7: Monitor and Measure Community Contributions

The author opens the chapter with a description of the Webkinz fad, in which children would buy a doll that came with a login code to enter a virtual community that is a combination of games, social interaction, and role-playing. It took on fad status, and attracted nearly 3 million "members" who generate 72 million page-views per month, with very little advertising (players recruit their friends).

But beyond that, the Webkinz site closely monitors its users: each action they take online is recorded, and metrics are compiled to determine what interactions (games, activities, even advertisements) are most popular with the members. This data is used to improve the site, to make it more appealing and compelling to members.

(EN: This example goes on for quite a while - it seems to constitute the majority of this chapter - and the details seem to be incidental to the case-study rather than indicative of general principles and practices.)

Measuring Isn't Enough

In the online media, everything can be observed and recorded, but to what end? Ultimately, this is what the operator of any online community must eventually answer to justify the time and expense of maintaining it.

The benefit of an online community can sometimes be direct revenue (from advertising or product sales), but it is often indirect revenue: gathering intelligence from the customer interactions that help the firm to make better decisions that impact the profit centers of the company (discover new products, increase retention or repurchase rate of existing products, etc.). To get there, you must not only measure the use of social media, but act according to what you discover.

Qualifying Sources

Just because someone says something (positive or negative) doesn't mean that it reaches many people, or believe it, or that they react to it, etc. So in addition to capturing an analyzing what is being said about your company and products, social intelligence analysis software can also consider factors that include:

Building Social Intelligence

"Social Intelligence" is a term for the insight you gain through social media - whether you get the information directly (it is communicated to the company) or indirectly (it is said to someone else, but pertains to the company). But again, merely knowing what is said is insufficient - you must go a step further, and act upon this information.

Various companies sell "tools" and services for monitoring social media and aggregating the content from different sources, but regardless of the tool, you must make three critical decisions:

Because there are so many people on the social Web, there is a lot of "chatter" - compiling everything that anyone has to say will result in a mountain of data that is too varied to yield actionable information.

(EN: It also occurs to me that volume is not necessarily the best yardstick for considering social media, nor is positive chatter particularly useful. Having ten million people singing your praises is less valuable than two dozen whose remarks help to identify problems you can solve.)

Nothing Is Static

Another important factor is that the social conversation is an ongoing one - which has a couple of consequences:

Primarily, measuring social media is not once-and-done, but a constant process. At the very least, you can monitor before and after making a change to estimate whether it had the desired effect. But be aware that you are not the only one taking action, and public opinion can turn at any time, for any reason. It's best to keep current.

Second, consider the currency of data. A blog post from five years ago may not be relevant to the question you have today. (EN: Or it might be - even though the person who wrote it may have changed their mind since then, the post is still out there, being read by people, and influencing what they think of you.)

Monitor Your Fans

An important consideration, often overlooked, is the need to pay attention to your fans - the people themselves, not just what they are saying. While the overall measurement of "buzz" is a good gauge to your company's overall standing, it must be mitigated by the source: you may have an exaggerated or mistaken sense of your popularity until you realize that the dozens of comments are being posted by the same person on different sites.

Gathering this information also provides you with the ability to identify and reach out to your most prolific and influential audience members, whose reach and (presumed) influence have a greater impact. Or, conversely, to focus your efforts on improving engagement with those who are not already fully engaged.

Until you "know" your community as individuals, you cannot engage with them socially. Your marketing efforts will remain stuck in mass-media mode, spamming a vague message to a vague audience - and getting a vague reaction.

What Businesses Can Learn

Speed and accuracy are critical - as competitive advantage goes to the firm that outmaneuvers its competitors - and the most accurate and timely method to know what customers want from you is simply to listen to them. This outpaces traditional market research, which requires time to probe a constructed sampling with a blunt instrument.

Social engagement enables business to be proactive: to recognize problems and opportunities early so that you can formulate and execute a strategy before the market (both competitors and customers) recognize them of a large scale.