Listening to many voices through social media measurement

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Embracing the chaotic nature of studying many groups and interests

If you’ve ever read one of those “word jumble” sentences in which all the words are horribly misspelled, but somehow, you can miraculously read and comprehend it quickly anyway (“Arinocdcg to rencet rseaerch, the hmuan brian is plrectfey albe to raed colmpex pasasges of txet”), you have experienced the human brain’s deep need to recognize patterns. So it comes as no surprise that, when using multiple social media metrics to gauge the influence of a particular blog or social network, it’s tempting to look for patterns.

Inconveniently, there’s a kind of asymmetry to social media research. Different sources sometimes don’t reflect each other’s indications of which new media outlets are most worthy of your attention and effort. A particular blog may have a high rating by one measure, and look roundly ignored by another. But all that chaos makes perfect sense: because these measures are simply representations of the various groups of people—each with its own Web usage habits—who interact with social media in different ways.

To an extent, you can search for these patterns on your own, using free tools like Google BlogSearch and Technorati to gather information on how many inbound links and mentions a particular blog or site has garnered. It’s also a great idea to check social bookmarking sites like Digg and Delicious to see if your target is generating buzz there. All that takes time and effort, but knowing where your products and services are already being disussed online, and where you can develop relationships to increase your exposure, have never been more crucial. Cision recently launched a Social Media Dashboard in partnership with Radian6, which aggregates all these metrics in a variety of ways, and allows you to filter them by topic for both media research (i.e., figuring which blogs and social networks are most worthwhile to engage) and measurement (finding and evaluating your mentions in the social Web).

It’s natural to ask where the most meaningful metrics can be found. Comments? Unique commenters? Inbound links? Citations on social bookmarking sites? What about more traditional measures like Unique Visitors per Month, RSS subscribers or e-mail subscribers? If only one media metric served as a reliable indicator of any site’s popularity as measured by the others, it could serve as the gold standard. The problem is, there are few patterns.

We did a quick study of social metrics for a group of 200 blogs, all well known. Within that group, no more than 35 percent of the time could any single metric accurately predict which other metrics would also rate a particular blog in the top 10 percent of the group.

In the end, aren’t the opinions of media research panels, bloggers posting links, blog commenters, RSS users, and social news sharers all worth considering? When trying to evaluate which social technologies to focus on, you may find it helpful to investigate which outlets in the group you’re looking at have the best average score across several measures. But don’t count on one to tell you the whole story.

Tags : social media

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