Last weekend a thought came to me that is not unfamiliar, I have felt it many times before, sometimes stopping to articulate the idea in my mind, but haven’t yet written down, till tonight.   The idea is about Social Analytics process, and I’m the first to admit that there is probably a more concise way of conveying this feeling than what I’m about to share.

Social Media Analytics is not yet a process that can be qualified in the same way that Web Analytics, Search Analytics or, for that matter, any defined business process can because of the nature of the emerging technologies employed (which is covered in my book).

That means, that it is next to impossible today to really know that some task should only take 4 hours or 8 hours, 4 days or 8 days, because there are too many undefined aspects of the work that are not yet known, making this type of deliverable a Conundrum.

In the chart above, each social Analytics task takes a certain set of skills and procedures to accomplish; as long as all the steps are known, fully understood and mastered, most tasks or jobs can be done within the range of time that is known (say 4 hours, 8 hours, 2 days, etc).

With operations that are well known and understood, such as getting an oil change on your car, or going to a dentist to get your tooth pulled, it’s generally known how long those things take to do - if they are done by qualified individuals or firms - and how much it should cost.

But that’s not the case with many Social Analytics deliverables; many times I have seen and worked on projects that were only supposed to take 4 hours, but ended up taking 2 days to do, or something that should have taken 3-4 days of work, take 2 or 3 weeks to do.  It’s rare that it’s been the other way, that something allotted to take 2 days to do ends up being done in 4 hours, but occasionally that does happen.

So what gives – why are these deliverables taking so long to do and turning out being more expensive?  I have the answer - Social Analytics is not a set, fixed process yet – it resists being priced as one.  That means it is probably not a good idea to price deliverables as if they were able to be done in a certain fixed time period – that will only be the case if the exact same thing is done exactly the same way, time after time.  But that almost never happens with Social Media today… it’s still too new, too raw to be priced that way … particularly the Analytics part, and that has profound implications for agencies that try to price deliverables as a fixed labor cost.

In every piece of work one does there are familiar parts and unfamiliar parts, there are set ways to doing it.  In the diagram above, when tasks stay within the central circle, they are easier to price and produce, but as soon as they draw information outside the circle (the unknown) they enter into the Conundrum where we don’t know what we don’t know – we have to learn it as we go.

I think, learning new things, mastering new aspects of a task or series of tasks is one of the main rewards of this kind of analysis work – but it’s also one of it’s main frustrations, especially if it’s priced the same way as an “oil change”.   Tasks 1-3 all have aspects that end up falling outside the central circle (what is known), figuring out how to incorporate (growing from the center out) takes time – more time than we are allotted - that’s the Conundrum.

We can’t accurately price a deliverable that has key aspects which are still “unknown”.

So I suggest we stop trying … to do that.  Stop treating Social Analytics as a deliverable  with a fixed price.

A more accurate way of looking at Analytics  is as a process, whose beginning, middle and end  varies, but is possible to recognize once underway.