Tuesday, 13 October 2009

She comes in colours everywhere - (Social media metrics)

I'm prompted by Litman Live's post on measuring digital social networking (AKA Social meeja) to write something I've been threatening to do since mentioning it over on James Cherkoff's Collaborate Marketing Blog over here. So while it's still relatively raw and would most certainly benefit from input by my peers I'd like to set out the fundamental difference in change of media metrics that I feel warrants inclusion.

It's not just what we're measuring that has changed it's how we measure it which needs most thought. So here goes. Firstly the old media metrics were based upon eyeballs (and of course ears for radio). Those eyeballs were demographically segmented and given a value that varied mostly when the value of the content (or demand) deviated significantly other than channel rates (or sub media aperture) which were otherwise pretty consistent. So that value remained largely stable (other than variance codependent on the content being interrupted) as the eyeballs pressed the remote from channel to channel. Easy to measure, largely static if we discount channel surfers, and a piece of cake for the traditional monologue media model to have an idea and/or put an estimated value on. Then came the mouth and the keyboard. Both output devices that fundamentally disrupted the monologue model creating a feedback mechanism on the content, the future of the content and most powerfully the mechanism or platform for communities to coalesce.

The days of one to many (broadcaster to audience) have changed and we should have grasped that a long time ago with the introduction of that very same remote (whose maker died in 2007) and then video recording (fast forward commercials) and on through to the PRV. I've not included the internet which has had the most impactful change on information consumption since writing was introduced and possibly the telegraph wire, although McLuhan afficianados may well argue the depth of media immersion by radio was the first cool media experience given that the telephone was largely of a personal nature - sceptics of that process need look no further than the wide scale nationwide panic in the United States during Orson Welles broadcast of War of the Worlds which was consumed as a lifelike real time reporting event of an invasion by aliens (trainspotters will enjoy reading that the motive behind this broadcast was the propaganda mafia in government in collaboration with big  business and that this has led to a largely docile and pliable population whose consent is manufactured as Noam Chomsky termed it). That's what we do in advertising. We manufacture consent and so it's this topic which crosses over with my propaganda posts over here.

I digress (don't I always?). It's beyond words that the traditional media companies have been providing exhaustive study after thinly post rationalised study conclusions to point to advertising working pretty much as it always has done despite fast forward behaviour but few seem to have welded the findings of Robert Heath's low involvement processing (and commericals at up to and beyond X32 the usual speed) but that's the reality isn't it? 

We've hoodwinked outselves into believing the research boys who we pay to alleviate the jumpy nerves of clients, who to be fair are looking to manage risk rather than the opposite of that axis or spectrum and which is that most over used word in the business "creativity".

I certainly understand our clients motives in this context, but it does remain the elephant in the room when the question of how FMCG comms actually work is ignored and all the time an impressario figure of 'creativity' is being lobbed around the room as if the emergence of Bauhaus, or Logical Positivism or more pertinently Surrealism or Dadaism were being given birth too. 

Let's not forget it's risk being managed, and not creativity within that context.

Putting that aside (I know, I know) we now have in the 21st century a good old fashioned interactive experience to media immersion comsumption patterns like we did in the old days as Faris astutely points out, like crowds joining in with sporting and entertainment events or even the collusion of the audience in assesing how, where, when and for what events are structured. Feedback mechanisms existed in the pubs, working mens clubs, work places, markets, cathedrals and bazaars of old. 

Humans have never stopped communicating though the two was dominance was briefly interrupted by the anonomaly of 20th century communications and the hugely powerful communication broadcast model where we knew we had the great unwashed by the short and curlies (or not) as witnessed by the massive power surge when an entire nation flicked the kettle on for a cup of tea during the break.

That isn't the case for those wishing to lift their heads above the parapet of the chunky media erosion we are witnessing but  alas power is an intoxicating potion for the media big cheeses and is most perncious because it fails to recognise its own demise. Which it will.

You may wish to reference the word "empire" and the adjective that precedes it for further evidence (Roman, Greek, Ottoman and so forth).

It's all (relatively speaking) lower involvement now (compared to the cool media of radio and cinema) and arguably there's a generation of millenials who have figured out (or wired their brains) how to only go into information-finding-mode when the context is right (relevant content plus "contextual offer" or alternatively seeking out digital distribtion through search or from historical use). 

Outside of that information buying mode they're filleting information and ignoring the bones though that doesn't mean that data intensive low involvement processing is NOT occurring. There's a hell of a lot going on and even skimming the breadth of issues in a post is a stretch.

But for the purposes of assessing digital media immersion value, from social media to straight forward content consumption it feels to me that a colour coded 'depth of engagement' model needs developing. Typically we used to put a static value on a set of eyeballs but (and here we have to use common sense) the value of those eyeballs are fluctuating between video engagement, news content, blog content (itself having two or three levels of engagement if commenting commences) and messenger, Skype, webcam (check out Camfrog if you want to see where Asian youth is taking this medium) and much much more.

What's needed in any content assesment media metric valuation exercise is not so much a fixed value but a broader and more nuanced measuring process that can tolerate fluctuations or indeed change of media consumption through to multiples of parallel processing of media apertures. 

It goes something like this: Facebook - I'm colour code Blue because that is how much we charge our sponsors/advertisers/brand patrons to be part of this media immersive experience as we know that within this so called but misleading 'social media' environment (digital social networks is more accurate) the value of participating either through messaging (distractive not disruptive) or integration (sponsorship, placement, brand utility) is colour coded Blue as indeed now applies to Myspace, Orkut, Friendster et al. Then the remaining variable for immersion metrics to assess is TIME spent (at what level or colour of immersion). Now we know that a lot of things can be happening at anyone time including leaving the computer or screen on while we go and shave the cat or weigh a bone for the dog to chew on. Maybe even take a nap and wake up the following morning but in principle these anomolies of media use average-out rather rapidly and diminish in importance when viewed across an entire population or indeed the planet (Thanks Google)

So the principle of colour coding digital social network media immersion then has to be applied to the other different levels of immersive experience. Let's say blogging because I'm a blogger. Let's call Blog reading a Green experience. It may well transpire that the time I spend reading a blog and then the (arguably) deeper immersive experience of leaving a comment, note, soliloquy or insult) then changes the colour code which morphs into Turquoise (zum beispiel as the Germans might say) for the additional effort of joining the conversation. 

Green is (in this example) less expensive than Blue coded Blog-content-reading but Turquoise (joining in) is more expensive than the Blue because the level of immersion and emotional involvement is so much deeper when articulating thoughts. This also applies to some of the inane comments on Youtube but then online video media immersion is for example colour coded Red which is another category of media immersion in and of itself.

We may also find that there's a crossover or overlap for two different types of media providing a similar value of immersion and thus we can just stick to colours when describing it rather than endless lists of infinite combinations of media consumption (Note media consumption is the only time I use the C word)

In any case. I've no idea (bring out the neuroscience imaging boys) whether reading an online newspaper is less or more immersive than watching a Youtube clip (although I suspect McLuhan's segmentation of hot and cool media is still pertinent, though more fecund for todays complex media topography). 

But the point is that until we start to define how immersive these tens or hundreds of different media immersions we experience daily, there's surely no point trying to evaluate the utility (or price) of digital social networks which in some ways encapsulate most of the media immersive experiences out there, including twitter, video, newspapers, photos and messengers. The reason I delineate those experiences on their own is the staggering number of people who prefer to avoid the twitters and facebooks of this world, quite content to check their mail, watch a video and read a newspaper as seperately as if they were a video, cinema and telephone in the 20th century. They are our anthropological benchmark for media immersion and not so much the smorgasbord of digital social networks though they too need evaluating both broadly and then with a number of colour coded sub categories when skipping through to too different experiences.

Lastly it feels like this is a good time to raise something I've been banging on about for a couple of years which is that the really smart media owner is going to give the data that we citizens create about our media consumption patterns to ourselves. It makes an awful lot of sense that since we've been going on about the engagment economy for quite some time that we simply start to pay for that engament based upon citizens having full control of their data and are able to barter its value for goods and services such as news and video. 

If Rupert Murdoch were truly part of the 20th century instead of stuck in the 5th (what a cocksucker) he'd realise that emancipation of information is the surest way to create loyalty instead of the indiscriminate media looting that is going on now at his own expense. 

Serves him right and one should keep an eye on Google who are way ahead of the game in liberating  and ceding control of media consumption data to the individual along with visionary ideas such as personal computing device awareness of what TV content is being watched while engaging with the computer.... so that digital advertising that has context can be created. 

And y'all should appreciate by now that context is my baby.

Authors note. Any editorial mistakes including tautologies can be addressed in the comment box below. Any thoughts?

Update: Doc Searls has done a fine post which has some similar threads of thinking over here. The Intention Economy?