You’ve Got the Wrong Measures!

by Jay Deragon on 08/02/2010

The prevailing business philosophy around social media are consumed with measuring everything with the aim of determining effectiveness.

The marketplace is exploding with tools to provide data insights, knowledge and wisdom about what are and aren’t effective social media strategies.

The obsession with measuring all things social is indicative of thinking inside rather than out. Inside thinking focuses on justification of time, energy and efforts all aimed at creating results.

Outside thinking focuses on learning market needs and intents. Do you measure market needs and intents? The irony of measuring all things social is that the measures are put for the moment.

Given the dynamic nature of how people use social technology, how suppliers are advancing the technology and the subsequent dynamics everything is but for a moment.  If things are in a dynamic state then measuring a moment becomes irrelevant to what is happening the next moment.

Is Measuring Social Relevant?

Business mindsets believe that measurement of “things” is relevant to managing results. Production cycle times, process variation, employee productivity, sales, marketing etc.  are all “things” that most businesses believe they should measure. Most business managers don’t realize many important things, that must be managed, cannot be measured. You can’t measure everything of importance to management. You must still manage those important things.

W. Edwards Deming once said “Organizations are a means to improve the lives we live.” How would you measure whether your organization is improving people’s lives?

Brainwashed By Measuring Results

Measurement-based or fact-based management is not new.  A form of it was developed during and after World War II when so called “Whiz Kids” became powerful managers within the Fortune 500. This approach to management was oriented to an industrial age that is now in the past but the practices still exist. It strikes us as cold and impersonal, the mind-set of Dilbert’s boss.

Today we still see organizations holding on to part of the old mind-set, the measurement part. Measurement mentality continues on as a sacred cow to justify actions against the holy grail of results. Meanwhile markets have become more and more dynamic fueling constant changes largely because of the influence of technology and communications.

A Moment of Measure

The headlines tell us that things are changing rapidly. One day it is all about Google Buzz followed by a new move by Facebook. We chase these developments and look for ways to use these developments to produce results. However, by the time we get around to using something new something else replaces it.

The moment of measuring subsequent results become irrelevant because of the flood of new developments. Stepping away from measuring the moment can be helpful if not critical to seeing the real meaning in a space that is not stable. The only thing stable is that things will change. Changes in utility, reach and usability changes the measures of value. Obsessed with measures we jump around measuring the impact of changes only to realize new influences are changing the dynamics which changes the result.

The relevant moment of measure is in context to improvement. Without enabling improvement no measure can be relevant or in context with the intent of an organizations effort to improve results. However end results are influenced by actions way upstream. Marketing and advertising actions are downstream. Unless an organization understands and improves the attributes that influence all things downstream then efforts to measure and improve downstream actions become fruitless.

Upstream means you have to start at the beginning of any system. The usage and outcomes of social media are downstream. To fix or prevent a flood you have to go upstream to the source. Measuring how fast or slow the water is rising doesn’t address the influences that make the water rise or subside.

Results are but for the moment. Knowing what influences results is a philosophy of  learning and improving forever.

{ 1 comment }

Jeff Mowatt August 2, 2010 at 5:35 am

Working in the field of social business, by which I mean not only deploying social media to commercial advantage, but to deploy consequent profit for social objectives, there’s growing debate on the metrics of SROI which attempts tp relate in financial terms, what has been saved by a particular social investment.

On our website we make the point that “Enterprise profitability and economic success cannot be fairly measured in terms of gains of money capital alone. Profit is redefined in human terms rather than pure quantitative analyses that remove human and social concerns in the name of profit.”

In practical terms, that might mean recognition of the unquantifiable. in the context of our work for example – a child removed from the care system and placed in a family home may well have a measurable monetary impact in reducing public spending but to attempt to measure what consequences derive from establishing a secure family environment would be a near impossible task. We know that it has positive value and that aiming for positive to outweigh negative we can reasonably claim to have achieved human progress.

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