the grass is greener on the internet

I nouned your verb, aka: what metrics really say
October 23, 2010, 3:37 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Hits, likes, shares, follows, adds – what do these have in common?

There have been many complaints about creating verbs out of nouns; to Google, to party, to wiki…or to go further back, to hoover (so commonplace that it has dropped the capital letter).

But more insidious – online, anyway – is the conversion of verbs to nouns.

All of these are metrics which might be used to judge online social influence, but what do they say? They’re merely the physical manifestation of what we’re really interested in, which is the change in beliefsand the emotions of the people viewing the content or meeting the people we’re measuring.

Let me make a comparison…

Take the common cold.

We’re all familiar with the symptoms; coughs, sneezes, runny noses, watery eyes, wheeziness, sore throats and if you’re unlucky, a fever.

They’re all caused by the spread of a virus in the body, and show us that the body is fighting back. They’re therefore a good way of telling us how the infection is progressing and when it’s gone away.

So we know that infection always leads to these symptoms. But we can’t use reverse logic to say that these symptoms always mean there’s infection.

Coughs for example – they can be caused by a different infection, dust, choking on food or irony.

What’s that got to do with metrics?

Marketing metrics have really taken over, especially online. Sure, it’s probably the only way to measure influence, and in a lot of cases it IS a reflection of the actual situation. However it’s possible to have high offline influence with bad metrics, and low offline influence with incredibly good metrics. Even though we do now have tools which measure sentiment, with all of the twists of language (especially sarcasm) they’re never going to do the job of a human.

Just like you can make a cough better with cough syrup, you can improve hits with a quick-fix like a link, a stunt, or spam.

But just like cough syrup doesn’t cure your infection, suddenly getting more hits doesn’t mean you’re growing goodwill.

[It does, however, make you feel a lot better in the short-term.]

Got a better idea?

By all means – use metrics. Just don’t live and die by them. Know where the numbers come from and never, ever forget the human factor – because that can never be quantified.

And stop nounifying verbs.


2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

There’s an old saying that you can’t pay bills with metrics. I wonder if measuring the success of campaigns in bankable dollars is unpopular because it is often unkind.

Comment by Adam

Probably. You don’t see spammers complaining.

Comment by K

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