Likes, followers and why we need new metrics
May 7, 2012
The limitations of traditional metrics in measuring online engagement and the need for more accurate and specific metrics in the digital age.
About 30 years after the activation of the thousandth server and 22 years after Brazil joined the Internet, there have been numerous ways to measure the popularity of a particular item on the Internet. From connections to unique users, through page hits, statisticians have attempted to calculate the importance of things on the web in various ways. Today, in the era where search engines and social networks set the tone and dictate where digital money goes, we also have our preferred measures: pageviews, unique users, downloads, “likes”, “shares” and “followers”. These measures are presented as the absolute truth, but in reality, they might mean very little. Digital money still follows them because of old market habits, but it shouldn't. Each operation needs specific metrics. Those who continue to believe in the usual numbers might be deceived.
Historically, since its inception in the first English newspapers of the early 17th century, the commercial value of the newspaper has been in its visibility. The upper right part of the page has always been worth more than the left because of the way Western languages are read. The space that the reader sees first has always been worth more - and it still is. The Internet inherited the physical advertising model and the banners and boxes located in the digital equivalent of the upper right part of the paper page cost more. However, the logic inherited from print should be buried along with some sacred cows of audience measurement.
The user's first glance is no longer the determinant in the negotiation between advertiser and digital media. The point was raised by Matthew Ingram in this GigaOm post. Offering millions of views certainly means something, but the statistical scrutiny of the audience far exceeds the bombardment of the user by the advertiser's brand. Efficiency is being redesigned by the information mined by so many tracking systems that digital media provides and which make the product offered exactly for who wants to buy it. If before the media used devastating bombs to reach the consumer, hitting thousands and thousands uninterested for each interested, today digital media can deliver only the customers that the advertiser needs - for a much more advantageous price for both advertiser and media.
Even metrics born in a digital cradle are starting to suffer distortions that the market seeks to make for its benefit. Companies dedicated to finding “loopholes” to place the content of advertisers more frequently in the news feed of Facebook users. This means that the social network is forced to change its algorithm in increasingly shorter periods, to prevent these spammers from taking advantage in the management of information.
These changes in the nature of the functioning of digital media are responsible for the aging of certain metrics. Most companies still work based on how many “Likes” they get and how many shares of a particular content they achieved, but in many cases it can be a Pyrrhic victory. On social networks, exposure matters much less than the type of interaction desired. Producing content in formats that have many shares does not mean that the goal was reached. Putting it in plain English: if you have thousands of “Likes” and post silly things, you might get the attention of a crowd of fools, but that might not be what your advertiser needs.
As the media market is extremely competitive, it is unlikely that metrics that can somehow be “bent” will remain as industry references for long. In the coming years, new tools will emerge that measure more accurately the user's engagement with the offered content and today's truth will be an outdated belief tomorrow. In the digital age, obtaining more accurate data has become much easier, but it is still human behavior - in this case, of buyer and seller - that decides whether these data will be used or not.