Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear


All of us strategic communicators know the importance of keeping on top of advances in social media and figuring out what they mean for our work. It’s not enough just to know what’s in the current mainstream of our field. With social media advancing by the day, it’s about keeping an eye on what’s coming up behind us in the rear-view mirror.

Reading this review of a new book on research and measurement in communications reminded me of some of the big ideas that we’re grappling with today—and that are taking on ever-more nuanced shades, as reflection on social media develops. The review’s author, Alan Chumley, observes that while public relations has always been about the development of relationships and the need to measure those relationships, that’s become doubly true since the advent of social media.

A comprehensive approach to social media measurement, Chumley contends, must deal with all dimensions of the reality that “content + community + conversation= the new communication”. What that equation means, among other things, is that measurement must go beyond “simple counting or vanity metrics such as fans or followers”. Because of “the dynamic and multidimensional nature of conversations and communities,” measurement of these complex dynamics must find ways of gauging the quality of social media interactions.

For instance, that might entail counting not just the number of tweets or blog posts about an issue, but capturing the nature and desired intent of those communications: who’s doing the tweeting; to which audiences; with what authority and in support of what outcomes. Those last criteria ask us to assess who’s truly considered well-informed and an original thinker on a given topic. Topical relevance plus originality, says Chumley, are part of what counts as authority in social media. It’s about moving beyond what’s easy to count, and beginning to think about social capital and social network analysis.

Both social media and relationship measurement are fields that are currently experiencing unprecedented growth – it will be interesting to see what’s coming up, and how these two seemingly separate fields, in fact come together to provide meaningful insight on the value of content, community and conversations.

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