Stop Calling it Influence

It’s not difficult to understand why marketers want to measure “influence.” At its most basic level, social media marketing is about consumers talking about your brand online — either positive or negatively — and potentially changing the opinion of someone who is somewhere in the long funnel between basic awareness and purchase. The value of that author’s message, as qualitative as it is, is just begging to be measured in some way. Surely a casual mention of your product in a tweet to five followers has less value than a spectacularly ringing endorsement in a blog read by a million people each month? And I agree that it does.

Where we start to run into trouble is when we make the seemingly innocent leap from a list of variables that may lead us to a more complete understanding of the value of that post — things like message intent, audience size, and more — to saying instead that we can combine those variables into an algorithm that can assign a numerical value to the “influence” of the author, and furthermore use that score to base business decisions in the future.

If I inspire you to do nothing else today, check out this interview with one of my heroes on the subject of influence, Duncan Watts. His POV really boils down to one thing — prove to me that author X has been more influential than author Y, and then prove to me that influence can be replicated again, and then you can start to define influence. The simple truth is, you can’t. We have been trying to nail this down for over a decade and still have debates about the value of a ridiculous service like Klout. I actually don’t know any serious marketers who think Klout has real value, unless your goal is to show how easy it is to manipulate services like Klout.

Put simply, it’s only influence if the author has proven to influence someone’s opinion, and can be relied upon to do it again. And if you want to apply a score to it, then that score must also mean something — a score of 60 should mean that author is twice as valuable (can drive twice as many sales and drive twice as many people to change their negative opinion of your brand) as an author who has a score of 30.

So if you want to quantify the difference between that tweet to five people and the huge blog endorsement, what are you to do? For now, keep it simple. Look at the reach of each message (because audience size matters) and the total number of messages (because volume of messages matter) and for the most part assume all other things are equal. They aren’t equal, but with enough scale it doesn’t matter. And the alternative just ends up throwing you down a rabbit hole anyway, debating about the relative value of 100 different qualitative measures of each message. You have better things to do.

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Facebook Quietly Destroys Half the Value of Your Brand Page Overnight

First let me give credit to Geoffrey Colon at Ogilvy for breaking this news over a week ago, though before data had accumulated enough to understand the full impact of what Facebook has done. And let me also say that Facebook can fix this at any time, and may be forced to, considering the backlash they are about to receive from the very advertisers that are practically their sole source of revenue.

Bottom line is this: on or around September 21, Facebook made a major change to the Edgerank algorithm that determines, among other things, which of your brand’s Facebook posts end up in your fans’ feeds, and that change resulted in many pages losing 40-50% (or more) of their organic reach. Let me say that again a different way: with no warning and no explanation by Facebook, your brand page may have just lost half of its value.

As an analyst and lover of statistics and data, I should say it’s a bit early to nail the number down completely. But I pulled data from a number of pages I have access to, and all of them show a sudden decrease in reach starting on September 21, ranging anywhere from a 24% to a 63% decrease (averaging out to around 45%) in average organic reach when compared to the previous two months. And that page that had a 24% decrease has a huge fan base, so that percentage translates into 100,000 fewer fans, on average, seeing each post. 100,000 fans.

There have been stories written previously about how only 16% of the fans of a brand page will see a given post, though my internal numbers range anywhere from 7% to 15% depending on the size of the fan base. That, frankly, was pretty horrible, but could be explained away by insisting that Facebook knew better, and part of their insight into your fans was that they responded better when Facebook made the decision of which posts they should see. We have to trust Facebook, because they don’t tell us a whole lot about our fans; unlike other platforms like Twitter, you can’t even pull a list of all the fans who like your page.

This change is more than just a minor tweak. This is Facebook doubling down and admitting that they really don’t have any interest in brands having a real relationship with the fans they’ve accumulated. This is admitting they don’t know how to create a real ad model other than making brands pay to talk to the fans they may have already paid to find and cultivate. This is also Facebook (probably) admitting that they don’t care about their user experience and are perfectly fine increasing the number of ads or promoted posts that you will see every day.

One could make the argument that the value of a Facebook fan page is not all in the reach you get with each post, that there is value in having a presence there, that the demographic and other data you can gather about your fans is valuable, and that perhaps being able to reach that audience, even if it costs money, has value. To that I say, maybe. But the real value of the page is in the ability for a brand to reach its fans and to engage with them, and that has suddenly become much harder.

How will the industry respond? Hard to say, because Facebook is still the only game in town, at least when it comes to large social networks. They made this change because they can, and I suspect they aren’t very worried about brands pulling out and giving up. I think it speaks volumes that Facebook made no public announcement about this and didn’t reach out to its partners to explain ahead of time. Time will tell, but I know the analysts and strategists I talk to think Facebook has finally crossed a line that puts their entire value proposition in question.

 

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How to Measure Facebook

Before I get started, I want to make clear that what follows is not a definitive guide to Facebook measurement for all businesses in all contexts. In fact, I feel quite strongly that anyone who claims that they have a definitive guide about Facebook measurement is lying to you and making things worse for all of us in this field. I feel the same for almost any aspect of social media measurement, actually — we simply don’t have enough data from every type of business and every context to make claims like that, and we probably won’t for some time. That’s ok. It’s the elephant in the room for many of us and I’m sure I’ll address how to handle that elephant with clients in a later post.

Let’s start with a 40,000 foot view. Why is your (or your client’s) business on Facebook? I suspect it’s one or more of these reasons:

  1. Everyone else is, so we need to be too
  2. We see Facebook as another marketing channel and want to drive sales (or other lower funnel activities) through it
  3. We want to understand our consumers better
  4. We want to encourage advocacy of our brand through our fans

If you have another reason I’d love to hear it, by the way. But assuming this is a fairly comprehensive list, I think your measurement plan is dictated by which of these things applies to your business, so let’s address each in turn.

Everyone else is doing it: Yes, yes they are. But many of them have real business goals here and you should, too. My advice? Start with #3, move on to #4 while continuing to measure #3, and ignore #2 unless you meet very specific criteria. Which leads us to…

Facebook is another marketing channel: No, no it’s not. Well, almost never. Facebook is a place where people like to keep in touch with friends and colleagues by sharing things with each other. Brands get to play there too by giving some value back to fans that is commensurate with the value of hearing from a friend — whether it’s insider information, something entertaining, or something of value like a coupon. I think it’s a bad idea to treat Facebook as a marketing channel because you place your brand in a context of dishonesty, and social media for brands is all about being open and honest: you can’t sell to your fans while pretending like you’re not. If you are only concerned about selling something to your fans, then any post that is not about selling will be seen as a waste of time by the brand, and any post that is about selling will be a turn off to the fans. Your brand presence becomes schizophrenic. I have plenty of data showing that posts that have a “marketing” feel to them under-perform consistently because they don’t offer value to a fan, and a brand’s job in Facebook is to offer value. The ONLY way you can turn your Facebook page into a marketing channel is if you can somehow convince your fans that selling is the only reason for the page, and they should expect to be sold to consistently — whether it’s via coupons or deals or early access to sale events. If you can pull that off you eliminate the dishonesty, are no longer schizophrenic, and can track everything through Facebook the same way you would track any direct marketing efforts: with impression, click and conversion metrics via tracking cookies.

Understanding consumers better: Seriously, if you have a Facebook page and you’re not doing this, then start right now. Measurement around this can vary widely in both depth and scope; anywhere from periodic updates of the basic demographic information that Facebook supplies via Insights all the way to popping surveys via Facebook content and asking very detailed questions about your fans and their attitudes toward your brand and your Facebook presence. Lots of ways to do this, here’s some guidelines:

  • Determine what types of posts resonate most with your fans by categorizing them and then measuring reach and Facebook’s “talking about this” metric for those posts. And I don’t mean categorizing based on media — photo versus text versus video — because photos almost always do better and that isn’t very informative; I mean what kinds of content resonate and get engagement? You are there to supply value, so optimize that.
  • Track your demographics monthly and a) see how they are changing (if they do), especially if you are buying ads in Facebook, and b) see how those demos line up with your current overall customer base — are they different in any way? And more importantly, are they more or less in line with what you want your customer base to look like?
  • Facebook knows a lot more about your fan base than you do. Ask them if they can supply any psychographic or like-based affinity data — they may be willing to, especially if you are buying ads. This data can be evaluated the same way the standard demographic data can and can give valuable insight into your fans’ tastes.

Encouraging advocacy: I hope this is one of the reasons you’re there, because it’s the best reason. Even if you were clueless about your fans’ demographics and psychographics and interests, they are your fans and like you well enough to consume content you create AND to share that content with their friends, whether they realize it fully or not. This is what participation in social media platforms — Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and the rest — is all about. Measuring it is fairly straightforward; it’s about growing your fan base while maintaining or growing that base’s engagement with your content:

  • Count how many fans you have gained each week or month, and try to keep that growth consistent; I generally see around 2% growth monthly for large, established fan bases and much more for newer pages.
  • At the post level, pull your Facebook Insights and look at two columns: “Lifetime Post Total Reach” and “Lifetime Talking About This.” This tells you how many people saw the post, and how many people engaged in a way that their engagement was shared to their social graph. Divide that engagement number by the reach number and you have an engagement rate that actually means something. If you’re around 1% you’re doing ok; anything lower is substandard and anything higher is doing well.
  • If you have paid media running, note that your engagement rate will drop, because the (potentially millions of) people seeing your content will not be as engaged as your fans. It’s important for clients to understand that reach, impressions, fan growth, and raw engagement numbers will all go up during buys, but the rate of engagement will not reflect this benefit.

And just to be clear, advocacy matters because the goal of all of this is to create an environment where more consumers are exposed to positive, authentic messages about your brand delivered to them by people they trust. Though we haven’t gotten to a place where we know the specific impact of that environment on the bottom line we can all safely assume that it does impact it.

A final note — if you are trying to get to some sense of advocacy ROI by adding tracking codes to your Facebook posts to count clicks and lower funnel activity, consider that much of the influence your fans will have on their friends will not be visible via click tracking. Social ROI is hard to measure accurately not because it doesn’t influence buying behaviors, but because it has the potential to influence it in so many ways, and many of them will be difficult or impossible to track.

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The Value of a Facebook Fan

One of my least favorite analyses of social data is the “what is the value of X” metric, which pop up from time to time, with X being either a Twitter follower or retweet, a Facebook fan or comment, or any number of other measures which I would generally consider diagnostic, but which many marketers want to attach a hard dollar value to. A quick Google search for “value of a facebook fan” generates over 200,000 results, with answers ranging from around $1 to well over $100 (I’d link to them but I don’t want to encourage bad behavior). That should be enough to convince any reasonable person that there is not a single, correct answer, unless one is to believe that one person has totally nailed it and everyone else is helplessly confused.

nailed it

As with many problems in social measurement, the issue here is a desire to attach a familiar measure to the wrong thing. We see this over and over; brands want to understand the value of social so they go to what they know instead of understanding that social is not the same as other digital marketing channels, and is in fact not a true marketing channel at all. And, by the way, if you treat your social platforms like marketing channels, you will fail, so stop trying to measure it like one.

But to be clear on Facebook fan “value”. One can certainly determine the average value of a customer, or the average value of consumers who clicked on an ad, assuming clicks are being tracked to lower funnel measures. In both of these cases the “value” is simply the average revenue generated by each user in the set. The trick here is that one can safely assume that if you increase the number of users in the set (more customers, more consumers clicking on the same ad), that average value will stay about the same and revenue thus increases as that set gets larger.

The same is certainly not true for fans of a Facebook page. More fans does not necessarily mean more revenue — I’ve seen no solid data correlating the two. In reality the “value” of these consumers existed before they “liked” your page and is unaffected by the act of clicking that button. Becoming a fan is not inherently linked to a revenue-generating activity the way all other “value” measures must be. Becoming a fan is nothing more than a) someone (maybe) willing to share their fondness for your brand with their Facebook friends, and b) a desire to (maybe) hear a little more from your brand, whether it’s entertaining content or coupons. It’s not a promise to buy anything, and shouldn’t be treated as such.

If you shouldn’t put a hard value on your Facebook fans, then how do you measure the value of Facebook? I’ll cover that in my next post (partly, at least). Here’s a hint: your Facebook page isn’t a marketing channel, but your fans might be.

 

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No More Snake Oil

Almost everything I read about social media measurement (and strategy in general) falls into two categories:

  1. Advice or an algorithm that is so basic (and sometimes wrong) that I’m left wondering who exactly the intended audience is, because surely everyone who cares already knows that Facebook is not just about fan count, and you should be listening to conversations before engaging, and social ROI is about your specific business objectives. Right?
  2. Experts (maybe even gurus!) or vendors who claim to have your social media measurement problems solved with just one algorithm or one approach. Usually the answer is some sort of black box that returns a single number, and the higher that number is, the better your social programs are doing. It’s amazing!

This blog is devoted to those of you out there who are sick of all the snake oil, the magical solutions, the one-size-fits-all measurement schemes (cough cough Klout cough cough) and all the other bullshit that is being heaped upon us every day by people who probably know better, but who also know that many of the people they are selling this crap to don’t even know what social measurement questions they’re trying to answer, let alone what a real answer would look like. I am devoted to creating an environment for those of us who “get it” and need real answers. I will post about approaches that make sense and will call out those that don’t. And if you’re wondering why I think I’m qualified to even talk about this stuff, check out my About page.

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