Hanging around with folks in the Marketing world has taught me a lot over the years.  One of those things is that you shouldn’t try to screw up a perfectly good story with logic.

Over time, I’ve learned about everything from how to use internet tools to help spread your ideas, to the dark side of gaming lists and searching for faux or inflated popularity,  to accruing credentials via social proof as much as from real life and hard work.  I’ve read so many business and marketing books to date, that I’m starting to feel like each new book seems like a rehash of older ideas, without much new value or new ideas being shared.  I’m starting to feel like I’ve come to the end of the internet, and need to start back at the beginning, rediscovering the novelty, creativity and inventiveness that made it all interesting in the first place.

Why this jaded viewpoint?

The ‘Net and social media aren’t new anymore.  The shiny object syndrome, for me, has long passed.  The point now is to use the tools at hand strategically to maximize the benefits as efficiently as possible, using time wisely, and also generating more value for each input.  I’m done posting filler content to meet some schedule or for appearances sake alone.  I’m only posting when I have something to say or something worth sharing, and I’m avoiding being active for the sake of activity alone.  It’s simply not worth it to spend time just making noise and not making a difference.

So when Chris Penn pointed out a Harvard Business Review blog post on the Value of a Like,  I took a look.  I’d want to know if someone cracked the value of social media code, especially when I am a bit skeptical about the objective value of a like, especially when compared to a comment or other interaction that requires actual effort.  Personally, I think “Likes” on Facebook are like high fives at the end of a sporting event in high school.  It’s a polite acknowledgement, but little more.  I never go back and look at stuff I have “liked” on Facebook unless it’s particularly relevant, and then, maybe once a quarter, if that often.  Sometimes I do check out what friends have liked, but again, unless it’s spectacularly relevant, not often.  Yet marketers are spending a ton of money to get me to like their page.  Why?  They want access to my network, and I’m not always sure I want to share my network with the latest brand vying for my fleeting attention and that of my friends and colleagues.

In the article, Dan Zarrella from Hubspot advocates an equation to calculate the value of a like, which amounts to trying to balance the value of interactions, both positive and negative, and assign a numerical value to them.  It sounds neat, and Hubspot has a calculator tool you can use for this as well. However, churning out a number to show a client so they will be impressed with all your math-a-magical wizardry and pay you a higher monthly fee doesn’t solve the base problem, which is how consumers take the information they learn about you online and turn that into actions that are valuable to you.  At some point, it has to come down to economic value of eyeballs on your site, or purchases and money in your bank account.  When I looked at the equation, the first thing I saw was that dividing total likes by unlikes (which should be a negative number, representing the people opting out of your network)- This would then make the value of the whole equation negative, showing a decrease rather than increase in value for “likes” overall, not what I think Dan was shooting for.

Now don’t get me wrong- I’m all for people trying to figure out the inherent value for social media and tying real numbers to the metrics it generates.  Knowing how many people took a specified action, and even better if it could be measured as authentic versus automated- gives you an idea of how engaged your audience is, and how valuable they think your content is.  After all, we share things with our friends we find worth talking about -in positive or negative ways-and if they make the effort to type in a url, tweet or other actual “share” effort, they care enough to take an extra step all the passive readers did not.  But whether or not this converts into sales will depend as much on the sentiment of the interaction, which Dan does not account for in his equation, and is much harder to quantify, other than through manual scoring of positive, negative or neutral sharing.

All of this is to say that before you believe and take to heart the latest metric or solution to your marketing conundrums, take a moment and ask yourself if it’s meaningful and important, and if it makes sense when set up against your own real world experience.  Apply logic.  Look at things more objectively, or ask someone not in the field to see if  they understand it when you explain it to them and if it passes the smell test.  As much as we like to use math and statistics to make our assumptions and ideas look good, and sound all science-y- sometimes it’s just like folks who believe in Creationism starting to call their belief system “Intelligent Design” instead- it’s a great re-branding of old ideas into new, science clothing, but the basic underlying product is still the same.  See also– Slapping a “New and Improved” sticker on a product that hasn’t really changed will temporarily raise sales, until the public notices that not much, if anything, has changed when they actually experience the product.

But I guess applying logic won’t get you the shiny, glossy number that you can use to impress clients.  Skepticism is not profitable.  It does help me sleep better at night, however.  I love social media, and it has added social, empirical, and yes, even at times, monetary value to my life.  But at the end of the day, social media is about customer service, public relations, focus groups, market research, and other testing of the waters of public sentiment and word of mouth. It’s a great way to find resources quickly, and narrow the field when you are searching for something- the friend filter of experience is priceless.

At least for now, I don’t think all the numbers we are generating- likes, friends, followers, pins, circles- you name it- tell the whole story.  It’s about the long term trends of data and the actual sentiment of consumers rather than one number or data point that tells us anything meaningful or actionable.  The numbers are just the start of the story, and need the compass of experience to direct a business towards a meaningful path ahead in uncharted waters.  Dazzling Data means nothing without a gut check.