Perhaps the rain in New York these past few weeks has gotten the best of me. Rather than indulge in some lighthearted summer time reading, I've been catching up on a stack of documents from the far corner of my desk that all propose to help me better understand how to measure various new forms of media. Framed as "guidelines," these thesis-length documents are intended to define key metrics for media evaluation while describing in detail how these metrics are derived.
I love this kind of stuff. In addition to helping us assess media generally, it also reassures researchers that much thinking has gone into determining the efficacy of media. In this age of accountability, measures matter!! But as I read and think about how audience measurement has evolved, I wonder if we are merely measuring what technology enables us to count, or if we are measuring what really counts.
There seems to be a delicate balance between measuring the real value of a particular medium and the need to provide metrics comparable to other media.
All media offer a certain value to advertisers and measurement tools should take that into consideration. However, if we are to evolve our metrics as media evolve, we will need new tools. The strength of social media, for example, is the participatory nature of the medium, its ability to enable dialogue and discovery around content, the sharing of information, content creation, and the defined and close network of the participants. Those values have led to some interesting new metrics surrounding conversation size, relevance, and author credibility.
That does not mean that we need those or similar "new" measures for every other form of media. I don't expect newspapers, or magazines, or TV to do the same job as social media or vice versa. Because user interactions across media channels are often vastly different from one another, each medium creates an almost exclusive environment when it comes to meaningful audience metrics. Different media channels need different barometers to gauge the success of each environment, and each environment should be examined in the context of the job it needs to do for the advertiser.
A recent study by the Center for Research Excellence, for example, makes a great case for television, but it fails to acknowledge the "always on" mentality of other screen devices like mobile. To compare the two media with a "minutes" metric doesn't recognize the fact that a mobile device's primary aim is to save time. Measuring mobile's effectiveness in minutes, therefore, doesn't quite capture the media channel's potential or real relationship with the consumer. We need comparable metrics, but we need to ensure that the comparisons we make, make sense.
Another challenge facing new media measurement is the vast landscape of data that comes with the digital nature of new media. Never before have we had access to so much information. Given the data-drought of the past, we at first delight in this downpour of information. But it won't be long before the buckets of information reach the brim, and we find ourselves drowning in data overload (OK, enough already with the rain theme!!).
Some existing social media auditing programs are examples of this. They can be excellent for providing various perspectives to examine consumer conversations. One will often pull all the data in hopes of getting the complete story. But, like a kindergartner with construction paper and scissors, after performing an analysis, one can end up with a lot of different pieces that don't quite fit together, and an excess of data that makes it impossible to determine what's relevant and really matters to the story.
Mark Twain once said, "It is best to read the weather forecast before praying for rain". That certainly applies to the still gloomy New York weather, but also to our requirements for more new metrics. While it's great to have a range of possible interpretations when looking at the data we must ask, "Just because it can be measured, does it matter?" Let's measure media success with metrics that are true to the intrinsic value of the medium; let's not hold a medium up to irrelevant measures.
Let's streamline the data we examine so as to apply it most purposefully.
Judy is responsible for directing all of the research efforts and initiatives of PHD.
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