Itâ€™s been about two years since I left the social media measurement space as startup marketing guy at the company most consider the pioneer and leader. While now immersed in the search-technology world, I enjoy keeping up with social media measurement for several reasons: Itâ€™s fascinating. It produces insights that surface the human condition. Itâ€™s slowly creeping into major business processes, including at my own current startup and the search industry. I also remain close friends with former colleagues and smart people in the social media industry (and only five years ago we didnâ€™t even call it an industry).
Because of my personal history and ongoing interest, I frequently get pitched by emerging measurement providers â€“ not for my business, but for feedback, advice and coverage on this blog. In fact, I had four such encounters in the past eight weeks.
Iâ€™m too far removed to offer meaningful feedback on detailed features and functionality of individual social media measurement companies. Besides, there are others who specialize in those sorts of ratings and bake-offs. However, I can provide some macro observations and trends. In fact, I believe my time away, working at a search-technology startup, has helped me better understand this burgeoning space.
Caveat: my observations are not necessarily true of every single measurement company, but probably most. So here are my big onesâ€¦
Connecting Data To Action
Iâ€™m hopeful for emerging players with strong technology and innovative approaches that connect the dots from data to business action with measurable impact. This void remains a great opportunity (and sometimes sore thumb) in the social media measurement field, and is indicative of the segmentâ€™s infancy. Despite gradual technology advancements, most meaningful social media measurement contributions tend to rely heavily on bruit-force human analysis, interpretation and recommendations.
Product Versus Service Agendas
For nearly every measurement player, the dichotomy of living out as both a product and a services company is both prominent and a curse â€“ yet unrealized, and not scrutinized by anyone. Merging these approaches often seems natural and necessary, but ultimately they conflict. Product strategies seek scale and mass production to pool innovation resources into a world-class offering, otherwise unattainable. Conversely, professional services strategies prioritize customization and consulting to solve complex problems with high client-specific value.
The conflict of agendas between product and service philosophies ends up sacrificing optimal resource and investment in either. This results in conservative growth and a retreat to technology-empowered service businesses. Thereâ€™s nothing wrong with this latter scenario, but it rarely results in a business with a game-changing market impact and massive scale.
The mandate? If youâ€™re going to be a product company, be the best product company and build and sell to the services companies and marketing departments that need your products. If youâ€™re going to be a services company, be the best services company and apply the best products to your service. There are hybrid product-service successes in the technology sector, but they are few.
Product Strategy Most Lucrative, But Most Risky
The social media measurement companies pursuing a purer product strategy have picked the most challenging path. But that strategy is potentially the most lucrative â€“ if they can actually pull it off. In recent demos of social media measurement products, it seems all contenders suffer from at least three common shortcomings. To break from the pack, it will be critical to address these as soon as possible:
- Pragmatic Product Strategy. Perhaps most fundamental, nearly every pure productized tool attempts to report many disparate data, but without the discipline of a solid business goal and ROI in mind. Without clear goals or problems to guide development, everything else becomes trivial and cloudy. This is why I believe the most successful social media measurement products will be focused mini-apps that solve very specific business problems â€“ not boil-the-ocean dashboards that inflict featuritis on users, who then are expected to derive value from complexity.
- User Experience. Extensive backend data processing lags, confusing navigation, complicated taxonomies and cryptic terminology make most interfaces difficult to use. Additionally, as described above, most offerings fail to seamlessly transition user experience to other existing business processes. These shortcomings create frictions that hinder measurement companiesâ€™ sales efforts and customer deployment. These shortcomings also make tedious and expensive training necessary for success. This phenomenon partly explains why free tools designed for everyday consumers are commonly used, even when fancy paid tools are readily available and paid for. The free ones donâ€™t solve all or most problems, but theyâ€™re often the most accessible and practical. People gravitate toward simplicity.
- Visual Design. Most social media measurement dashboards Iâ€™ve seen suffer from poorly designed, amateur Web interfaces and reporting. And Iâ€™ve yet to see a post-login welcome screen that is truly a friendly landing page designed to make me feel empowered. Aesthetic is not a nice-to-have; itâ€™s a critical link in the value delivery chain. Poor visual design on otherwise nice technology is like a supermodel with a giant, oozing zit: promising but ultimately a failure. Because customers are human, visual design usually is the first thing to prompt them to engage or shut off.
I believe semantics and taxonomies do matter because they influence the internal development of individual companies and their larger industries. Social media measurement still is undergoing growing pains as people jockey over what to call it. Prominent executives, analysts and industry groups have called it multiple things over the years, like:
- consumer generated media measurement and analysis
- user generated media measurement and analysis
- user generated content measurement and analysis
- word of mouth measurement and analysis
- brand monitoring
â€œListening platformsâ€ is the latest buzzword, but I still stick to social media measurement. All these definitions, including the one I use, are too inclusive and general. But Iâ€™m sure nomenclature will fix itself when the endgame arrives.
Ten years from now? Social media measurement will be big, but different than how we think about it today. It will find its greatest success by subtly integrating into the morphing DNA of numerous business and decision-making processes.
Thatâ€™s my take. Whatâ€™s yours?