This question about what to measure to understand direction and organize for success has been on my mind a lot lately. It is a conversation that has taken root in media, yet marketing programs run by and on behalfof brands are also squarely in the center of it as well.
Brands have to some extent become publishers ever since the first rudimentary web sites. Run a multi-channel program, more the norm with audiences fragmented, and you will westle with combining apples and oranges, quantitative data from different media and types of action. Advanced programs take into consideration some qualitative information. Few rarely go beyond skimming the surface.
Hence why when Ev Williams post on Medium hit my inbox, my attention was captive. Attention being a popular form of measurement lately. [An aside: If you have a good way of finding content on Medium do let me know - mine is to follow people, which I understand was not the point of the platform at all.]
Williams' title “A mile wide, an inch deep” is apt in more than one way. From the article about the recent comparison between Instagram's and Twitter's growth:
[...] we literally say one company or service is “bigger” based on a single number — specifically, number of people who have “used” it in the last 30 days. Even without getting into how “use” is defined, this is dumb.
One-dimensional conclusions in the age of big data say a lot about the disparity between what we preach and what we do. Part of the reason, in my observation, is that we use numbers to protect ourselves from thinking more deeply about questions.
Are we asking the right questions, says Williams? Say we determine that time spent, a measure of attention, is better than click volume:
The problem with time, though, is it’s not actually measuring value. It’s measuring cost as a proxy for value.
Advertisers don’t really want your time — they want to make an impression on your mind, consciously or subconsciously (and, ultimately, your money).
Measuring proxies of value is where we are. He then says:
At Medium, we don’t really want anyone’s time. We want to create a platform that enables people to make an impression on others. To make them think. To change their minds. To teach them something or connect emotionally. It’s hard to measure any of that.
If you are a publisher and want to understand whether you make an impression on others, you cross reference a number of data points.
For example, if you are Shane Parrish at Farnam Street, you know you are getting attention because in a short couple of years your readership has grown to 45,000 subscribers, you are invited to keynote events, and there is a waiting list to your signature innovation labs. People share your articles in social, on distribution lists like Fragl, and other publishers talk about you, including mainstream media.
Does all this information tell you what impact you are actually having on the world? It is the quality of these connections that holds the keys to beginning to answer that question. Yet it is not a simple line you can draw from a testimonial. Impact can be qualitative as well -- how do you measure improving the interior quality of someone's thinking? Over time, with patience.
It is not one-dimensional measures alone that are at issue. One-dimensional thinking and trade-offs based on that are a problem. We literally trade people's skills and experience based on it.
Most Internet companies would build better things and create more value if they paid more attention to depth than breadth.
Most companies would, not just tech/Internet or media companies.
So, if impact is a goal, a worthy one, we seek to achieve, and we agree that over time and using more data points is a good way to determine success, how do we measure direction? So we can stay motivated (strategic) to keep on a course of action. Williams says:
Different services create value in different ways. Trust your gut as much (or more) than the numbers. Figure out what matters and build something good.
I say, take a look at the gap between promises made and promises kept. You can measure that.