The adventures of an analog engineer and digital storyteller who studies emerging networks and their impact on the great game of business.
Oct 10, 2011

Only two Major League Baseball teams won 103 regular-season games in 2002. Each couldn’t have been more different. The New York Yankees built their team the way that it had been done for over a century, by combining individual player statistics (batting averages, stolen bases, RBIs, etc.) with the instincts of talent scouts. Since the rest of the league used the same evaluation system, the resulting player-economy favored large-market teams who could afford to fill their rosters with the highest rated ballplayers.

As General Manager of the smaller-market Oakland Athletics, Billy Beane didn’t have the financial resources to pick from the top of that list. So, rather than following the herd, he created his own. Rather than agonizing over RBIs and batting averages, he looked at a player’s ability to get on base. He theorized that a team stacked with such players would statistically score more runs and as a result, they’d likely win more games than their competition. And the best part of Beane’s ranking system? Since the players that he desired were ranked so low by the herd, he could sign them at bargain basement prices.

When Beane fielded his team of “misfits” for $40 million, the herd laughed at him. But at the end of the regular season, he had the last laugh. You see, the New York Yankees had spent $125 million to win their 103 games. The Oakland Athletics spent less than one-third as much to do the very same thing.

While watching the movie, Moneyball, this past weekend, I was struck by the similarities between the baseball herd and the social media herd. When it comes to evaluating the value of social media investments, companies rely on the same herd-like tendencies.

  • Those from the advertising side of the herd see the value of social media as measured in impressions and click-through rates.
  • Those from the marketing side of the herd see the value in terms of “brand messaging/awareness.”
  • Those from the public relations side of the herd see the value in terms of influence.

A slew of analytics companies have stepped up to feed the herd. Their pretty little dashboards serve tasty, herd-favorite morsels such as impressions, click-through rates, fans, and page views. They’ve even invented new measurements such as “klout” and “engagement.”

But here’s the problem. Generic measurements mean nothing without considering the reason for them in the first place. The goal of a MLB General Manager is to field a team that wins more games than the competition. The role of corporate communications is to support a customer’s entire journey to, through, and beyond their purchasing decisions. If the metrics that your company measures don’t support that goal, then why measure them at all?

It’s time to bust away from the social media herd. If your company has been investing in social media this past year, you have a responsibility to analyze it. All of it! Look underneath the pretty dashboard data. Start at January 1st and look at every tweet, every Facebook update, and every blog post. Study every retweet, comment, and “like” that a specific piece of digital content sparked. Look for patterns. What content resonated most with customers? What content did they ignore? What was the single most valuable piece of content that helped the most customers in their moment of truth? The answers to such questions will reveal two things: the value of your efforts and a digital program road map for next year.

But let’s face it. Most companies won’t do this. Analysis is hard work, which is why so few do it. Add the fact that running with the herd is less risky, and most communicators will continue throwing more money at meaningless things.

Billy Beane could have accepted his fate as a small market GM. Instead, he changed the rules. Are you willing to change the rules? Are you willing to dig deep into YOUR data and find out what YOUR CUSTOMERS need to support their journeys to, through, and beyond their purchasing decisions? Or will you acquiesce and continue to run with the herd?

The MLB herd scoffed at Billy Beane…well…that’s right up until he won all those games.

Photo Credit: freefotouk

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