I was talking with an old friend and business associate the other day about a product he's developing to help companies track how their brands are faring on social networks.
As I've noted before, I don't really get the appeal of many social networks, most particularly Twitter, which, of course, companies who worry about their brands are very worried about right now. One report of a bad latte, and thousands of followers have another cause over which to vent their righteous indignation-at least for the 15 minutes or so it takes for something else to catch their fancy in the hyper-immediate world of Twitter.
At any rate, I imagine the one piece of useful input I gave my friend was that in addition to regular reports on how many "positive" or "negative" comments my brand was receiving, I'd also want, at a minimum, some form of benchmarking to see how my competitors, partners and peers are doing with their positive/negative ratings. (I'd also probably package more detailed analysis of comments on peers as an upsale to a service offering, but that's where the conversation gets boring and greedy.)
I'd not want this benchmarking so much as a source of real competitive analysis-although you have to think there's some virtue to it in that context. No, I'd want this benchmark simply because, in real terms, nobody knows what "positive" really means on a social network. Is having a 40 percent positive comment rate a good thing or a bad thing? After all, hitting .300 in baseball is great.
I guess it all boils down to whether a Tweeter or Facebook junkie (is there a noun for that now?) is more likely to post about a great experience with Sam's Dog Food or a bad experience with Sam's Dog Food. Being a glass-half-empty guy (actually, I'm more like a "Who the hell drank half the water?" kind of guy) and after working more than a decade in online media, I tend to think social media content tends toward the negative (or salacious).
I tend to think that, but I certainly don't know that. And that's the quandary with social media in general-it's next to impossible to quantify what's going on with social media, and business, being the boring and greedy entity that it is, loves quantity. If you can't put it in a spreadsheet, it may be real, but it is still not as real.
That's why I tend to think the Rotten Tomatoes movie review service is still the best Web site ever launched. It takes a universe of entirely subjective content-a lot of it from what could fairly be called social media, if frustrated movie fans' blogs still count in that category-boils it down to a yes/no vote, and aggregates to a ranking that actually is darn useful, and pretty much on target.
Ultimately, that seems to be the piece that's missing from social media, both externally and internally. We often write about the promise of collaborative platforms for sharing best practices and other institutional knowledge, but how does the system determine which best practices are best? You could trust simple user ratings, but again, the number-one way a Web user votes "no" on something is to simply ignore it. Quantify that.