In honor of AMEC’s Measurement Week, we’re curating Q-and-As here on our blog to showcase the importance of measurement in communication. Today, Hayes Davis, CEO and co-founder of Union Metrics joins us to talk social analytics, marketing’s ROI and the future of measurement.
Q: To start off, we were hoping to take a look back at what the state of measurement was like in spring 2009—when Union Metrics was founded. Can you give any insight?
A: If you look back to 2009, I think we were all just trying to figure out what even mattered at all—I’m not 100 percent sure we have even solved that in the intervening five years. Back in 2009, Twitter was still a relatively new phenomenon; it was something that everybody was trying to wrap heads around. We had a few years of Facebook to understand some of the mechanics of that, but Twitter and the idea that of content that was short and pithy and contained a link to other things and could just rapidly spread in real time was kind of a new thing.
And so, one of the things that we focused on, obviously, back when we started TweetReach [a tool for monitoring real-time analytics] was really around the idea of taking a kernel of content or particular message and understanding: “OK, how does this message actually spread and reach people, and how large is that audience? And how do you take into account not just that first order of how many followers does somebody have but how does something spread beyond that?”
And that’s where that “reach” concept from TweetReach came into play. We were one of the first companies to do that, so I think that all told, it was early, early days in terms of figuring out what was possible to measure—let alone, what should be measured.
Q: And now as we all obsess over our Twitter followers and keep tabs on the ROI of marketing, it’s interesting to look back and take stock of how everything has grown.
A: It’s easy to forget the idea of being able to look at the full corpus of tweet data and understand who the influencers were and how the content was resonating and how the content was trending in real time wasn’t really a thing. It’s hard to believe and hard to put yourself back at that point in time.
Q: I noticed that Jenn [Union Metrics co-founder and current Editor-in-Chief] had commented on a recent television episode’s audience engaged on Twitter during the final minutes compared to the rest of the show. To think we used to only rely on ratings to tell us when a show is successful.
A: For sure. The other aspect of it that’s really interesting is that while there has been such a tremendous amount of change, it’s also kind of fascinating that we’re all still kind of having the debates we were before…
We’ve got a lot more data and a lot more capability, but even in the intervening five years, we’re still dealing with the challenge of finding the metrics that are important to a particular brand strategy. We’ve gotten to a point where we can analyze everything to a certain degree, but it’s still a challenge to take the sea of numbers and make them into something that’s useful.
Q: Can you name one of the most unexpected ideas or revelations to pop up from measurement over the past few years?
A: This is a little specific to Tumblr, but I will say we have a visualization in our Tumblr product that we call a “Reblog Tree,” and the idea is when you think about content being shared— let’s say I post something and you follow me or you’re searching on a hashtag, so you reblog that and someone who follows you sees it and reblogs it and on and on and on. So you have content that spreads from the original post and gets generation after generation removed away from that original post.
One of the really cool things about the Tumblr data is that it actually tells you that. To me, that was really fascinating just to see how that content could spread, and I suspect that we see behaviour like that on Twitter but with maybe fewer generations. One thing that was really surprising to me in relation to Tumblr was how quickly and how far the content was able to spread from its original source.
Q: What’s in the future? Not only for Union Metrics but measurement as a whole?
A: I talk about this a fair amount, but it’s really my passion, the thing I’m really excited about. Our ideal analytics interface: I would love for our users and see a white screen with three sentences on it and on that screen were the three most important things for that user derived from analytics and then what the person should do about each thing.
For me, we’ve always tried to strive for a “less is more” mentality so we’ve been very specific with the type of metrics we provide. It’s really our responsibility to synthesize everything together to make the person on the other side of the computer screen’s job easier instead of forcing this data on them and having them make the decision.
My vision for the future is that, using a lot of really complicated technology, we produce something that’s very, very simple from a user standpoint. Because I think as an industry, we’ve got a really big problem with just counting things for the sake of counting things and throwing them up on a screen and letting the user sort it out. I think it’s an abdication of responsibility to our users. What I hope that we see is a focus, when it comes to analytics, on user experience above and beyond throwing every number imaginable at a user.
Q: One final question for you: You were just touching on using analytics to figure out what the segments are that drive engagement—is that the biggest benefit of measurement?
A: Clearly, the idea here is that if we’re going to invest time and money in actually posting stuff and/or in looking at what people are posting about us, the question is “Why? Why do we do this?” If you’re a business, it needs to be for a business reason. It needs to be tracked in some way to how the business makes money.
Social, and especially with the proliferation with all of these platforms, has different values at different parts of funnel, if you will. There’s a lot of people who say, “Well, I don’t want to use Instagram because people can’t click through links, and if they can’t click through links they can’t buy my stuff.” I think that’s a use for social, and there’s valuable use-cases for that. (As of a couple of days ago, we’re seeing “buy” buttons on tweets.) And that’s the easiest way to measure ROI.
What we focus on, and what I think is very important, is that aspect of social around engaging an audience at the top of the funnel and understanding people are going to develop opinions on your brand.
If you don’t have anybody engaging with you, they’re never going to click on your links. And if you don’t have anybody engaging with you, they’re not going to be thinking about you next time they have an opportunity to actually buy something from your company. I think we do it because there is a business case there. And it’s an opportunity to create great experiences for customers and prospective customers. And it’s where they are. Ignore it at your own peril.
Hayes is the CEO of Union Metrics, responsible for strategy and product. He’s spent the last 14 years building systems at the intersection of human communication and analytics. Hayes is passionate about the free flow of information and believes that analytics are a force for good in a data saturated world. Be sure to follow him on Twitter and check out what Union Metrics has to offer by visiting their website.