If I left you scratching your head at “demetrication” you’re likely not alone. The word has been around since researcher Ben Grosser first rigged up a work around to eliminate “vanity metrics” such as likes, shares and follower counts on social media platforms back in 2012. Back then, in the heady days of platform growth, and long before concerns over foreign influence in democratic elections through social media, or an awareness of ties to mental health issues, not many cared about his Demetricator.
But as the darker side of social has emerged, and we have started to see platforms such as Instagram experiment with hiding metrics such as “likes” in Canada, coupled with the rising power of influencers eating away at platform ad revenue through direct brand/influencer sponsored content deals, demetrication has started to enter the conversation. The hiding of metrics that measure publicly the impact or reach of a particular piece of content could have wide reaching impact. The key here to understand is the “public” display of metrics. Make no mistake, any effort in this area will never eliminate back end metrics, since that is what the business model of selling ads on social platforms is based on.
But for public users, it would certainly change the experience – less pressure to post stuff that gets lots of likes, and less pressure to measure personal success through popularity. But it would also impact the unwritten aggregator that count numbers give us when browsing content – it would be difficult to know if something had been broadly viewed (and by default thought important) or if someone was actually of influence and knowledge (assumed through their follower numbers). It’ s undeniable that it would have far reaching impact on what and how we share, and how we let information impact us. For influencers, it would dramatically change their clout, and at the very least make it such that they would have to share the back-end metrics with clients and brands, or shift to a more sales results and tracking to the client’s site for measurement of success.
I see political pressure to move in this direction, for two reasons: mental health concerns, and the influence of social media on democracy in news feeds. The platforms also have increasing motivation for this, since in a back-end measurement metrics environment, it would favour purchased ad content through them, with less budgets going to influencers. But they are unlikely to justify it publicly that way. It’s more apt to come via the “we’re doing it to respond to mental health concerns.” The PR spin on that is much better.
I’m not saying this will happen tomorrow. It may not happen at all. But strategically, we would be foolish to not contemplate a response now and plan for it – especially if you are an influencer, or engage them in your business.
So, what to do?
1. Build your own platforms – owned and rented: It goes without saying that businesses need to build their own contact lists through their blog followers or enews subscribers, but they should also be building out their own social media followers, rather than “renting” an influencers audience. In a demetrication scenario, you would at least have access to the metrics on the back end of your own accounts instead of relying on influencers to give you access to theirs.
2. Develop strategies for obtaining non-public metrics: Companies that retrieve third party analytics and verify data about an influencers audience and engagement rates will be important. With that in mind, it might be a good idea to start working with influencers now, who will release their data to those API’s. In the end influencers might have no choice but to become more accommodating if enough big brand refuse to pay big bucks without access to third party verified metrics. If you’re an influencers, you might want to consider how this will impact you and prepare accordingly as well.
3. Put more emphasis on qualitative: Metrics are quantitative measures and they’ve given numbers that have enabled brands to justify budgets, and largely shift a lot of traditional advertising spend into digital areas. However, up until now quantitative numbers have definitely trumped qualitative. For example, it could be argued an influencer with a fiercely loyal email list of 2,000 and a blog with engagement, but minimal followers on Instagram, has way more clout then an influencer with 50,000 followers on a single platform and little engagement. Yet, brands continue to measure influence largely by reach, and largely dominated by Instagram. I think a healthy rethink of just how much weight to give to each is in order. You may just find you are undervaluing qualitative.
Another issue here is the fact that many brands have put the decision making about social media in the hands of those who they perceive understand it – usually millennials. That group dominates Instagram, and by default measures clout and numbers on the platform they frequent. This fact could go a long way to explaining why quantitative numbers on a single platform has dominated influencer measurement.
4. Track links: Many brands do not track links from influencer content. A recent study estimated as little as 30% of brands measure content back to any meaningful action. In a world of demetrication tracking links will be very important, since relying on metrics such as likes, shares and retweets won’t be available (at least publicly). And when you can no longer justify a budget based on follower counts, tracking links becomes an obvious move.
5. Test and compare: If demetrication makes it more difficult to know what an influencer can deliver, embracing a test-based model might make sense. Selecting influencers on a mix of quantitative numbers and qualitative engagement beyond just social media platforms, and then comparing small campaigns to see who can deliver results, might be the way to go.
I suspect at some point in the future we’ll look back on this time and consider how it was all so simple, and a bit of a wild west in terms of dealing with influencers. Remember when a “like” meant ALL those people saw your post? Seems like a fairy tale now doesn’t it?
Platforms mature, and look for ways to make more money. Demetrication could well be the next step. What do you think?