Why measuring trafic is (about to be) useless for a blog

by Laurent François

Hey there!

Some might say that 2009 will be the year of measuring ROI for a social media strategy. Great prediction, but I’m not yet sure we’re on a good way. Why that?
Because I have the strong feeling that we mix a one-night stand with an official lover. Epicurian citizens and loyal readers.
How come?
We read in many online spaces that we shoud measure traffic. Or even better: audience! If someone starts telling you that, just have a break, have a kit-kat or a coffee. And just wonder: when you compare unique visitor who came to your blog thanks to a Google search or because they randomly followed some links and the people who are really registered to your feeds, there’s just…an enormous gap.
What does audience mean? According to Saint Simon, it’s “consideration given to words“, so the respect (good or very bad) you give to one’s views. It’s highly different from a visitor who comes to your blog, thanks to a search engine query or through a little travel from link to link. He can be here for no exact reason, or because he was interested in a specific topic, not in you.

So measuring traffic, for a blog, to determine its influence…it’s like comparing the traffic that a café in a railway station experiences and the one of a VIP club on Monday mornings. For sure, the café is going to explode its stats in regards to the VIP club, but not with the same people and not for the same reasons. So to say, measuring traffic does not give you a lot of insights.
10 years ago, Cluetrain Manifesto was arguing that:

“These markets are conversations. Their members communicate in language that is natural, open, honest, direct, funny and often shocking. Whether explaining or complaining, joking or serious, the human voice is unmistakably genuine. It can’t be faked.”

Who says conversation says sharing, value for the time you spend to talk with someone or some media.
Then, second element: you not only have to be careful with absolute and numerical values. But you also have to integrate some qualitative notions. You have to kill old world habits we used to consider for TV, like GRP (Gross Rating Point): it’s only a pressure indicator, what’s the probability you have to be touched by an advertizing campaign. Whereas social media are made of interactions, impregnation of thoughts and moments among people. The difference between a lurker and a TV-viewers? Lukers read, whereas a TV-viewer can just be drinking an orange juice.

The long-tail has a wide diversity of niche, of unexpected markets of information. If you ask Skyblog users what their Alexa ranks are, I bet they’ll look at you in a very funny way. And it’s good news: they write for fun, for pleasure, for meeting other people. Traffic is for them not integrated in the way they write!

Does it mean that we have to forsake ROI in social media? Not at all. You first need to define objectives and test them in a long-term period. And find the right clues of what influence means.
Pierre Loic has an interesting opinion:

“I would add that the opportunity side (aka revenue), though largely qualitative at the beginning needs to be followed with equal, if not greater, attention. There are two reasons for this: first, by tracking performance over time, you will get reliable trending information very quickly, second, by observing a variety of performance metrics you will end up being able to close the loop and calculate an ROI.”

Be careful in 2009: otherwise you’ll trust people who write that Paris Hilton is a brown-haired girl 😉

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