Metrics: handy tool, or Satan's yardstick?Can individuals use marketing tools without sacrificing authenticity?

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Tangled measuring tape

Alex's Harvard post about metrics and the obsessive condition she calls analytophilia has triggered a lot of conversation this morning about the role analytics ought to play in organizational communications.

Which has me thinking about the role tools like analytics play in our personal communications online, too - for better and for worse.

The past few years have seen some fascinating changes as organizations - some tentative, some confident, a few very bold - adopt the tools of the social web. We've seen windows and occasionally great big doors opening in the walls that separate businesses, non-profits and governments from the public.

But something else is happening too. Just as the tools of social media are turning marketing into personal conversation, they're also turning personal conversation into marketing.

To see it in action, look no further than metrics and analytics.

Think of the number of people you deal with via the social web who are obsessed with followers, friend counts and network sizes. Look at the explosion of sites designed to rank your reach and influence on Twitter.

Metrics now lurk at the margins of everything we do in social media, offering to tell us how popular it was, how many folks liked or disliked it, who linked to it, who followed us, who dropped us and how it affected our chances are of going to that great Web 2.0 prom called the A-list.

Get sucked into that, and everything you say and do online becomes strategic... or, more accurately, tactical: "Will this get me more followers?" "I'd like to blog about this, but that will get me more profile." "How does this move the needle on however I'm measuring influence?"

Awful, right? It would be easy to conclude that metrics and other marketing tools have polluted social media and corrupted personal communication, stripping it of authenticity and spontaneity, and replacing it with calculated manipulation.

Cartoon

But here's the thing.

We express ourselves for a reason. Yes, there's a drive to speak out for its own sake - and sometimes we're just howling at the moon - but usually we want to have some kind of impact.

And often that impact isn't as shallow as you might believe from the mass media stereotypes of social media. Often the impact we're looking for is to reach out to someone. Sometimes we're seeking comfort or offering it. Sometimes we're sharing a point of view, hoping for feedback, hoping to change some minds, prompt a discussion or shift behaviour.

The metrics available to us are very poor approximations in measuring the potential impact we can have... but they're a starting point. The key, if we want to keep our conversations authentic and make that impact count, is to remember they're only a starting point.

It comes down, as it so often does, to intention and attention: doing things with a view to what they do, how they change the world. But we don't know if we're succeeding, if we're on the right track, unless we know what the difference is between what was before we acted, and what is now that we have. Sometimes we measure that difference qualitatively, sometimes intuitively... and sometimes quantitatively, with metrics.

We don't have those metrics yet. We probably aren't sure quite what it is we're measuring. But acting with intention ultimately means answering those questions... and, yes, acting a little strategically.

That's where organizational communications - disciplines like marketing and public relations - do have something to teach us about our personal conversations. The trick for us as individuals is to apply those lessons with care. We are not our personal brands, and we aren't organizations, and we don't have the same goals and needs.

Understanding the difference is the first step toward using the tools of marketing to dramatically transform our personal impact while staying true to ourselves and each other.

Comments

Antisocial » The Buzz Bin says

September 28, 2009 - 5:56am

[...] – Authenticity still seems to be a big issue online. Consider how many organizations say they are social and care about their customers or [...]

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