Black + white = grey

Which of these things are not like the others?

a.    Black vs. white
b.    Mass vs. niche
c.    News vs. advertising
d.    Site-centric vs. person-centric
Census server vs. audience panel data
e.    None of the above (all are alike)

The answer is (d).  Really?

When I plunged into the huge world that is web analytics, I decided to focus on site/server-centric or census analytics, or the data you get from software like Google Analytics or Omniture.

After all, site-centric data gives you what people actually did. The comScore or Nielsen data comes from panels of people reporting what they said they did.

It makes sense that there are two different types of data, because there are two different needs:  Advertising needs overall site data that gives some demographic information and allows competitive comparisons, but the newsroom needs data that tracks traffic for every story in every section (otherwise known as “excruciating detail”).

Here’s the smug little chart I’ve been using in presentations.  (It got a nice comment from someone on Slideshare:  “The best way I’ve seen yet to describe the fundamentals of web data structures!”)

Census v panel

Things might not be so left-side vs. right-side now.  comScore and other panel vendors claim they’re now combining the best of both.  Josh Chasin of comScore asserts in Online Metrics Insider that its hybrid methodology is “helping to resolve what once seemed to be irreconcilable differences between two ways of counting….But this convergence doesn’t mean there isn’t still room for two distinct metrics disciplines….The function and purpose of these two data streams remains separate, and both are essential….panel data can make census server data better, and…server data can make panel data better.

I think I’ll still focus on census server data.  It’s too overwhelming to go deep into the panel side when there’s still so much to learn from the census side.

However, I’ll start following the evolution of hybrid measurement systems.  More data often just leads to more “so what” reports.  But we might be on our way to a better understanding of our audiences, which both the newsroom and the business sides desperately need.


Is your “in” crowd big enough?

Defining success in Twitter, Facebook and other social media services starts with identifying distinct niche communities based on shared interests and beliefs.  Each community member has different levels of participation and prominence.  And in each community there’s an “in” crowd whose actions determine whether others stick around.   Incrowd1sidOrg

How do you know who these influencers are and whether you have enough of them to keep a network alive and thriving?

Success in social media depends on both listening and doing.  It’s difficult to measure the listening part, but you can definitely measure how many people are doing something, and what they’re doing.

Success also depends on who is contributing.  However, a prominent person’s mere presence doesn’t mean he or she is an influencer.  A true influencer posts content, starts conversations, organizes meet-ups and otherwise engages community members.

For a metric to be useful, you need to have a starting point and a goal.  Setting a goal can start with a pure guess that you adjust once you have some data.  Or, your initial goal can be based on benchmarks from a source that makes sense for your strategy and objectives.

This eMarketer story, “Harnessing Active Brand Advocates,” summarizes findings from a social media survey done by Synovate, a research company.  The findings can help you determine whether you have a healthy number of influencers.

The survey found that 26 percent of U.S. Internet users posted online ratings or reviews.  Twenty percent contributed to online forums.  Meetup Eighteen percent attended a meet-up that originated online; almost 6 percent took an active role in organizing one.   The numbers didn’t vary much between men and women, but they did vary by age group, as you would expect.

It won’t be easy to gather this info from all of the multiple accounts you have on Twitter, Facebook and other services.  Measuring social media is art and science grounded in a thorough knowledge and understanding of what and who makes a particular social network work.

Before even counting influencers, I’d start with coldly assessing whether your news org is in–or out.200904_Project-Runway-lawsuit-settled What would it take to be in–and stay there?  Will it ever be possible?

I’m not sure it’s worth the time and resources for a news org to be in a network if it’s not an influencer.  Does just being a follower help or hurt?  Or do community members feel insulted if they perceive a news org is just putting in a half-hearted, token effort?

I suppose it would vary by community and news org.  Oh, great – that’s one more thing to measure and track.



Twitter: new medium, new metrics

It's a new year, so I'm hitting the reset button on my attempt to come up with a Twitter metrics methodology relevant to news organizations.

There's no better place to start than with Avinash Kaushik's November 2009 blog post.  Among other things, Kaushik is Google's "analytics evangelist."  He's not only an innovative web analytics thinker but also someone who really cares whether the common everyday professional understands this stuff – and uses it.

Why should news orgs measure their Twitter efforts?  Why don't they just tweet away and just count how much traffic Twitter sends to their sites?

OstrichTwitter is essential for news orgs.  News orgs won't be able to attract, build and engage audiences if they don't use social media successfully.   If news orgs don't believe this then…(insert your fave cliche about ostriches or whatever here).

Twitter takes a lot of time and effort.  At the very least, news orgs should use Twitter metrics so they can use their journalists' time and efforts effectively.  Who tweets?  Who doesn't?  Who should – and shouldn't?  Who should tweet more?  Less?  On what?  With whom?  Are news orgs reaching and engaging the audiences they need and want?

So, here are the key thoughts I have from Kaushik's blog. 

First, just as you shouldn't apply traditional mass media metrics to the web, you shouldn't use traditional web metrics to measure social media. 

Example: Total circulation/readership is a key performance indicator for print, but monthly unique visitors isn't.  You can count anything, but you shouldn't waste time on counts that don't directly lead to specific actions.

Kaushik:  "One of the biggest mistake companies and brands make about Twitter is that they think it is one more 'shout channel' like TV and radio and magazine ads or press releases. Twitter is not that. Twitter is a 'conversation channel,' a place where you can find the audience relevant to you (and your company and products and services and jihad) and engage in a conversation with them. It is not pitching, it is enriching the value of the ecosystem by participating."

For Twitter, Kaushik likes Klout's methodology for assessing reach, demand, engagement and velocity.  Klout gives metrics on each of these areas from which you can "pick and choose according to the objective/action/decision needed."

Klout also gives a total score or compound metric, which Kaushik warns against.  Compound metrics "can be subjective, inapplicable to many and efficiently hide the insights you need to understand what actions to take."

Instead of the simplistic follower/following ratio that many use to define Twitter success, Kaushik likes total retweets, number of retweets per thousand, messages per outbound message and churn.  These metrics measure conversation, not "just yelling."

About all of those followers:  Kaushik's intrigued (as am I) by GraphEdge's assertion that those followers who are following more than 2,000 people aren't "legitimate" because they aren't really monitoring your feed.  

I don't think those following more than 2,000 should be completely discounted.  After all, someone could be following you and not following the other 1,999 people.  And that someone could be really important to your targeted audience.

GraphEdge and other tools show much promise in figuring out what news orgs need to do with Twitter.  But it's going to take some time and a lot of effort.  Kaushik:  "Be willing to work hard. Be willing to put in the sweat equity. Be willing to try 45 things (tools/metrics/strategies) to find the three that work for you."

Ack!  Forty-five things to find three?  Unfortunately I think (actually, I know) he's right.  I'll be digging into Klout and GraphEdge, but I don't know if I'll be looking into 43 more things.  For news orgs, it might take more than that to find the magic three.


A world record – so what?

I guess I'm proud to say that I contributed one of the reported 45-million-plus views to the Evian Roller Babies video ad, which is touted by the Guinness Book of World Records as "the most viewed online advertisement in history."  

Picture 1 I can't find any verification from Guinness itself on the web.  OK, I didn't look that hard, and I didn't contact Guinness.  I didn't think it was worth much effort because this record – like so many other Guinness records -  is one of those "so what" numbers – mildly amusing, sort of astounding, and utterly useless.

Mashable's Ben Parr, saying that "millions" remembered and "actively discussed" this "critically acclaimed" ad,  thinks that "any brand will take those numbers."

If I were Evian, the only numbers I would take are those in dollars, euros, yen, pounds and pesos and the like.  I agree with David Berkowitz in Social Media Insider:  "I have yet to see any coverage of the record
that mentions Evian's market share or any other success metric from the
brand's perspective. Maybe a needle moved, maybe nothing happened, but
it's hardly a clear-cut case that a viral ad means it's successful."

It's a highly watchable, entertaining video, but it haPicture 3rdly embeds "Evian" in my brain or makes me want to buy it.  What do roller-skating babies have to do with mineral water?  The babies don't even drink Evian in the video – they just skate around the bottles.  I guess the Evian's tag at the end, "Live Young," ties it all together.

 And of course there are quibbles how video ads are counted, and how the 45-million figure came about.  Apparently it was a combination of YouTube, Nielsen, Ad Age and Visual Measures.  Because the video was embedded in many places, you can't just look at the number of views on YouTube, which right now is showing about 11 million views. 

Whatever.  It really doesn't matter.

The audience determines the value of content, not publishers

Why do most newspaper publishers persist in thinking audiences will come back to print?  Why do publishers put their own opinions ahead of their audiences?

You can’t get people to pay for anything if

  • they don’t need or want it
  • they can get it from somewhere else

You really don’t need a study to know that publishers value their content more than audiences do, but I’m glad the American Press Institute did one anyway.

API’s study, as reported by eMarketer, shows that news providers “were more likely to say that their content was ‘very valuable,’ while readers tended to settle on ‘somewhat valuable.'”

An opinion of “somewhat valuable” should not lead to a decision to charge for content, especially if 52 percent of newspaper site readers said that finding a replacement for newspaper site content would be “very easy” or “somewhat easy.”

What’s more discouraging is that 75 percent of publishers believe readers would go back to print.

What?  Why would publishers think this?

Because many of them are still looking at online as a necessary evil (my words, not API’s, obviously).  Twenty-eight percent of publishers think that they should charge for content to preserve print circulation.  Four percent want to do it to replace “lost display ad revenues.”

Eighteen percent think charging for content will establish “value for copyrighted content.”  I hope this means that before they set prices they will ruthlessly assess which content topics do indeed have value – to the target audiences.  I hope they are equally ruthless in identifying their competitors’ strengths and weaknesses, both current and potential.

Prices shouldn’t be based on

  • what the publishers think the content’s worth
  • what would make online pay for itself
  • what’s needed to make up for lost print revenue

Setting prices and revenue goals based mainly on internal reasons is like trying to get back the purchase price and remodeling costs of a house that you love but which few others do.  With anything involving money, the market sets the price.



Pop-up videos make government engaging

Today I watched over seven minutes – from beginning to end – of The Texas Tribune’s Nov. 9 news video coverage of Kay Bailey Hutchison‘s gubernatorial campaign stump speech.

The video, one of The Tribune’s “Stump Interrupted” series, uses pop-up bubbles and illustrations to add context and value to a normally boring but important story.  The pop-ups are entertaining without being silly.

Picture 1


When KBH is saying, “Our taxes have gone up too much in the last ten years,” the pop-up points out that “But…since 2003, Texas still had the 14th lowest per capita tax increase in the country.”


KBH: “I think that we are seeing too much power in one person, the power of appointment.”

Pop-ups:  A large hand illustrating someone being appointed glides in from the left, followed by the fact that “Governor [Rick] Perry has made about 5,530 appointments since first taking office.”

On the site, people can also see the sources The Tribune used for the pop-ups.

Picture 2


The metrics angle:  Counting how many times a video was viewed doesn’t give any info on whether the viewer was engaged.  The more relevant measure is how much of the video was viewed, and whether the video was viewed from beginning to end.

I would also look at video metrics by topic, and set goals accordingly.  I would imagine (no, really?) that the number of complete views of a Dallas Cowboys video is usually much higher than that of anything having to do with politics, even in Texas.

The Texas Tribune got California-born-and-bred me to watch a KBH video from beginning to end.  I’m now more interested in both Texas politics and in how The Tribune covers it. Imagine how engaged a Texas resident who has a stake in this would be.

Picture 5 Actually, The Tribune doesn’t have to completely guess at this.  In
addition to commenting and e-mailing the story, people can rate a story
as a “must read.”


I’m really intrigued about what The Tribune will do next.  It’s a nonprofit news org that, according to WebNewser, didn’t cover the Fort Hood shootings because it’s “dedicated to covering ‘the politics and policy of Texas state government.'”

I love this focus on identifying a niche audience and topic, and sticking to serving the needs of that audience.  WebNewser reported that editor Matt Stiles said that the Fort Hood story just “wasn’t our story.  Should we have jut been one more news organization rushing to Fort Hood?  I don’t think so.”

The Tribune’s a great example of a truly audience-focused news organization with unique and compelling content that provides value.  Despite being staffed by “newspaper refugees,” it’s refreshingly not content-focused.  It doesn’t build the content first and then hope the audience will come.


Hank Wasiak: “From Mad Man to Twitteraholic”

As he said himself, Hank Wasiak is not Don Draper, but his ten minutes were the highlight for me at the 140 Characters Conference in LA last week.

Wasiak, co-founder of The Concept Farm, said that social media, as a “killer app,” has brought about a fundamental change in the way we do business and in the metrics that define success.  He said companies must have a “mindset makeover” and a “people strategy” to survive.

He was talking about marketing and advertising, but all I could think about was how everything he said applies to news organizations, too.


Oh, and he also said that the way we’re teaching is completely outdated.  I agree…I’m going to see if I can take his marketing and advertising class at the USC Marshall School of Business in the spring.

140 characters of engagement

I’ve just gotten back from the 140 Characters Conference in LA where the message, loud and clear and 10 minutes per speaker at a time, was that it’s the quality of your followers that matters, not the quantity.

More reinforcement:  Twitter’s new list function is already prompting “mass unfollowings” (thanks to Mary McKinnon/@bestwebstrategy for this link).

Picture 5 The first #140conf in New York in June was all about the unique communities that Twitter inspired.  The dominant sponsor was Hootsuite, personified by a large owl walking around hugging people.  Ann Curry duked it out with Rick Sanchez.  Wyclef Jean showed up, late of course, but illustrating the importance of authencity.  Attendees bonded over the duct-taped power outlets.

Five months later, it appears that Twitter has…matured.  The speakers in LA weren’t giddy.  The lead sponsor was Kodak, represented by CMO Jeffrey HayzlettPicture 2, a glossy brochure touting Kodak’s “convergence media tactics” and coupons for 15 percent off Kodak products. You can’t have either duct tape or power outlets in the Kodak Theatre (where the Academy Awards are held) so the crowd was often bigger in the lobby than in the auditorium.

I still had fun at #140conf LA – it is Twitter, after all – but the biz talk was pervasive:  strategy, goals, objectives, processes, systems, results, the four Ps and the four Es, one of which was, of course, engagement.

Continue reading “140 characters of engagement”

Analyzing Twitter

I've been scratching at developing some methodology that newsrooms can use for measuring the success of their Twitter strategies for some time now.  Unfortunately, I haven't had much time to really focus on it.  However, a couple of nuggets I saw today reinforce my hypotheses that simple counts of followers and tweets mean very little.  You really need to dig deep and spend the time (sigh) analyzing follower profiles and tweet content. 

Thanks to Mashable today, I've finally found the site that keeps a running count of how many users use Twitter via its web site vs. third-party clients or applications like TweetDeck.  Twitstat currently shows that only 20 percent (!) of Twitter usage comes from the web site.  Now I'm really going to scrutinize the methodology of any reports on Twitter usage.  I suspect most of them – especially the panel researchers like comScore or Nielsen – only capture site traffic.

This stat from iMedia Connection is from September but it's probably still useful.  "Roughly one quarter (24 percent) of Twitter users have never tweeted or
have ceased doing so, according to data from audience measurement firm Crowd Science. That number is very close to the percentage of users who tweet on a daily basis (27 percent)." 

140conf I'm really looking forward to the 140 Characters Conference in Los Angeles next week.  After that I'm sure I'll be inspired to really buckle down and figure this out!

The number’s good except when it’s not

Based on a Hitwise report, Online Media Daily reported that Twitter’s “torrid growth has cooled since April.”  But the Hitwise number is deeply flawed – it doesn’t include traffic from “mobile and application-driven traffic.”

In other words, Hitwise’s report is based solely on traffic from Twitter’s web site.  It doesn’t include traffic from smartphones and applications like TweetDeck.   Hitwise’s report is just not that useful because it doesn’t include traffic from the devices and software that have made Twitter ubiquitous and easy to use, and which probably have contributed greatly to Twitter’s growth.

I say “probably” because we just don’t know one way or another.  Everyone’s still trying to figure out how to measure mobile web use.  It’s hard because there are multiple carriers and devices.  But just because a number is hard to get doesn’t mean we should use a number whose only virtue is that it’s easy.