In Defense of the Social Media Footprint


Liz Gumbinner (full disclosure: she is a Sway Group blogger) wrote a great post on Mom 101 last week about the pitfalls of relying upon automated tools for determining influence. She makes some very valid points. Clearly, a computer can never take the place of a human (we all learned that in War Games, right?) That said, as someone who relies on automated scores every day to make my living, I’d like to share a (kind of) dissenting view and state for the record that I use automated social media rankings every day. Let me explain…

I get asked a lot for details on how we determine influence at Sway Group. Everyone wants to know what the algorithm is. Is it traffic? Longevity? Twitter followers? My answer is always the same. I have no special algorithm. I look at everything. Quality comes first and foremost, though, and as Liz pointed out, quality is something that a computer will never be able to determine;  “There’s no algorithm that tells you that blogger C has only 100 followers, but that your heart skips a bit every time you see a new post of hers pop up in your feed reader.”

This is why, years ago, when still at Edelman, I started using something called a social media footprint. The social media footprint that I use now is very different from the one I used when I first started inserting it into client proposals. Back then, it contained a blogger’s technorati score, average number of comments, Twitter followers and estimated subscribers. Today, I still include Twitter followers, but in lieu of the other stats, I include monthly page views, Facebook fans (for those bloggers who have a fan page) and Klout score. What has not changed is that the social media footprint includes numerical stats.

However, more importantly that those numbers (which are good for benchmarking and context), I provide some words. I explain why a particular blogger is good for a program. I talk about the influence that she has over her audience, how engaged they are, how they tend to click through to wherever else that blogger is writing. I show TV clips that demonstrate how “mediagenic” a blogger is.

Metrics are never going to go away. Clients will continue to ask for impressions and unique visitors, and they will compare our Klout scores till the cows come home. As a social media consultant (or whatever role I am on any given day of the week), my job is to share the stats they request while constantly educating them on how to better analyze the effectiveness and/or appropriateness of bloggers. Sometimes I can do this in a wrap up report. For example, I just completed a program in which a blogger whose traffic is probably mid-range of all of the bloggers we used literally kicked everyone’s butt as far as response rate. You better believe I pointed this out when presenting my results to the client. But when they call me for another project next week, they are still going to want to see everyone’s scores. In a space (social media) in which there are so many unknowns, clients are always going to need to have a concrete something to grasp onto. It’s inevitable.