We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Social Media Standards! Or Do We?
by Katie Delahaye Paine
The issue of standards in social media is coming up a lot these days. No fewer than half a dozen different groups are attempting to set them, myself included. (See my post “'Can't we all just get along?' or perhaps just eat lobster.” And if you are interested in being a part of the standards-setting process, please let me know.)
One might argue, given that there are now some 150 + companies claiming to measure social media in one form or another, that the industry is doing just fine without any stinkin’ standards, thank you very much. Most Fortune 500 and Inc. 500 companies are either measuring or attempting to measure their social media efforts in one way, shape, or form. Nary a day goes by that I don’t get an email or a phone call from a company or an agency attempting to define a set of measurement standards by which they can track progress.
So why make the herculean effort to put some standards in place?
Social media measurement is a train wreck.
This story on why the world now has 24 standard time zones is a good object lesson. Prior to the 1830s, most people in the UK and U.S. who wanted to travel from town to town rode horses or walked. Each town defined its own time by the local sundial. The advent of railroads meant faster movement between towns, and “What time is it here?” confusion became rampant.
Soon the UK adopted standard “Railroad Time” so that timetables made sense. In the U.S., it took a train wreck to force the adoption of standards. In 1853, two trains collided in Rhode Island because they were using the same track but their guards’ watches were set to different local times. 14 people died. New England adopted standard railroad time shortly thereafter.
While no one is going to die because we don’t have social media measurement standards, the proliferation of social media tools and programs is creating new headaches that a prior generation of communicators never faced.
So here are the four big reasons why we need to coordinate our proverbial watches:
1. We’re confusing the customers.
While social media experts (myself included) sit on panels and take up terabytes of disk space with our prognostications for the industry, our clients are trying to make decisions based on conflicting data. Leadership teams are crying out for metrics, but they’re getting different definitions depending on whether they’re talking to marketers or PR departments.
2. It wastes money.
Different departments duplicate efforts and hire multiple overlapping vendors. I’ve gone into major companies to find half a dozen different measurement tools in place all doing essentially the same thing but calling it something different.
3. It wastes time.
If clients and their bosses are unclear about what they’re getting, they hesitate to spend money and make decisions. It’s easier to sit on a program than to take the time to sort out all the different possible choices and outcomes.
Never mind the horrible waste of hundreds of volunteer hours that have gone into creating the multiplicity of standards documents that have been put out by half a dozen associations.
4. It’s holding the industry back.
As long as the best and the brightest minds and the biggest budgets are spending hours talking about standards or the lack thereof, they’re not spending time solving customer problems and inventing better metrics.
Do we really need a train wreck to get us all on one page?
Katie Delahaye Paine is CEO of KDPaine & Partners, a company that delivers custom research to measure brand image, public relationships, and engagement. Katie Paine is a dynamic and experienced speaker on public relations and social media measurement. Click here for the schedule of Katie’s upcoming speaking engagements.