I dreamed a dream of knowing how to determine a story’s influence

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Social media metrics bring you a landscape view from the crow’s nest

The spring of 2009 began with many sensational news items, but two stories during this past month, the Somali Pirates kidnapping and Susan Boyle’s singing delight, represent how social media data can provide a more insightful look at your company’s portrayal in different types of Internet conversations.

The two news stories shared sensationalism, evoking fairytales and fantasies from our childhood.  The Somali Pirate story was about a courageous, American cargo-ship captain kept hostage for days in the hands of Johnny Depp money-hungry pirates. Not only was the fate of the captain in doubt, as was the foreign policy competency of the newly-minted Obama administration.

Susan Boyle’s saga was of an unemployed, downtrodden woman ridiculed by three step-sisters judges on a British talent show before belting out a most beautiful rendition of I Dreamed a Dream from Les Misérables. Within days, she was whipped across the ocean and was appearing with Larry King and Oprah as a middle-aged Cinderella.

Unlike the pirate saga, Susan’s every move was fully captured on video, whereas Captain Richard Phillips’ fate on the sea was mostly story-telling by word of mouth. Thus, the more dynamic medium of video contributed heavily to the fact that Susan’s volume of social media (blogs, Websites, Twitter) was many times that of the Somali pirates and Captain Phillips (see chart 1 below).

An additional social media statistic is unique commenters, which measures the number of people who have posted comments to a blog or news post. This measurement, which represents audience participation, brings you closer to calculating your ROI as you capture reaction data from the public.

We’re able to tell from looking at chart 2 (below) that a segment of the public was much more engaged in the Somali pirate story by looking at the disproportionally larger number of unique commenters. This sounds rather intuitive, as the pirate story kindled opinions about U.S. foreign policy dilemmas, whereas the Susan story wasn’t particularly controversial unless you were offended by her choice of apparel.

But when it comes to news about the reputation of your firm, it’s risky to pre-determine how people react. After all, did you REALLY know that hoards of people weren’t offended by Susan’s apparel choice? That’s why it’s imperative to use multiple metrics when examining social media coverage, as the volume of coverage is just one of several metrics that paints a dynamic view of how wide-spread and influential a story’s life is.

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