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Empty Endorsements: Moving beyond retweets and “likes”

This post was written by Phil Kam, Cision Analysis’ director of new services who is integrating social media analysis into general PR measurement protocol.

This summer, 70 million visitors enjoyed exhibits and performances from 189 countries at the Shanghai World Expo 2010. From Shaolin Temple martial arts to African tribal dances and U.S. marching bands, the experience would have been sublime…were it not for plastic clappers. 

This seemingly innocent product—costing no more than US$1 wholesale and given as marketing gifts—nearly ruined every one of the performances I painstakingly selected.

The devices made loud clapping sounds effortlessly—so loudly and so effortlessly, in fact, that applause, which traditionally rewards performances, lost its meaning. The length and volume of the applause no longer indicated “degree of appreciation.” I, as an observer, left with no sense of which performances had best resonated with the audience. With no meaningful feedback, imagine what it was like for the performers.

If lowering the required effort changed the meaning, is there a parallel with the availability of retweet tools, “likes” and sharing icons and applications that are the standard for social media content?

Clipping articles, making a mental note to tell a friend, even cutting and pasting to a blog or email, indicates a level of interest and attention. Now, sharing is not only effortless, but mindless; people who are so well equipped to be social journalists often lack skills to be content editors. Acting under the premise of “more is better” or “who shared first,” they pass information with no premeditation of who their audiences are. How often are Facebook users seeing the same shared link from their circle of friends, or receiving the same breaking-news retweet from various social circles? How often is it ignored?

If “thunderous” applause generated by noise makers after a performance was no longer as strong a reflection of actual audience approval, then a social media story aggregating huge collective followings and visitorships from shares and retweets may not be a true indicator of interest and attention.  If “clapping” is no longer a reward, but an expectation, can one argue that sharing is, in some degree, standard for all social media content?

Social media is constantly evolving, and measuring its impact is not as straightforward as it used to be. To properly gauge real applause today, new social media metrics and measurements may be called for to differentiate sincere and passive interest.

Tags : social media

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