I was on a panel discussion at the Sales 2.0 conference last week and one of the questions the moderator asked was around dashboards, in other words, if you could create your metrics and dashboards for social engagement; what would you track and why?  It’s really tough to answer this type of a question because on one hand every organization is going to care about different things and on the other hand a part of me wanted to say, “Who cares?”  I said something to that extent and another panelist replied with, “No, I don’t agree -- you need to have dashboards to measure.”  I replied with, “So go make a dashboard.”

Should we worry about metrics around engagement and relationships or should we just accept that this is a new way that business is being conducted and that it’s silly to measure the value of relationships?  One thing that I’m really starting to notice is that we are forgetting the value of people…as people.  We are becoming obsessed with things like Klout score, Twitter followers, and Facebook fans.  It almost feels as though we are starting to accumulate “networks” like we used to collect baseball cards or Pogs (remember those?).  Funny enough when I was speaking at Sales 2.0 I asked the following question, “If I told you that many or most of your customers and prospects were in the social space would you invest?”  (everyone raised their hands and then I followed up with)  ”What if I told you that you would NEVER know if you generated a direct return from any of those customers and prospects in the social space, but you still knew they were there, would you still invest?”  All the hands stayed up.  At that point the question became, well then why bother measuring?

I don’t have THE answer but I understand and see value in both sides of the argument both for measurement and against it.

Let’s look at both.

In favor of metrics and measurement

“In God we trust; all others must bring data.” W. Edwards Deming

If you can’t measure something you can’t improve it and you don’t know what variables are effecting the outcomes you are seeing right?  It’s a bit silly to tell organizations, “get involved in the social media space, don’t worry about measuring anything it’s just an evolution of business.”  Organizations have always had trouble measuring the return from billboards, television commercials, and print ads.  The great thing about social engagement is that we have a lot more data that we could and should be looking at and tying together with traditional customer data.  When decision makers who control a budget invest money into something, they want to see a financial return.  Without showing that return how can the investment possibly be justified?  Bottom line is that if there are no metrics and measurements then there should be no investment in the project. Companies don’t succeed by guessing and doing charity work, they succeed by evaluating and measuring results and progress in their investments and social media should be no different.  Quite frankly not understanding what an investment is bringing in is just stupid.

In favor of focusing on people and relationships and not on metrics

“Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted”~ Einstein

The trouble with data and information is that you can paint any type of picture and tell any type of story you want.  Data makes sense for scientific studies and projects but when we are dealing with people we need to focus on…people.  We spend so much time focusing on scores, dashboards, and metrics, that we forget about actually building relationships with people.  Trying to figure out how much money a tweet or a facebook post generated is a bit like trying to figure out the value of your best friend or better yet parent.  Organizations need to understand that people are people and they need to accept that this is a natural evolution of business and one that cannot be measured as effectively (or at all) as they would like.  In fact focusing on trying to measure the ROI might erode any type of ROI that was generated to begin with.  Organizations purchase fax machines, printers, computers, warranties, billboard ads, television spots, and print ads, yet cannot show any type of return but they invest because they know it’s something that keeps the business running.  When you go to conferences and events you don’t walk around with a clipboard writing down everyone’s relationship score and what a conversation with them is worth.  You do it to build a relationship because you are a person and they are people.  Instead or spending money on measurement and software to track people organizations should spend that money on training their employees to be more human, to build relationships, and to value those relationships.

So what’s the best approach?  Well I think that every company is going to prefer to do things their own way.  There are some companies that believe solving a problem is just as good as ROI and there are organizations that want everything to be measured.  Perhaps the key is to meet somewhere in the middle, that is to understand that in order to see and manipulate success some variables need to be measured and controlled and that measuring everything will you get nothing.  There is indeed a “black box” component to investing in social anything.

What do you think?  Does one approach make more sense than the other?  Should we be meeting somewhere in between?