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Choosing metrics for measuring impact

Photo courtesy of Peuplier via Flickr

Photo of the ruins of Athen's Bouleuterion courtesy of Peuplier via Flickr

Is the social Web more like the Bouleuterion of ancient Athens, a marketplace of ideas where individuals wander and discuss freely, or is it a platform where existing networks, including professional, community, social and volunteer groups, interact largely within themselves, as they do in real life? For anyone interested in generating buzz online, that’s not an academic question. It drives whether you measure success in terms of the size of the group you build, or the number of interactions you generate.

For professional communicators, the Athenian critique is more attractive. Surely it’s more encouraging to think that the entire online population represents a potential target for your message than only certain preexisting groups. But more practically, should your client be more impressed that you built a Twitter account  with 1,000 followers, or that you got 50 of those people to retweet or respond to you today? Of course, you should include both. But in the end, measures of interaction prove more meaningful than measures of connection. Check out how metrics offered by Facebook for page administrators emphasize wall posts, links and comments over sheer number of fans.

Frankly, who cares how many fans your Facebook page has, or how many Twitter followers you have, if none of them ever act on your content? Similarly, on LinkedIn you should focus on how many people you’ve exchanged useful information with through LinkedIn Answers or other tools, rather than how many people you’ve traded business cards with or “invited to connect” to your network. (Check out a great post on how to leverage LinkedIn from social media consultant Rebekah King, and also this Economist article discussing the difference between LinkedIn and an old-school professional network like a Moose Lodge.)

As we’ve discussed many times on this blog, social metrics that measure content sharing provide a better indication of influence than those that measure passive consumption of content. That concept extends to social sites like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook as well. So when measuring your impact on those sites, think in terms of how many people you’ve interacted with in the Bouleteurion, rather than how many people you’ve merely convinced to join your Moose Lodge.

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