Immunity and the ROI of impression chasing – social media small group thinking

How Social Media Might be “done” Differently

There have been growing string of posts and conversations in the last week. To catch people up and give context: here was my post on Sunday attempting to open up a conversation about how social media marketing talks about social media communities – in terms of language, vocabulary, concept – exploring how we might conduct social media planning in a new way a different kind of Social Media – finding a language. If you haven’t read it it is more about the comments which are a rich realization that there is a building consensus that this is a topic that deserves attention. Then there was Ric Dragon’s The Power of Small Groups in Online Marketing which raised the same question again, in the context of impression thinking – something that marks the advertising culture from which many of social media marketing concepts have come. And lastly there was my post largely devoted to a single comment from my first post by @Karen_sharp the stake holders of Social Media – into the web of relations. There the question grew more abstract, but perhaps also more concrete, as we tried to think about the real processes of speaking from “within”  social media that make it a potentially powerful tool.

The selection below is the bend in my thoughts that reflects more how Ric Dragon was thinking about things. They are from the Afterward of Malcolm Gladwell‘s classic The Tipping Point. I post at length here for those who have not read it, or haven’t read it in a long while. My wife who has been hearing me talk about all the exciting things we might be able to do over at Tonner Doll, who just read the book, insisted that I look at the passage and in fact read it aloud while we were driving to the store today, giving birth to this post.

The Immunity of ROI Impression Thinking

One cannot help but think about how right Gladwell is on email (though written in 2002). Email may have gone through something of a remaking since then – post Facebook, Private Messaging and Twitter developments – but the same challenge of immunity faces email marketers. A medium develops an insensitivity to messaging, such that only mass mailings or highly specialized targeting and sensitively crafted messaging succeed in reaching an interested party. As Gladwell points out, the ease of the connection, its expense, tends to dull the efficacy of tries.

In the new media basic metrics such as “followers” or “fans” and “RTs” I believe can become deeply misread when the medium itself is heading towards immunity insensitivity. The very “reach” without expense is the thing that actually should be telling us that these numbers are quickly becoming devalued at a rapid rate, especially within hyper-evolving platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Yes there are metric attempts to revalue basic numbers, to in an arms-race kind of way find the “social” part buried deep within quantities – Klout being an obvious example – but the truth is that with the entire insensitivity process the whole social media world is quickly becoming immunized. Case in point and a small divergence, we in #usguys just had what we call a #flashchat on WordPress. A #flashchat is a pseudo-impromptu wranglingly together of folks on Twitter about a topic for discussion. Afterwards we found out that this little chat reached over 1,000,000 “people” (so to speak). I’m sure not that the case at all because this is just a big impression stack. But I could not help but think in hearing this: these numbers are near meaningless. They have meaning (narrow use), but the effect of them us is way out of proportion. We had a very successful chat, fully of energy, information, sharing, but then the 1,000,000 number completely shaded the sense of the true impact of the event, even in my mind. It moved the gaze. Over all, stats are getting the people who should know better drunk.

What occurs to me is that even though social media platforms are becoming saturated. Even though RTs are now being automated into Triberr pods of mutual dissemination without “personal” recommendation. Even though the “social” part of real conversation is starting to be gamed into imitation by pros, the blog world over populated with shallow re-tread advice repacked into catchy blog titles over and over and over – this very building up of an immunity is the thing that is giving social media even more emphasis on real conversation. As “thinking” and “talking” are being harvested by bright ROI-hungry minds often far too enamored with Impression adoration, finding ways of bulk “talking” and bulk “curating”, when actual conversations are found, the more and more rare of real thinking and discussion, the face-to-face like intimacy of sharing and personal investment, this becomes the gold of social media, rising by the ounce.

Social Media Message Inflation

This is what the New Age Impressionists are missing. As you seek to engineer a systematic imitation of social, you are losing all your skills of having or discovering in a market real social production. Counting RTs and Impressions is like counting Papiermarks. The very ease of their production and reproduction creates “message inflation”. And your substantive conversations – either the ones you are having, or looking for – the real gold of social media networks, are being lost in the currency.

Beneath the Klout hikes and the so-called “reach” numbers, there is only one thing of value: What conversations are you having? What conversations are you finding? What conversations can you have? (okay, three modes of the same thing.) And if you are only having conversations with the same limited number of people, you have simply built a castle in which to could can count the currency you have printed amongst yourselves.


15 thoughts on “Immunity and the ROI of impression chasing – social media small group thinking

  1. This post & conversation is terrific, I look forward to reading every time i see “conv cony”.
    Telemarketing became a nuisance because the calls would be at dinner and very early mornings and late evening hours. I remember being awakened by their calls at midnight because of time zone differences. Because of this inconsideration regulations and “Do Not Call List” was created. If these telemarking companies would have been considerate to whom they were calling, would regulation and lack of tolerance for the phone calls occurred?
    If you have children of the “Y Generation” the see email as formal communication as I saw a written letter as formal. Texting is how communication is with them, not phone call or email. The emails I get have reduced a lot, maybe 5 at most a day. Not many jokes, more about up and coming family and friend events, e.g. Birthdays holidays. Is this because the newness has warn off and the newbes, e.g. Facebook, Tweeter is what is being used. For reconnecting with ole friends and classmates and connecting with new people with common interests and learning about new. Has Twitter gotten to big or is the old and something new will take it’s place, written letter with emails with texts.
    Technology doesn’t replace the face to face conversations, much can be miss interrupted in written form if not articulate. Body language, voice tone are all missing. Also, a persons frame of mind or attitude can be miss understood. Technology has given us the ability to connect with people all over the world, of which I hope to some day meet in real life.
    Just my take on this conv…. Keep in going!

    • Thanks for your take Denise, always love the conversation. It is interesting how email has changed even in the last 5 years. I think I see a pretty fair, if rough continuity, from telemarketing, to email marketing, to something like Twitter marketing. In Twitter we not only experience the famous bots that friend us or RT us, but we also get auto-tweets of blog posts, scheduled tweets posing as “social” interaction, which have to be mentally filtered and adjusted to.

      I agree that face to face interactions have so much more information and cues as to meaning – Skype catches some of that (and announced to day, Skype is going to be coming to Facebook, just as Google Plus is offering video chat). But there is also something to narrowing the bandwidth of perception in social media, that allows truths to arise that would never do so in face-to-face meetings.

  2. K,
    Am I drunk in this scenario? “Over all, stats are getting the people who should know better drunk”

    While I agree that our #FlashChat was indeed of the most value to the people who participated in the event, the impressions show that the tweets reached a very large amount more than present. The beauty of social media is that the information we shared was great to us BUT reached many, many more. Someone in South America could have received a RT with a link that solved a WordPress for them. While focusing on numbers, scores and impressions may not be an admirable goal, I don’t think that ignoring them is necessary either.

    But, this >>>”conversations… the real gold of social media networks” is the absolute best part of Social Media.

    The reality is that ROI in Social Media is a hot topic. I can’t remember where I heard this but someone said “what is the ROI on your mother?” For personal reasons, no a fixed ROI isn’t necessary but for a business it is required.

    • Thanks Peggy,

      The point about the #flashchat stats was that the number 1,000,000 is absurd. It is a bloated number that has an psychological effect. In fact it had that effect on me too, it shifted my eyes from what really was happening. I’m pretty sure – and I could be wrong – that the number is just composed of the adding together of all of the followers of all of the tweeters in that chat (perhaps someone can correct me). It is similar to “impressions” in a Facebook status update, the numerical value far, far over representing the reach of effective connection. To put aside – even for a minute – the serious engagement and to think “Gee, we reached a 1,000, 000 people” which is the thought that comes, is to pass into a fantasy land. Of course the chat reached many more, maybe many more than even I imagine, but it came nowhere close to “reaching” what the number 1,000,000 causes us to imagine. This distortion of numbers, they way that big totals (or status values) psychologically affect us, is something of what is behind so much of the number chasing in impression-obsession, in my opinion. People like to justify their effect, their impact, especially when they are dealing with clients that need some kind of “concrete” thing to hold onto.

      As to who is drunk on stats, this is to some measure the “industry” that is chasing the holy grail of social marketing ROI. Because there is no tried and proven systematic ROI tracking, “any number will do” becomes the next best thing. Things like “impressions” or follows, or RTs end up many times substituting for real CPC, because at least they are the same language: an amount, an achievement you can put in a report and make it sound like you are really leveraging something.

      The ROI of your mother I think was said by @garyvee (I think Chris Brogan has a post on it.) My point about ROI being such a hot topic involves the entire advertising culture that has been brought into social media marketing. I believe pursuing ROI is absolutely important. But what I disagree with is adopting the “culture”, the mindset that often goes along with it. And one of the aspects of this mindset is a love of impression thinking.

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  4. The immunity Kevin discusses is a real problem, that exists outside the social media world, in the world financial system. It’s inflation, and devaluation of the currency, a connection Kevin also makes clear. When value is diluted, whether it be by counting impressions rather than substantive contact, or by printing money to monetize debt, it means that the price of real value goes up.

    And that’s the other side of email immunity, or RT immunity. It becomes a lot harder to make a successful contact with someone. The “price” of that contact is harder, in real terms. “the actual conversations are found, the more and more rare of real thinking and discussion, the face-to-face like intimacy of sharing and personal investment, this becomes the gold of social media, rising by the ounce.” as Kevin puts it.

    And this is not just a kumbaya wishful thinking for some idyllic internet of yesteryear where everyone knows your name. Any primer about relationship marketing, as well as any primer on job search, talks about the essential (monetary) value of who you know, and who who-you-know knows. The numbing effect of swamped inboxes and information immunity means that developing those relationships becomes substantially harder. The price is higher. And the payoff is proportionally higher too, in this increasingly interconnected world.

    One response is to simply say that there’s a systemic rebalancing going on, that it all balances out. The value of the signal is necessarily higher, if the noise is louder, that’s just the way it is. And I do think that self-organizing systems do rebalance to maintain an overall homeostasis. In that case, the problem is just the mistaken valuation of the 1,000,000 impressions, and when people understand that the bot RTs have about as much value as the telemarketer’s phone calls, their valuation will fall to its true value.

    I have some hesitancy to that perhaps-slightly-cynical response. One is “squishier” in that I do admit to some passionate kumbaya hopes about the modern interconnected world. The other is “harder” in that I have some strong beliefs that this simplifies to a problem of accuracy in ROI, and that if we can reconceptualize value and the measurement of value, as appropriate for the new interconnectedness.

  5. Kevin, you are once again chopping at the root of the problems I see in social media today, in this case inflated measuring of metrics, hype in the numbers, and focusing on the wrong things.

    What are the right things to fosus on? As we so often say, it is engagement. But that is not a full answer, that is just part of it. I like what Karen Sharp said “And I do think that self-organizing systems do rebalance to maintain an overall homeostasis. ” She hits on the idea of self-organizing, and I would go further to say that it is a collective intelligence, each of us with our own agendas, but agendas that could be aligned for a greater group purpose, a sort of symbiotic relationship between the individual group members and the collective.

    I like your statement of the problem Kevin ” A medium develops an insensitivity to messaging, such that only mass mailings or highly specialized targeting and sensitively crafted messaging succeed in reaching an interested party. As Gladwell points out, the ease of the connection, its expense, tends to dull the efficacy of tries.” But I disagree just a bit. I think specialized targeting is one part of the solution to be heard over the deluge of voices, but another is to be a recognized voice in the crowd, or what I think of as information gate keepers (may have stollen this idea from somewhere, not sure where).

    For the businesses I repersent, my goal is to make them an information resource about a topic that relates to their business. For a coffee shop, this would be coffee, but it may include talking about what makes good customer service, polling people that have gone to the shop asking for stories of their experiences, generally engaging with people in the targeted way you talk about. But, how do we process process info in a high noise situation like twitter?

    Heuristics! In a fast moving chat, I recognize someones face, and I have had conversations with them in the past, I can put context on what they say, I am more apt to engage with them. In fact, with such a high noise to signal ratio of a fast moving chat, I may only pay attention to people I think of as experts about the subject being talked about. So those people become trusted sources of information about the given topic, or informational gate keepers (you could also think of them as info currators, but in this instance they are becoming a conduit of info, so I liked gatekeeper better).

    The answer, is to establish yourself in a few fields as knowing about those topics, and talking about them often, if you want to be an info gate keeper. Then, other people, in an oversaturated information world, will notice your picture pop up in a crowded stream, and pay attention to what you are saying. The question becomes how to do this effectively, how to position yourself as an info gate keeper to as many people interested in the topics you currate as possible, to provide an safe haven for the information to grow and flourish.

    • Chris, I think we are on the same page here, as tends to happily be the case. I think I was a touch unclear in my writing. The dulling media is a particular challenge to those who want to used old-fashioned impression thinking. We are in the age analogous to just after tele-marketing was imagined to be a godsend. People are still thinking “My goodness, I could reach millions cheaply!” But in these very fast evolving media the immunity to message is already setting in. So, IF you are going to broadcast, you pretty much have only two options. Mass attack with very through conversion rate, or very segmented messaging with a slightly higher conversion rate. But both are still poor, and lack the ability to draw on the roots of what makes social media extremely powerful. Those that take the “impression” route primarily are like using a laptop for a doorstop. It does the job, but that isn’t what it REALLY can do.

      So in this regard your entire fascinating approach to building social capital and status makes perfect sense. Especially if your business already has weight in a certain area. I completely agree that becoming a recognized hub of extended other connections is going to become more and more valued as the effect of message immunization continues. This seems strongly related to the recent emphasis on curation. As the medium becomes more dense, the value of “social” (affective, human, bonded) connections rises, and we look to each soul to filter out the spam. It is just for this reason that becoming a spammer of a kind (using tools that minimize the impression of being a respected personal hub) goes against the grain of just where value is accumulating in the social media realm. At least that is my belief.

      As to @karen_sharp’s thought on self-organizing systems, that is really something I would love to dive very deep into, especially exploring “edge of chaos” thinking that comes from creative group making. Someday it would be great to blog or #flashchat on that.

  6. Hi Kevin,

    So back to the discussion of impressions and numbers. While the large numbers presented by some of the other statistics maybe be bloated or unrealistc, let’s use Crowdbooster as a more practical example. I tweeted this yesterday:

    “Peggy Fitzpatrick: I applaud @mediasres for speaking his mind and starting great conversations. #usguys
    1 day, 16 hours ago – 5 Retweets, 0 Replies, 16,860 Impressions” Five people retweeted it: @Keewood, @danielnewmanuv, @natasha_d_g, @edwardhehls and @lewisporetz.

    Was my intention to reach 16,680 people with this tweet? No, it was really just for you and whomever happened to be in the #usguys stream at the time. But the reality is that not only did it reach you (I hope) and the five people who tweeted it and their collective 16,860 followers: it also reached all the people lurking in #usguys as well.

    Another example, you & I are having a conversation in #usguys about something fascinating. We are engaged 100% with each other as we are when we have a discussion, possibly with one or two other people. Is our discussion just amongst a small group of four people at a coffee shop? No, it is amplified by the number of my followers (2610), your followers (1406), @67tallchris’s follwers (1130) and @GoSocialSA’s followers (1302) thus giving a tweet or RT the possibility of reaching 6448 people which is well beyond the four in the conversation and then add in the #usguys lurkers as well. While we might be focused on our own interaction and discussions, other people are listening and reading. I get tweets from my followers saying “I love your tweets” or “I learned so much from what you said today.” Many times I have to think back to what I might have said and the answer I come up with many times was an intense discussion during the day or comments I made during a chat.

    So while some maybe overly swayed by numbers, my original intent in showing you the numbers from our #FlashChat on WordPress was not intended to be a” hey look what we did” but more of a WOW look how many people we shared WordPress tips with in one hour. Those things are interesting and factually based to me.


    • But Peggy, the problem is with the mentality, an inflated sense of connection. And with that sense an inflated sense of importance or accomplishment. In business we have to keep sober about what it is we are achieving, and social media, though potentially very powerful, also has a tendency to OVER sell itself to business. Part of this problem comes from its pros (and pseudo-pros) who are trying to find a place in the marketplace. They write deceptive, over-stating blogs about company “reach”, they pat themselves on the back creating a cadre of people who all create this illusion of mutual success such that when businesses come calling it is pretty obvious who the “experts” are (hello Klout score).

      Take your statement:

      “But the reality is that not only did it reach you (I hope) and the five people who tweeted it and their collective 16,860 followers: it also reached all the people lurking in #usguys as well.

      You did NOT, I repeat NOT reach 16,000+ followers. The high majority of followers (should I guess 95% to pull just a weird picture number?) were NOT online. And those that were online were very likely NOT looking at their All Friends stream in that moment when your tweet was RTd, floating by in the stream. And of those few that were looking at the stream, what tiny percentage even cognitively absorbed a scintilla of the content of your tweet? Of all my 1000+ followers you were lucky if you “reached” 1 with my RT. That is how ridiculous these numbers are.

      Yes, you did hopefully reach some non-numerical lurkers to the #usguys thread, but it is just plain craziness to pretend that you “reached” 16,000 in any way at all. Yes, Crowdbooster is cool, but the numbers/graphs can be deceptive or disorienting. Most of my RTs are in the 2000 to 6000 range. But look what happens when (fantastic) Louise @lovelylu RTs my tweet!!:

      Suddenly I am up near 18,000 people! Look at the graph. Look how how deceptive the depicted difference is? It looks like a few tweets really climbed far, far above the others. The truth of the matter is that in terms of real substantive effect the RTs in the low thousands probably had much more “reach” because they may have been in part of a more engaged conversation that others may have been actually following. Being a potential blip on someone’s follower list is not “reaching” a person, as thankful as I am for Louise’s RTs. It isn’t even close. A numbers minded person would then start “targeting” Louise – as I have been targeted for other reasons – and closely watch their so-called “reach” go up. The problem with these numbers is their psychological effect. They seriously distort our sense of what we are doing, and for groups of people that cadre up for more and more of these numbers (and most of super high follower numbers are bots) it provides an insulated sense of status.

  7. I realize this conversation is really important because of the desire to practically access the social community by business. It’s a meaningful one – the immunity factor in my opinion is a deeper truth than the recognition that we have expanded reach. So for someone new to social media, recognizing that reach is a huge motivation to take it seriously. But for someone who has more experience participating in the realm, the question of immunity and genuine connection becomes more significant.

    The dialogue is useful for all those engaged in a “this is why social media can make a difference” conversation. Allows those representatives to choose the correct topic tools and accurately reflect the possibility of social media as a viable marketing and social channel.

    Personally, though, I have a sense about my real reach. I know which connections I can trust and which are more superficial. I hold myself responsible for the state of each – recognizing that it’s on me to deepen my relationship if I so choose. So for me, those numbers mean absolutely nothing. If anything, the higher the number – the more I’m likely to face my own inadequacy in creating and maintaining “fresh, vital and interested” interactions with those who take the time to engage with me.

    Thank you – Kevin and all of those who commented – for continuing to add to my knowledge base – and for being a friendly face in those darn chats – … 😀

    • Sam, good point about how numbers in fact start putting pressure on you. It is for this reason that I seldom follow people with over 10K followers. Their social media can become quietly distorted in the numbers mirror (and the circle) they end up looking into. They say that our max social network is about 150 people (limit of the brain). What happens when our network is made homogeneously of other people who have reached some supposed level of “success”, each of them facing the same pressures of engagement you mention? One’s social media changes, or tends to change. The habits and investments you have become geared to those you surround yourself with. The beauty of Twitter is how it connects you with people you don’t know, with people who are different than you. It may actually be the case that the more followers you have, the less cultural variety you encounter. I’m not sure if it is so, but it is something worth thinking about.

      As always, love your thoughts. Look forward to seeing you in the #usguys stream!

  8. Kevin,

    As I said in my original tweet, which was intended just for you, hence the at mention “I applaud @mediasres for speaking his mind and starting great conversations.”

    I wish you all the best.


    • Re-read my post Peggy. I did not mention you in the least in regards to the 1,000, 000 reach stat. I wrote speaking of MY reaction to the number, not yours, it changed my perspective on the chat even against my better judgement. I then drew an observation about how these numbers are effecting an entire swathe of social media people.

      But, further down you did talk about your own impression reach, I tried to compare apples to apples by bringing in my own @Crowdbooster stats.

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