Category Archives: Measurement

Designing Content: Of Vegetarians, Bugs and the Matrix

Content Hexagrid Exercise
Content Hexagrid Exercise

How do you go about designing and thinking up online content for a library …. associated with a religion? Using the content hexagrid, this participant of the Online Community Management course thought up some interesting ideas. Besides talking about the religion itself, its figures and philosophy or sayings, there are other “lateral content” ways to engage the audience in categories Singaporeans find of interest.

For example: food. In this case: you could showcase vegetarian dishes, presented in quality photos or in the context of representing frugality and simplicity in diet. You could talk about how to prepare such dishes, or what are the substitutes for alcohol in cooking and where to buy ingredients. By engaging in a category (food) that is universally popular, one can maintain interesting content while still relating it to the principle subject. Another powerful tactic is to use photos – but first you need to identify a visually attractive subject or element in your case. Here, it would be photos of monuments, statues, scriptures and art relating to the religion.

What about celebrities and the entertainment scene? In my course, I ask participants if they can think of some way to associate their brand/company with the current entertainment scene. Would this work with a religion? It can – take for example, this participant cited that The Matrix has Buddhist elements in its story.  Other movies/TV shows cited include Running on Karma and the classic Journey to the West. Did you know that the actor Orlando Bloom, the singer Tina Turner and director George Lucas are also Buddhists?

Another way we categorize and design content is via the 40:40:20 Rule. The second 40% represents “content that gives or creates value to the community or members”. For example, what can you post about that gives your fans valuable information that improves their experience of your brand/association? An example would be tips that they appreciate. In the case of the Buddhist Library, it could be the aforementioned “How to cook delicious vegetarian food” or – something that I myself appreciate very much: “How to get rid of pests/insects in your house without killing them.” – the latter example is excellent.

I use a plastic bag. :)

(Thanks and Credits to: The Buddhist Library / )


3 Ways Social Media Still Can’t Win

Red Pill Blue Pill front web

In some ways, social media’s magic red pill still doesn’t work, it hasn’t been swallowed. Why are we still trying to justify its existence? Why are we still constantly arguing for its support and funding? On the other hand, do we question the need for traditional marketing? Do we question the need for a salesman in the company?

Lately, it looks as if the newest member of the “social” party to slip down into the Trough of Disillusionment is social business. “Social Business is Dead!” proclaims this article by Chris Heuer (CEO, Alynd – “SaaS for accountability in collaboration. Improves performance & productivity.”)  at the popular and influential blog of Brian Solis. The title is a little guilty of trolling for eyeballs – a little like my own –  and it works. But actually, the article isn’t saying that the practice of social business is dead – rather, it’s saying that the crusade to justify social business has been a failure. To be even more precise, the problem is that the “social” argument has not succeeded. Management didn’t buy it.

It’s not that the ideas are losing or that the goals are without merit, they are. The problem is that the deeper meaning and richer context is being lost on executives who still think the word “social” indicates a frivolous time-wasting pursuit. To them, it’s about what someone ate for lunch. Or it’s that thing their teenagers do to ignore them at the dinner table. Despite the Arab Spring, the customer revolution and an increasingly connected society which turns to Twitter with every earthquake or news event, the idea of being a Social Business has failed to break through the care barrier in most C-Suites.

– Chris Hueur

In fact, I’d argue that management doesn’t even like it. Management prefers the tried and tested corporate model of command and control. The idea that it should “socialize” its processes and in the process lose some of that control – argued for years as a benefit, has not been bought. Management still wants to manage.

Thus, the reason social business – as a term – has died, is because the key stakeholders won’t go social.


1. Easy ROI reporting still doesn’t exist
Social Media still resists easy ROI reporting. Yes yes, I know some of you will say there are existing tools and methods of measuring social media ROI, but how many are actually successfully reporting it? Did you convince your management of its value that easily? After all, latest studies show that social media ROI is still as elusive as ever. I’m not saying that ways to measure it don’t exist. I’m saying that it’s still too difficult for most companies to convincingly report it.

ROI absent

What’s needed, perhaps, is for social media to actually make a sale. We social media practitioners may argue that’s not the point – social media is about engagement, branding, community, etc.  But you let me know if your boss didn’t demand you show Facebook “conversions”.

2. Content is a king in a circus act.
In the beginning, we all said that content is the key to everything. I think this is still true. However, instead of being able to focus mainly on content relating directly to the product one sells, many businesses are forced to engage users/fans by posting, well, cheaper thrills. Humour, quotable quotes, “viral videos” of varying quality and taste – doesn’t matter, so long as you get likes, comments and shares. Our eyes widen at the sight of “27 shares” even though an hour ago, we were feeling sheepish posting yet another single-frame funny comic we found via Google Images. It works! And we hope somehow, this wisdom-spouting quotation inspires a dear fan to buy something from our website.

Is this the way we intended our social media to work? Maybe, but I suspect it’s also one reason why many senior managers still view social media with a mixture of disdain and indifference, like how an adult might view a bunch of rowdy kids.

3. Management still not into social
And that’s my next point. It is like the social business article mentioned above. For many senior management types, the problem of social media is not so much a matter of its business benefits, provable or not, but that it is social. While there certainly are exceptions, traditional corporate management culture has little reason to trust or adopt social. It’s simply too unpredictable and its benefits too elusive, when compared to the industrial-strength sales reports of traditional brick-and-mortar business operations, including marketing.

It’s not so painful that they need to make a massive investment to transform their organizations. They continue to make money and operate as they always have. That is the problem. The old model of organizational design and profit making is obsolete but it hasn’t yet completely or visibly failed for the people in charge.

– Chris Heuer

It may be that this is an illusion too – because some might say traditional marketing has even lower ROI than social media ROI, in terms of the cost-to-benefit ratio. Does it? Whether or not true, the fact is, many companies will still put traditional marketing first, simply because that’s what they’re used to, even in the face of statistics proclaiming of social media’s (supposed) superiority.

What if social media never existed?
You could say that social media is in this state precisely because it is attempting to solve the problems of or overturn the model of traditional business and communications. Consider: if social media never came about, never existed – would the world today want this level of “social”? Would customers remain satisfied with traditional advertizing, traditional paper mail and flyers, newspapers, telephones and the idea of a corporate business as a detached industrial entity whose sole mission is to sell “good-for-you” products whose marketing you always believe? Would we have known any better? Would we have ever missed the social collectiveness of Facebook, the viral communication of Twitter? Would we have contently stayed in the Matrix of the blue pill, and never sought more?

Because remember, this world existed before. And many companies still take the blue pill. The fight isn’t over yet!

Online Community Management – Art or Science?


One day a month ago, an acquaintance from NUS’s Centre for Development of Teaching and Learning (CDTL) asked me if I would be interested in doing a presentation at a conference on teaching. I said, as someone teaching social media engagement, I wasn’t exactly sure if I could contribute. I said that my approach isn’t as “academic” or pedagogical as a conference of educators might expect. Although, the fact is I’ve been trying to address the issue of teaching something inherently unteachable. I.e. community engagement.

That sounds interesting, he said. So I continued. The problem with trying to teach human engagement is that it is full of “soft”, indefinable things like creating trust through sustained exchange and engaging a person’s interest through content. I’ve tried to define them in terms of frameworks, but that in itself is always tinged with futility.  My acquaintance nodded knowingly, and said that that’s precisely what needs to be done – “framing” something that resists definition. Even in the business of education, the same problem applies – how do you scientifically define the process of “teaching”? In doing so, do you lose its essence?

The simple answer is that online community management is an art and a science. An art because it has to deal with human behaviour – particularly the irrational kind. Even employees can be (positively) irrational. Because it has to deal with nuances of language, emotion and atmosphere; because it takes leaps of faith and educated guesses – stuff that a pure scientist would either balk at or become confused with.

But we cannot ignore the science part, because at the end of the day, online community management makes use of technology. This means two things:

1) It, as well as social media in general, is a product of computing – specifically social computing. Meaning, if computing (and computers) didn’t exist, social media wouldn’t exist either. We do not know of a better tool that powers online virality or ambient awareness or asynchronous communication.

2) It is measurable, because it is computerized – it is a creature of numbers. It is also becoming increasingly sophisticated. While it can still be argued that web technology measures the quantitative better than it measures the qualitative, the fact is there are many computer scientists out there who are trying to create better ways to measure social media – be it in terms of sentiment analysis or social engagement.

Coming back to online community management, it may be some time (if ever) before one can truly measure such qualities as trust and negative comments. When it comes to defining and teaching the subject, the need to portray both “art” and “science” aspects of the field is immediate. For example, the topic of developing a community from start to sustainability needs a framework to help define it in a “step-by-step” manner.

As my acquaintance puts it: it may be a difficult and perhaps futile thing to do, but someone’s gotta do it. I can only say I will try.

Assessing the me that’s assessing you – social media insights and privacy

Terminator Vision Mugging Suitability Profiling

Of late, privacy has been in the news. For example, Google Glass is being questioned over how it would affect privacy. A cafe in Seattle has already banned it.

Actually, privacy has always been an issue since the rise of social media . We’ve all read the stories, but that’s not where I’m going with this post.

We talk about assessing social media performance. But it’s not like we’re assessing a motor engine. We’re assessing the activity, the interactions and even the sentiments of what sentient people are saying.

We’re assessing people and they probably don’t realize it. Our dashboards are saying so-and-so are “influencers” because the system looked at their public blog, Flickr and Twitter accounts and see that there’s a connection and they talk a lot about our brand. Fine if it’s positive, troublesome if not.

I might be over-reacting. Of course when people praise or complain about a brand, there’s a good chance they do want to be noticed. But for them it’s a sort of social, transient interaction on the surface. I bet most of these people do not realize many companies and their social media vendors are also putting down their postings and identities in reports to management. For good, or for whatever.

Did I say it’s ok to assess me?
As social media enthusiasts and workers in this field, we sometimes forget we are also being archived and examined. This post will soon be visited by search engine bots and archived at some point, for example. Personally I don’t mind that, I even intend it. I’m consciously aware it will happen. Whereas many people out there don’t think about this aspect of being on social media – that you’re not just being read on the page, but also turned into insights, analysed for sentiment, counted for virality and even put into monthly reports.

The standard argument is that – you posted it in public, so it’s free for companies to data-mine. Is it? Maybe the terms are in the TOS I never read. :)

Is 70% of the truth, truth?
One question worth pondering about is the issue of sentiment analysis accuracy. To date, some 4-5 years++ after sentiment analysis became active in mainstream businesses, the accuracy remains less than 100%. Much less in fact. Some recent writers suggest even 70% accuracy is considered an optimistic ratio, and that is the realistic ceiling.

I personally think 70% is not only not accurate, but it’s also just a number. A number trying to measure the accuracy of something trying to objectively measure something subjective. In other words, I am highly tempted to say this number is just as airy.

OK, but that’s actually not the point here. The point is this: if say sentiment analysis and other social media measurement tools are not entirely accurate, just how much of the assessment of what people say or do online is “accurate”?

What if a sarcastically positive tweet I made is interpreted as positive in sentiment when I meant it to be negative, and this is reported in some brand’s report to management as “positive”? And product/service decisions are made based on this reading? The end result is that the company might believe it is doing a good job, whereas customers do not think so. Is this not unlike how some middle managers filter their reports to upper management to make it look like they’re doing a good job?

Sentiment Analyzing Self
Let’s bring this back to us: so we who have to prepare social media assessment reports to our managers need to take care. You are not just handling computerized insights – you are handling real people, and their sentiments.   You are an agent of sentiment and veracity – what you report can be construed as putting words in people’s mouth and that’s a huge responsibility. So, when you put on your assessor glasses, don’t forget to assess yourself.

Social Media Kungfu – the sophistication of measurement


Yes, yes, I know. Now, it’s clear that measurement is always good, if you can manage it (irony intended). I don’t deny that. And increasingly, the measurement of social media and online engagement is becoming more and more sophisticated. About 3 weeks ago I attended a social media for businesses conference and one of the talks was about social media measurement. I confess openly that I don’t remember much of it. It was so sophisticated, that within 15 minutes I was utterly lost in technobabble. Admittedly, the speaker was in quite a challenging position himself, having the task of explaining his entire life’s work in one hour.

Social media measurement (SMM) is a descendant of the web metrics of the 1990s/2000s. Its grandparents are pageviews and unique visitors. In the early days of SMM, say around 2010, this particular area seemed more like a poorly equipped wannabe trying to borrow some tools and tactics from its much older web metrics 師父 (shifu, or master). SSM was the proverbial poor boy servant who hid behind the walls secretly watching the kungfu students training with their master in the training yard, and tried to practise on his own in his little shed at night. Eventually, he would become very skilled, and even discover his own techniques.

That seems to be the story of SMM in very recent times. Empowered by ever-improving technology, the onward advance of sentiment analysis, no matter how far from 100% accuracy; with the constant tweaking of Facebook insights as a sign they aren’t satisfied yet, SMM is without doubt, growing and evolving, become more and more clever.

I suspect one day it will even defeat its former master.

I wrote recently about measuring community in non-technical ways. When I read exhortations like the one at the start of this post, I can’t help but feel a bit apologetic. The thing about technical, scientific, data-driven and data-producing measurements is that it always looks more accurate and defined than non-technical, anecdotal, subjective, emotive measurements. But of course, that’s the point. That’s why they were invented. Even if sometimes they give false impressions, they strike at the truth in terms we can measure and define.

I have no doubt that scientific SMM is important. If you can’t measure it, true, you probably can’t manage it. But what if you can’t even manage SMM? Or in some cases, social media itself? I’m afraid there is one other issue about SMM in Singapore – it’s being spoken in front of people who haven’t quite figured out social media itself. Many of us at the conference were confused. And I’m generally considered ahead of most. I’m not ashamed to admit it. I want to learn.

But in the meantime, businesses still have to survive. They have goals to meet. There is no point trying to tell businesses to adopt sophisticated SMM when they are still new at social media. It could – and probably more often than I care to admit – simply be a case of having management that doesn’t understand. Management that’s still bo(b)sessed with Big (Almost) Meaningless Numbers. Sorry, they exist, they really do.

Singapore is hardly at the forefront of social media. More and more people I meet have awakened to the reality that we are some 3-odd years behind the US. Everything from harnessing geolocation for business to mobile payments to webpage design, we are behind. Point: there may not be much point in measuring unsophisticated technology with sophisticated measures. Unless your management is ready and demands it.

I’m not trying to make Singapore social media sound bad. I’m just trying to figure out how best to help businesses and organizations move along. If you confuse your boss when you’re reporting your social media performance using sophistication, you’re playing with fire – a confused boss is often a frustrated boss. A frustrated boss will constantly ask you to justify and re-justify your social media plans and budget. Sound familiar yet? It’s my own personal experience. That’s why you must do your best to put your reporting in terms your boss understands.

Just as I said in that previous post, by all means learn about all these powerful SMM techniques, but don’t forget the language of the bosses: English.

“All he really cares about is the number of fans” – Measurement and Making the Boss Happy

Over the last handful of years, social media platforms have been busy trying to make measurements more meaningful. Just like the progress from hits to pageviews, we have seen social media move from fans/followers to impressions, interactions and virality.

But guess what, very often, your boss in all His Busyness, really only pays attention to “The Number”.

Of fans, that is.

That's a lot of fans
That’s a lot of fans

Now the experienced social media manager/marketer may frown and go, “I’ve worked so hard deciphering and digging up all these insights and analytics, and all the boss cares about is the number of Facebook fans.”

I say: work it to your advantage. It doesn’t mean your valuable, meaningful Insights numbers are now useless – they will always help you make informed decisions and be prepared to answer the occasional “That’s a good question” question during the monthly meeting. In fact, consider the fact that this makes your job easier.

What are some of the signs that your boss is just a “Numbers” person (and by “Numbers” I refer to simple ones like fan base numbers, followers, membership numbers and the like) ? Here are a few:

  1. His face lights up when the number increases. (For other numbers, like impressions and all that, he nods approvingly. But for fan base increases, his face lights up).
  2. When he is chatting with you in passing about your community, he says things like, “We’ve got 24,600 fans now right?”.  They basically don’t really remember any other number.
  3. The number he remembers is almost always a little higher than reality. Sometimes by a thousand.

OK, so let’s say you’ve got a boss like that, so what should you do?

Well, for a start, always have the number ready. Check it every morning and evening (like you don’t already). Be always ready to say, calmly, “24, 712 as of this morning, actually” and be rewarded with the smile.  Put the number up front in the first slide during your presentation report. If it has gone down, have the explanation ready in the same slide. If it’s gone up, have… actually if it’s gone up your job is done, everything else is extra icing.

Just kidding, be aware why it went up of course. Your FB insights, your Google analytics, your virality figures, impressions, etc. – know all these so you know how to explain things and give examples.  These figures, as you know, are often confusing, subjective and misleading. So, the fact that your boss is NOT bo(b)ssessed with them is actually sort of a good thing.  You can speculate, interpret, approximate on all these statistics, but the one that you need to wield like a holy glowing sword +5 is the The Number.

My point: if all your boss really is concerned about is The Number, then make sure whatever measurement you do on you channels, always make sure you know how to relate it to that number.  This way, you will always know how to report to your boss (and make him smile), and you needn’t worry too much about subjective stats. Your job becomes easier.

Now, if you have a boss who likes to examine, interpret and strategize around virality, sentiments, impressions and other woozy numbers.. then we have to work a little differently…

Measuring community for the non-techie

If, in this(still) number-obssessed – bo(b)sessed – world, someone asks, how would you measure a community’s success in non-technical ways, what would I say?

Proxy Measurement

Not a new idea, but still worth looking at. Partly because sometimes we have no choice.

Proxy measurement is the measure of some other indicator to reflect on the performance of the social media campaign under scrutiny. Say for example, you have sales figure X before you start a new social media campaign. Note that down. After the campaign, check out the figure again. Is it X+Y now? Then Y is the ap-proxy-mate gain the campaign caused. May. Have caused.

Look at it with common sense. During the social media campaign, did you post something of note that caused a big change/spike in sales? On that day, did sales/pageviews go up? It’s quite often we say that “The photo post on Tuesday attracted a lot of comments and likes, and that appeared to have boosted sales. We made 15 more sales that day then usual.” Common sense says the stars are aligned and something nice happened. So, might as well make it a little bit more powerpoint-presentable and state that:

12 comments and 80 likes resulted in 15 more sales.

Do this multiple times and you’ll have more and more data, and begin to see patterns.

Not precise enough? Speculative? Rubbish? Hey, remember, there was a time when computers and Google Analytics and even Excel did not exist. How did businesses measure sales performance then?

“I had my guy stand in the street giving out flyers at 6pm and I made about 10 more sales than usual on a Monday evening.”

“Our newspaper ad went up on Thursday and traffic in the store increased by 100-150 people, resulting in 15 more sales than usual.”

“Over 2012 our fan page increased its fan base by 10,000 likes. 8000 likes were amassed during our social media campaign. The average number of likes and comments on our posts have gone up by about 25% comparing from one year ago. “

It’s common sense logic.  It looks speculative at first when you have just started, so you have a very small sample size. Do this over years and you’ll have 100, 500 samples to form clear patterns. It’s worth a shot.

Anecdotal Evidence

You’re in a meeting and your boss asks you how’s the website/Facebook page doing. You can report the numbers, month after month. But you know there’s one thing far more powerful, effective and memorable – a customer’s compliment.

No one really remembers actual numbers (only that they are going up. Or worse, down). But if you show customers being happy with the company’s services, showing positive sentiments, or recommending your product – that sticks in the minds of people (like da boss), because it is a source of great satisfaction and pride. Every business wants the comfort of knowing their customers are happy.

So, collect these like the rare artifacts they are: customers’ positive feedback. Embed their quotes on your presentation slides, tag them with real names. Even if your numbers are not impressive, a single compliment from a customer can cause wonders. Even if you have a complaint from a customer, use it as an opportunity to show how you handle a crisis.

Businesses regularly do surveys to collect both numbers as well as “Any Other Comments” – you’re doing the same thing, without incurring the cost of running a physical survey. So collect these comments, categorize them (positive, negative, suggestions, opportunities) and report them. You might even be surprised how many approving nods you can get from a screenshot from a nice comment on a Facebook page.

Online metrics is not a decimal system

There was a time when the measurement of a community, or rather its website, was counted in hits. Remember? If you don’t, you’re probably born in the 1990s or later. Back then, which is actually the 90s I’m talking about, every HTML-dabbler and web marketer were happily installing grab-off-the-internet-shelf hit counters and putting them on their websites. Everyday we would log in and a little cheer go up in our toddling Web 1.4 hearts when we see that the hit counter had gone up another couple of tens or hundreds. Nothing was more satisfying than the solidity of seeing numbers go up. It was so, er, countable.

Hits are so old, this is a gif. On Netscape.
Hits are so old, this is a gif. On Netscape.

Even on the days when the server screwed up and over-wrote the hit counter data file with, well, nothing, and caused the hit counter to reset to zero – even on those days, we’d go what the hell and just FTPúpéd a “corrected” file (it was just a text file with a number) based on best memory. Yesterday was like 623,XXX so I guess it oughta be about … 647,231 this morning? Yes, I did do it. I didn’t feel I was cheating, mind you it was the server or the hit counter cgi (computer gateway interface, not computer graphics imagery) – the little exe-cutable programme on the server – that screwed up and overwrote the number with a blank file. I was just restoring the hit counter back to what it ought to be, based on best memory. Sometimes I even gave discounts.

….. Arrrgh, fact is the whole thing is a farce.

Alright, give us a break, we’re just trying. Trying to measure the success of a website, using numerical counters that accurately count the inaccurate attribute which gives a  rough idea of the approximate number of people visiting. Or perhaps they were just passing through.

Numbers give us comfort. They are so, um, defined. Even if they accurately measure the inaccurate, it doesn’t matter. Even if I had to approximate today’s hits because the server screwed up the count last night, it really didn’t matter. I mean, it’s not meant to be accurate, right? After all, 4,012,599 hits and 4,076,221 hits doesn’t make a difference to the people visiting the site. They just figured it is an impressive number and it grew a bit since the last time I was here. Wow. Must be a cool website.

And that’s all that really, really mattered.


It didn’t matter even that for years and years (and for some, even today), many people did not realize that the hit counter itself was a lie.  What is a hit, I ask you? For many people, especially web marketers and their bosses, it meant customers. Visitors. People who were looking at your website on their browser!

NOT EXACTLY- a hit is any call to the server for a file. Not just the webpage, but the 5 images, 12 design elements, the CSS file, the little stars that make up ratings, the 8 avatar pictures as well as the cat picture.

Land on one page and that act could generate, like, 32 hits. And you CAN hit the refresh button if you want more.

Thus, at best, the hit counter only gave a highly inflated gauge of your website’s visitorship. Not that it’s not useful, you just needed to be aware what you’re measuring so exactly. Like pageviews.

Your community/website metrics’ number is exactly representative of another number. It is not an exact representative. 30 hits does not equal 30 visitors. 30 hits represents (maybe) 1 visitor. The number is not a decimal number. It’s probably more binary – like a computer counting. It’s not that the number is wrong. It is correct – but you need to know what it truly represents.

Once you understand this, the sometimes meaningless jumble of numbers in monthly reports – made meaningless by bo(b)ssession – shows of a silver lining where (some manner of) truth can be gleaned, making your measurement all that little more meaningful.

(And that’s my first post, which was originally titled “Measuring Online Community Success – for the non-measurer”. I plan to write more about the topic of measuring online community, specifically in a non-technical way, to help the many of us in the field of online communities to better measure them and report to our bossess.)