Monday, August 11, 2008

Where audience research and PR evaluation is taking us.

Using marketing metrics in the age of the internet is like using napped flints to use in brain surgery.

The concepts of top down, corporate marketing design for market segments, brand values and relationships built on the whim of of a 'marketing director', just does not wash anymore. The ogre of marketing is slain.

I read
Jeremiah Owyang's post just after Tom Watson's. The contrast is there for all to see.

In one, Gartner's survey is presented by Jeremiah in these terms:

Gartner has recently published research on the topic of “Generation Virtual” (Generation V) which essentially define as two things: 1) This generation isn’t specified by demographics (age) but instead by technology usage. 2) There are four major behaviors

Gartner suggests that Generation V isn’t a demographic categorization, but instead behavioral:

“Unlike previous generations, Generation Virtual (also known as Generation V) is not defined by age — or gender, social demographic or geography — but is based on demonstrated achievement, accomplishments and an increasing preference for the use of digital media channels to discover information, build knowledge and share insights.”

Meantime Tom's reports on the findings of the SNCR

After nearly a decade of social media, a new report from the Society for New Communications Research (SNCR) has found that although it is clearly changing “the way we think about media and influence … [companies] are still struggling to find effective metrics for deciding who are the influential players” (p.16).

This is a refreshingly honest appraisal of where we are on measuring the effectiveness and impact of all those blogs, podcasts, websites and wikis. The report, New Media, New Influencers and Implications for Public Relations, also has a set of eight case studies which illustrate a wide range of measurements and non-measurements of outcomes.

The interesting part of the former report is that is shows that market segmentation:

....... is not defined by age — or gender, social demographic or geography

In other words, this 'demographic' is self selecting. What is more it is not self selecting by some corporatist measure. It is self selecting by measures that are of the moment and of the publics own devising. This latter concept is, I agree, one stage too far for Gartner and miles too far ahead of Jeremiah who sets out to defend the kind of thinking presented by Tom.

You see, Tom reflects on findings that 'show':

- Top criteria for determining the relevance or influence of a blogger or podcaster are quality of content, relevance of content to the company or brand, and search engine rank.

- For evaluating a person’s influence in online communities and social networks, the main measures are participation level, frequency of activity and prominence in the market or community.

- About half the surveyed communicators formally measure their social media activities. Their goals are “to enhance relationships, improve the reputation of their businesses, drive customer awareness of their online activities and solicit customer comments and feedback.”

Perhaps one might ask some questions of the research and
Jeremiah's knee jerk response which has such resonance with it.

The first is to ask of the study what was the context and environment, the values of the audiences and the ability for them to interact. Without that basic information life is tough.

Next let's consider the influencer platforms that were considered for the study.

Were they an X-box, PC, cell phone or perhaps something more dynamic fun like a Wii or eBook. And if we know that, what influence did the platform (device) have on the channels for communication available?

Such channels could be a web page, blog, or twitter. Perhaps it was a computer game, in Second Life or email. Maybe it was through instant messaging that the interactions were so potent.


Now, once we have unscrambled these influences can we also look at the content. Was it explicit or inferred. Was it the brand or its semantic equivalent?

Then perhaps, the nature of
context and environment, the values of the audiences and the ability for them to interact can be examined. The may be we can find out what were the motivations for the audience to select itself with the help and aid of semantically attached, semi detached or just passing acquaintance with the concepts of the minute.


We are beginning to see that the old measures that were flawed even in their heyday are now almost inconsequential.

If a corporate objective sets out:

“to enhance relationships, improve the reputation of their businesses, drive customer awareness of their online activities and solicit customer comments and feedback.”
It is utterly doomed. This is not the ambition of any but a tiny part of any self selecting group. Their ambition is to be able to judge the values of the semantic notions at a time, place (physical as well as emotional context) and environment of the moment and from there interact as availability for interaction presents itself.

Buying using a Wii is different to buying on a website - but both are possible.

I know these are ideas that are hard to grasp and well beyond the current thinking in research but we have to put behind us the idea of golden bullet answers. They were great in the 20th century but not now.

The Gartner report is of a generation of marketers who love the idea of a segment ("Generation V") and the SNCR report is is of a generation of PR that loves to think in terms of the 'impact' of 'mass media'. Both are no longer enough.

The notion of values at the core of relationships at a time, in a context and with varying forms of interactivity has to be developed if we are to gain more effective understanding of the ability of organisations to prosper in this age.