Two things recently got me thinking about using measurement and metrics. The first was a post by Bertrand Duperrin who pointed out that just because we don’t want to or don’t measure something doesn’t mean that it can’t or shouldn’t be measured and that every business goal, hard and soft, has an appropriate way to measure. It’s fundamentally good management to measure. The second instance was a community manager who recoiled a bit when faced with a situation where the company expected conversion tracking that aligned with the social media efforts. The examples brought back my years of working with Fortune 500 companies on operational benchmarking… and knowing that even companies that spend significant resources tracking and measuring often need a reminder about how to most effectively use metrics.
There is a lot of lack of understanding regarding effective uses of measurement out there – both on the part of individual contributors and on the part of management. Individuals often fear being judged or rewarded/reprimanded based on metrics. Management often uses metrics as a weapon. In both cases it indicates a poor perception and misuse of measurement, particularly if what is being measured is somewhat experimental as is the case with social and community initiatives. However, on the other end of things – no measurement is simply bad management. The question is – where is the middle ground and what is an effective approach.
From my experience, metrics are essential to understanding if where you are spending your time is working well or not. Is this blogging really worth my time or is my time better used elsewhere, maybe tweeting or cultivating my Facebook presence? Everyone should want to know the answer to that kind of question. Measuring is one (note I said one) useful indicator to help answer that question. Whether we do this formally or informally, most of us pay some kind of attention to the number of hits our blog is getting or the number of Twitter RTs, etc. By formalizing this tracking, you are less likely to deceive yourself. Rich personal experiences tend to color our perception because they are more memorable than the numbers – and that can really alter how successful we think we’ve been if we don’t marry that experience with the hard numbers. What I mean by this is that a blog post may have received a ton of positive feedback from one person who carried on back and forth with you in comments for hours… leaving a deep impression with you that the blog post was excellent… but when looking at the numbers, you realize that maybe only 20 people read the post. Add some content analysis to the metrics and you find out that your enthusiastic reader was your great aunt’s best friend and had no affiliation with the goal of your blog. What you’ve got after some analysis is that your blog post didn’t work very well given your goals (unless you were targeting your great-aunt’s best friend). I exaggerate a bit here to make my point but in that case metrics are really helpful so you can determine that maybe the topic of the post or the place where you promoted it did not work for your needs. So you adjust and maybe next time you get 50 views and one comment from someone that is more closely aligned with your goals. Bingo – measuring just worked really well for you. The result of the measurement is not to dock your pay, criticize you, or indicate that you should stop blogging. It was to learn something about how you did something to improve it the next time. Not so hard to understand or appreciate.
Now say management comes swooping in and says “We’d like to see 1,000 views and 10 comments for each blog post six months from now”. You look at your numbers and cower a bit… knowing your last post got 20 hits. Holy cow, right?!? Here is where good management makes all the difference. Bad management would come in and say “You need to get to 1,000 pageviews in six months or you’re out.” Way to strike fear into the hearts of your employees – good on ya. Better management would say “Well, let’s track week over week and see where you are after a few months and evaluate whether we want you to continue blogging.” You still feel pressure but you are not staring down the face of unemployment… which is useful. Great management would say “Let’s track for a few weeks then let’s talk about how you are approaching your blogging and distribution – if we are not seeing the lift that will get us to 1,000 views a post within six months, lets brainstorm about ways we can get your posts out to more people through some of our other communication channels and tweak the focus of the content a bit.” Wow – you don’t feel left to blow in the wind at all there… and you may even feel supported. Nice. And management is more likely to get what they need too.
Measurement and metrics tracking is not a decision-making tool. It is a performance indicator. The numbers neither know what you are trying to achieve nor are they the only factor in understanding performance. Do not use them that way – it is simply poor management to rely on numbers to make your decisions. Use them to assess and evaluate. Combine them with content analysis, the business outcomes you are looking for, and some contextual judgment to make decisions about how and what to change if the numbers are not where you want them to be. A website getting 0 hits may indicate a lot or nothing. If it’s preceded by days of getting 100,000 hits you really may want to make sure your data center is up. If it’s Christmas Day… maybe your website just isn’t all that interesting to people who are at home celebrating with family and that is OK because you know network reliability content (for example) is not relevant in that context. So, please measure but measure wisely and remember the old adage – measure twice, cut once… still great advice.