The Most Bogus Metric

by · April 26, 20137 comments

I love Twitter. I really do. Even when I have a beef with it, I recognize that it is an amazing tool connecting people and businesses and cultures and organizations and thoughts and ideas and revolutionaries. And it was built by a small conclave of guys who had no idea what it would grow up to be.

But there is a gap in our measurements, and it’s one that Twitter might make some real money while fixing the most bogus metric of all.

Blind Man’s Bluff

When you send out a batch of marketing emails, you know an awful lot about your audience. You know how many addresses were on that list — how many bounced — how many went unopened — how many converted, etc. You have a clear picture of what works and what doesn’t, and can do nice A/B testing to figure out some ironclad behaviorally-based guidelines. (Many of those crappy-looking webpages you come across at the end of a sales pitch look exactly that way because they work. Pretty doesn’t pay the bills.)

With Twitter, you have something called “Potential Reach.” The Potential Reach of a Tweet is defined as the theoretical maximum number of users who might have encountered it within their timelines. (Let’s ignore aggregate and unique instances for the moment.)

A Tweet from an account with 50,000 followers, in theory, would get 100-times the exposure of an account with 500. There are still other variables at play, like how focused that audience is on your topic, how many accounts those people are all following, time of day… it gets rather messy.

And it doesn’t have to.

You see, all of the metrics that marketing folks have at their disposal are dependent upon assuming apples equal apples in Potential Reach. You compare engagement numbers for various messages. You use link shorteners with Google Analytics campaign codes to slice and dice every last bit of divination as to the effectiveness. You Tweet at 4pm on a Monday, and 4pm on a Tuesday, and you see a five-percent difference, so one day is obviously better, right?

Well, it is if you think Potential Reach is a constant.

What Twitter Isn’t Selling You Yet

The dirty little secret that Twitter isn’t sharing is just how many people did “see” it. The current menu of Promoted offerings will measure engagement: Clicks, Retweets, Follows. But it doesn’t tell the truly data-driven marketer what she wants to know:

How many of my followers accessed the API to receive my Tweet?

Think of the feature that Facebook offers in Groups, that allows you to see how many people have seen a post. For Twitter, that might be an expensive proposition for coding and architecture and bandwidth, but from a data standpoint, it’s not something that has to be delivered in real time. (Facebook’s analytics for its pages are notoriously slow.)

Let’s suppose a particular Tweet – sent to my potential audience of 50,000 – was only accessed by 325 users. (I might get all frowny about the seemingly low number.) I could compare a number of Tweets over time and learn when my audience is “awake.” I could frame questions of effectiveness with regard to percentages instead of a flat metric.

Solving Two Problems

It’s all about the Clicks, you say? I totally agree. But maybe a lot of what you think drives those clicks is just wrong? What if an average message got the fluky benefit of a high spike in Real Reach, and tested better than a superior message? What if you tweaked your writing based on inaccurate assumptions?

It’s a classic statistical dilemma, trying to solve for two factors at the same time. And it is unnecessary, if Twitter gets smart.

So, Twitter: Sell us the analytics to truly know what got seen, and what didn’t. Charge a very pretty penny for it. Charge by the month, and make it steep, because firms will use that month to get a lot better about how they use Twitter for marketing. They will know when their users are really plugged in, and know which messages better resonate. That will be better for them, better for the userbase, and better for your own Promoted Products.

How much would you pay for Real Reach numbers?

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About Ike Pigott

Ike Pigott

In his previous life, Ike Pigott was an Emmy-winning TV reporter, who turned his insider's knowledge of the news cycle into a crisis communications consultancy. At the American Red Cross, serving as Communication and Government Relations Director for five southeastern states, Ike pioneered the use of social media in disaster. Now -- by day -- he is a communications strategist for Alabama Power and a Social Media Apologist; by night, he lurks at Occam's RazR, where he writes about the overlaps and absurdities in communications, technology, journalism and society. Find out how you can connect with Ike or follow him on Twitter at @ikepigott. He also recently won the coveted "Social Media Explorer contributing writer with the longest Bio" award.

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • RavenCourtney

    Though I can’t agree with anyone telling Twitter to charge a pretty penny (have you seen their existing advertising rates?!) I sure would like to see these metrics for fine-tuning my Twitter strategy. Great food for thought, Ike!

    • http://occamsrazr.com Ike Pigott

      Yes, I’ve seen the rate card. It’s not for the timid.

      But I do have a bit of an understanding of just how resource intensive it would be to deliver that data. Facebook does provide it in Groups, where there is a “Seen By,” but in Twitter’s case we are talking orders of magnitude above that, and the fact that retweets can expose the message outside the original “universe” of possible receivers.

      Thanks for the comment, and let’s hope Twitter sees it as an Add-On instead of the most primary revenue stream.

  • http://twitter.com/deFrance_P Pierre de France

    Nice article, I agree it’s about clicks, but I wouldn’t say it’s all about clicks. Another metric could be interesting : it’s the time that a particular tweet remains on screen – that would help figure out whether a tweet has been read or not.
    When I spend 30 mins away from twitter and get back to my TL, the API retrieves all the missing tweets but I just scroll up to the top – there are just too many tweets to go through.
    So in this case, we could imagine that a tweet that is displayed for more than 2 seconds on screen was actually read by the user.
    Does that make sense & do you agree ?

    • http://occamsrazr.com Ike Pigott

      There are any number of ways you could use “API call proximity” to be a better proxy for Visibility.

      I don’t think Twitter can tell what was actually on your screen, but maybe you could use a sliding scale:

      Accounts following 10K or more: within a minute
      Accounts following 1K or more: within three minutes
      Accounts following less than 1K: within ten minutes.

  • http://akplay.tumblr.com kaznaaa

    I tweet when I see necessary. I don’t just tweet. I don’t just check twitter, I read it. I don’t just pay for apps, I read reviews and criticisms.

    I check Facebook. I check my phone. I do not read reviews before buying a new album.

    While I agree with everything you wrote, you left out one important thing–twitters own numbers cannot be accurately averaged, let alone measured in ways the public should be allowed access, or paid access. There are too many things going on in the world at different times, different trends, different groups of people. Long it will be before the day that twitter is able to prove to advertisers that their network can increase revenue.

    Instead of engagement, I want to know who that person is and why and how they got to my site. Most of this is all available with google. Tweets flush like toilets, and the last of an advertisers worry should be engagement time…it should be about what your next tweet will be–one that will make an impact every second as it goes viral, or one that simply gets pushed down every second as new ones are posted from others?

  • http://twitter.com/timmymc Tim McLoughlin

    I feel that followers are not an accurate guide to reach because when I consumer Twitter I search for what interests me and predominately look at tweets by people I don’t follow. Estimated reach completely ignores that. To guarantee that advertisers will keep spending, robust reach and engagement statistics will have to follow from Twitter and Facebook though I do feel that both are realising this and working to improve the data available.

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