinking about measuring media, or are you thinking about people sharing their thoughts? Listening to the discussions at the recent Word of Mouth Research Symposium, this finally came together for me: part of the reason social media measurement is confusing people is the cross-functional impact of social media, and measurement—like everything else—is stuck in silos. Looking at familiar faces at WOMMA, I realized that each silo has its measurement club, and I'm not sure they know about each other.

Measuring Media or People?
As I've posted before, social media measurement means different things to different people. They're bringing assumptions, goals and metrics from work they did before social media, but they don't usually declare their perspective when they set out to "measure social media." That's left as an exercise for the reader, who may not realize that a particular measurement silo is at work.

I'm seeing at least four different measurement silos intersecting with social media:

  • PR/media measurement
    Viewing social media as media for their ability to reach an audience.

  • Word of mouth measurement
    Viewing social media as online interactions among people (customers, if you're lucky).

  • Web analytics
    Interested in people's usage patterns, as both audience and customers.

  • Opinion research
    Mining online opinions as the world's largest focus group.
Now, I'm not questioning the validity of these approches; each can be a valuable way to look at what's happening online. The challenge is that the blurring of media and people—evidenced in terms like "consumer-generated media"—blurs the boundaries between traditional research objectives. So we have ongoing debates about AVE, NPS and engagement as the measurement silos try to wrap their arms around the social media challenge (and ROI) in isolation.

Today's measurement discussions recall the blind men and an elephant. Social media content represents both media and people, depending on what's happening and how you want to look at it. Recommendations to start measurement with an understanding of objectives are obviously on the right track. I wonder if we can introduce the measurement clubs from the separate silos and stop talking past each other?


Nice post. Coming from the PR side, I think we need to adjust our perspective on measuring social media. I think there is a lot of focus on finding influencers and gauging their power to distribute messages. For me, social media really represents feedback on our outreach efforts, what IPR would call Outtakes. Thus, what PR should really be looking for is slightly different than traditional media measurement. Instead of counting and weighing the value/influence of a post/tweet/etc., PR should be focused more on changes in tonality of the conversation, frequency of the conversation, quality of message playback (did the audience hear what we were trying to say?), etc. What we're really seeing is raw, unfiltered feedback from our target audience, not an intermediary. Such an approach would account for the effectiveness of both programs to directly reach out in social media but also the influence exerted through more traditional PR programs (media relations, analyst relations, events, etc.).

Good post.
My personal opinion is that as social media blurs the boundaries between media and people, the focus will shift more and more towards the practices that measure people, not media. After all, it's people who buy your products, media is just a way to reach them.

Great post, Nathan! It is time for marketers to recognize the difference between measurement of social MEDIA and measurement of social MEDIA AUDIENCES. To me, the former is concerned with things that are happening exclusively on the web, whereas the latter is studying and connecting BOTH sides of the computer screen. You can rank blogs based on their popularity (social media measurement), or you can classify them based on psychographic and behaviographic make-up of their audiences (social media AUDIENCE measurement). To me, the former is analytics 1.0. The future belongs to the latter: measuring those who come to the web, and what they are doing there, and not the web itself. Traditional media undergoing similar changes: moving from reporting circulations and ratings to measuring engagement and profiling audiences.

Lots of votes in favor of measuring people here—so PR/media measurement folks need to understand WOM/web metrics? Suddenly I'm flashing back to Barak Libai saying that measuring the ROI of WOM requires agent-based modeling, and I wonder how much a quantitative skills gap will get in the way.

I think we'll still measure media as media, but it's worth considering how media (process) metrics align with people (results) metrics. Elad goes straight to the point that, ultimately, it's all about what customers—people—do in response that matters.

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About Nathan Gilliatt

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  • Voracious learner and explorer. Analyst tracking technologies and markets in intelligence, analytics and social media. Advisor to buyers, sellers and investors. Writing my next book.
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