One of the hottest articles on the web yesterday was a new study by Wetpaint and Altimeter Group proclaiming that they had cracked the code on social media value measurement. It is also one of the most irresponsible examples of data mis-management and audience manipulation I have observed.

The report trumpets with breathless enthusiasm that “for the first time ever, Wetpaint/Altimeter Group have gone beyond surface case studies to measure the true financial value of social media.

But what’s this … buried on page 6: “While no one yet has the data to determine direct cause and effect, what we do find is a financial correlation between those who are deeply engaged and those who outperform their peers.”

Wait a minute … At this point I have to ask the report’s authors, Ben Elowitz and Charlene Li, how can you seriously purport to “measure the true financial value of social media,” while admitting that nobody has the data to do so? What are trying to pull on us here?

So WHAT did they do? I give Elowitz/Li props for developing a secret formula to measure social media engagement by 40 criteria. But it just goes downhill from there.

1) They are making their claims based on ONE YEAR of financial data and THREE MONTHS of social media engagement. Is that an appropriate timeframe to discover anything you are claiming to be a trend? You’re trying to make a statistical correlation to financial performance based on limited data during a RECESSION?

2) So, what IS the correlation? Is it a strong statistical correlation? Did you actually apply the correct mathematical tools to this analysis? How would we know? Are you seriously telling me that the social media budget of these companies is having a measurable and material impact on the financial results? You have discerned the unique contribution of Facebook compared to billions of dollars spent on advertising and decades of brand-equity building?

3) Finally, I could make an argument that your “data” provide a conclusion quite the opposite of what you’re trying to spin here. Well-managed companies generally manage EVERYTHING well. Is it any surprise that Coca-Cola and Starbucks have a successful social media effort? I will challenge you that the financial success of these premier brands enabled the creation of the effective social media programs, not the other way around!

Here is the real message from this “break-through study:” Financially-successful companies with important brands invest in deep social media engagement. That is hardly earth-shaking.

The fact that these so-called researchers are trying to pump up their own companies through trumped-up, unsubstantiated claims is inexcusable. And now it’s out there and we’ll be hearing about these faux-facts for months.
This is Part 3 in a series on social media and measurement:

Part 2: Social media ROI shock treatment

Part 3: Irresponsible social media measurement research            

Part 4: Social media impact on brand equity                                                        

Part 5: The most important question to ask in social media marketing     

Part 6: A double standard for social media marketing?                   

Part 7: Yes, it IS about the money!                                                          

Part 8: Creating a measurement plan                                                     

Part 9: Measurement is like a bartender                               


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