Social media metrics: reach ≠ quality

I need to start this post by confessing that I’ve been wanting to use ≠ in a post for ages. For anyone who is thinking it’s a typo, it’s not it’s actually the symbol for *does not equal*, so indulge me with my quirk if you will and keep reading – anyone who got here already.

In fact let’s start right there – that’s me, that’s my quirk, that’s my indulgence. When I blog I tend to stay very true to me, it’s a personal blog, I write what I like and I don’t worry too much about who reads what. If I was blogging for work, or concerned about understanding or promoting something of mass interest, I doubt I’d start a blog like this, I’ve already lost at least half of you who stumbled here I guess. There is the point of this blog post – a reflection on social media metrics, and the challenges of measuring anything useful and the relationship between self and audience satisfaction.



I joined the #lgovsm chat this week and found it really useful, in fact I really enjoyed the fast pace discussion and challenge, you can read a write up of the discussion here. The bit that made it for me was hearing from new people, who only rarely fall into my social media path, and having some debate and discussion. I work in social care and in my opinion we’re a sector woefully short of social media influencers. In fact I’d argue those who may be considered to be such know very little about #socialcare – they may know about #socmed or about communications, but few seem to understand the intricacies of social care, and where they do they only occasionally have the opportunity to join in a lot of the social media discussions because their working lives doesn’t facilitate them sitting in front of a computer to participate.

At this point I  should declare (in case you’ve not noticed already) that this post is likely to be full of sweeping statements – I’m sure that’ll lose another 20% of you as I offend your own viewpoint, apologies.



Back to my last point, certainly most people working in #localgov social care are lucky if when they can access computer equipment, they are not on machines that are at least 5-10 years old, running IE6, without a sound card. Lots of residential care providers have been helped online through the Department of Health funded Get Connected project, but there is still a long way to go before most providers are active participants in social media. I’m not even going to consider those of us who use social care services, rather than work in them (and I know it’s not either/or) but I think that needs another post, another time.

Maybe this is the same in other sectors, or maybe it is particularly pronounced given how slow the social care sector has been to embrace technology more broadly, and social media as one vehicle within that. I’m not sure, but I’m sure there are some social media experts who will let me know. Which brings me on to the point of my post that could make or destroy it’s reach – working on the assumption that I’ve only lost 70% of the readership already. The blatant opinion, that is likely to upset those people who have the most social media reach. These are the people who have the largest networks, and/or the most followers, and/or the most ‘influence’ (as measured by social media metrics).



If you’d like to know more about metrics and their measurement then take a peak at the post written by @Ermintrude2 that you can read here and that post built on an introductory one from @ClaireOT which you can read here.

There are so many limits to social media metrics, I’m not going to get into the algorithms (because the posts above do) but I’m going to offer three tricks, as I see them, for anyone interested in increasing their influence and/or extending their reach:

1) Follow more – invariably those with highest influence scores follow thousands of followers on twitter, or facebook, or linkedin. There is a simple reciprocity bias at play here, the more you follow, the more follow you – and therefore the more people there are to share your wisdom and musings with the world.

2) Don’t talk to the little people – one or two well timed interactions, with other similarly ‘influential’ types will boost your scores, chat and discussion with those lower down the food chain won’t. So you get more influence for hanging with the cool kids than encouraging and welcoming new people into your social media circles.

3) Re-tweet (RT) as much as possible, or better still take someone else’s tweet, add your own hashtag and mention them at the end with a hat-tip (HT) if at all. This will allow lots of people who follow you to think you’re adding to the discussion, they won’t necessarily know that it isn’t your contribution and when it comes to them RTing they’ll end up RT you not the person at the end of the tweet (where you remembered to mention them).

I believe all of those three tricks will help increase your reach and influence. What none of them do though is account for quality, and there lies the rub for me:


reach  ≠  quality


It seems to me that one of the great successes of social media is that it enables us to turn broadcast on it’s head. It is no longer about cascading information, but about disrupting and debating and reframing and building and contributing to information. It is about a living, breathing entity. Therefore I’d like to see any social media metric measuring engagement and participation, and quality of contribution within that. Unless I’m missing something the metrics just aren’t there yet. So I’ll keep my head in the sand and keep relying on my favourite social media metric – a word of mouth recommendation, or a discussion with someone who bothers to engage with me. I know that I’ll bias my own network like that, I know that I’ll make my own judgements, which may well not be as reliable as the algorithm, however I prefer my own judgement of quality over quantity or reach any day.

Disclaimer: I know nothing about klout or other social media metrics, I’ve never visited their site or awarded any scores to anyone. I try to follow no more than 100 people on twitter and my facebook account is full of photos of my mates babies. I am  NOT an expert on this stuff – I’m just throwing my thoughts into the mix. I do NOT wish to offend anyone, merely to promote discussion and to that end I’d love to know your thoughts and views. If any of you read this – thank you – I can’t believe you reached the end!

My arrows came from here.

0 comments on “Social media metrics: reach ≠ quality”

shirleyayres says:

Is Klout On the Way Out? Without transparency @klout or any of the other growing number of website measuring social influence cannot claim to be “the standard for influence”

Worth reading this thoughtful post @jkcallas

Hello George,
Thank you for a great post as usual. I don’t know how useful social media metrics are or who they are actually for! I don’t know how one gets to move up the rankings but activity does seem to have quite a lot to do with it. They are certainly not very useful to me. But I would like to know if someone is beginning on Twitter would they be of any use in understanding how to get involved? You mention word of mouth recommendations. I think that curated lists are good for this but Twitter is supporting these poorly although I noticed yesterday that Klout let’s me import my Twitter lists now, and one of Peer Index’s best features is that it easily allows lists to be aggregated. I’ve aggregated several into a ‘health in the UK’ list which some people say is useful although these people are rarely newbies!
I think we should think about ways of talking about the pros and cons of social media usage for frontline staff. In the NHS the discussions such as #nhssm are also very comms team dominated. There is not sufficient yet sufficient engagement with frontlne staff in my opinion.
So I think you again raise very good points. And I think I might hav to write a blog post myself!

martinhowitt says:

Hi George
good post and I agree with your analysis, though I suppose it depends what you use social media for. I know of at least one person who uses his Klout score as “proof” that he can use the medium to influence people. In this context it is an imperfect metric yet it is still the best thing he has as a sales instrument.

Personally, I couldn’t do that, and I’m guessing most people in the social care arena couldn’t either. Professional social media gurus, though, are a rare breed 🙂


vic says:

Not seen this before George. Thanks a useful reminder of what is good about Twitter and how to avoid the irksome.

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