And you and I will prove this together.
As soon as I publish this post, I am going to tweet out the link to my 22,000 followers on Twitter. When that happens, click this link to see what SiteMeter says the traffic looks like for today. This will give us a good idea of how many of the 22,000 people following me on Twitter are REALLY following me and what level of engagement I have with those 22,000 people.
I can tell you right now that at best probably 1 or 2 percent of those people will click that link I tweet out. Think about that, of the 22,000 people following me, only 1 or 2 percent are likely to click on a link I share. And honestly, that’s pretty good.
So that means that well over 90% of the people following me aren’t clicking on links I share. So is it more accurate to say that 22,000 people are following me, or is it actually more like a few hundred?
Here’s a second example of how the numbers in social media can be deceiving.
That graph shows the number of feed readers that Feedburner says I have at The Viral Garden over the last month. This is how FeedBurner explains the number it shows for # of feed readers:
FeedBurner’s subscriber count is based on an approximation of how many times your feed has been requested in a 24-hour period. Subscribers is inferred from an analysis of the many different feed readers and aggregators that retrieve this feed daily. Subscribers is not computed for browsers and bots that access your feed.
Subscribers counts are calculated by matching IP address and feed reader combinations, then using our detailed understanding of the multitude of readers, aggregators, and bots on the market to make additional inferences.
Now, this is the problem I have. First, notice that the # of feed readers (the number shown in green on top of the above graph) has been steadily rising over the last month. A month ago, it was at 5,238, yesterday it was up to 7,359. That’s about a 40% increase in the number of feed subscribers Feedburner reports for The Viral Garden in the last month.
The problem: I have only written ONE post on The Viral Garden in the last month. In fact, I have only written FOUR posts there in the last FIVE months.
So does it make any sense for Feedburner to say that over 7,000 people are accessing my feed every day, even though that feed hasn’t put out a new post in over 2 weeks? Doesn’t common sense suggest that most of the people that are subscribed to my feed would only be accessing it when a new post is published?
To further put the FeedBurner numbers in doubt, let’s look at the actual traffic to The Viral Garden over the last 12 months, according to SiteMeter:
Up until the middle of May, I was keeping up a regular schedule of 2-3 posts a week over at The Viral Garden. But since the middle of May, I have left 4 posts there. Notice that the above SiteMeter graph reflects this, as traffic fell sharply in May, and again in June, before settling down to roughly half the traffic levels it was up till May. This is exactly what you would expect, volume of posts fell sharply starting in May, and the traffic did as well.
So again, how is the number of feed readers steadily RISING, according to FeedBurner? Does that make any sense?
These are just two examples, but I think it points to a larger problem: Too many of the numbers being used to measure social media seem to be way off. And I think that because so many of these numbers are inaccurate, it is keeping more companies from investing more dollars in social media efforts. Because if they don’t know to accurately measure how many people are seeing their message, or following them, or reading their content, or interacting with them, how can they justify spending dollars on ghosts?
They can’t. And we shouldn’t expect them to. We need better numbers, and until we get them, social media strategists such as myself need to keep pushing for them, and explain to our clients where the shortcomings are.
We can do MUCH better and the future of this industry depends on us finding a way to do so.