Skip to content
Woman to grump man: “I’d forgotten how pissy you get when one of your tweets gets ratioed.”

Twitter math

Twitter math published on

Ratioed (see also “the ratio”): When a tweet garners more comments than likes, suggesting it is unpopular.

Square rooted: When the number of comments on a tweet is the square of the number of retweets, suggesting your followers aren’t into sharing and probably didn’t watch Sesame Street.

Quadraticked: When the pace of likes on a tweet over time (t) = at^2 + bt + c. If a is a positive value, it suggests the tweet was popular, then overexposed, then became kind of retro-hip. If a is a negative value, it suggests people are messing with you. (Note that most of the time you will also have a negative number of likes. So, high school all over again.)

Logarithmicked: When the number of likes is the exponent to which a tweet’s character count must be raised to equal the total number of Twitter users, suggesting the advent of Gnarr the Destroyer is at hand.

Sudokued: When the digits in a tweet’s number of likes, retweets and comments, along with its character count, can be arranged in a grid to form a simple, diverting puzzle, suggesting the singularity has occurred and we all missed it.

Fibonaccied: When the number of likes on a tweet equals the character count, the number of retweets equals the character count plus the number of likes, the number of comments equals the character account plus the number of retweets, and the number of followers on the tweet’s account equals the number of comments plus the number of retweets, suggesting you’re reading too much into your metrics.

Two cars with bumper stickers: one says My child is an honor student at Central High School; the other says My kid's post got 30,000 reblogs on Tumblr

Proud parent

Proud parent published on

So your kid’s online, and suddenly they’re being exposed to all kinds of temptations — and you may not always be there to help them make the right choice. It’s time to have The Talk.

Sit them down and explain, “When someone likes like another person’s content very much, they sometimes Like or Favorite it. If it’s very special content, they may decide to reblog it.

“And when the time is right for you, that’s something you’ll probably want to explore for yourself.”

Make sure you talk about not pressuring others to like or reblog your content, and about how nobody should ever do that to them.

And then —tactfully— broach the subject of metrics. How getting a lot of likes, shares, retweets, notes and comments can feel really great… but that it’s easy to fall into the trap of chasing numbers instead of actual connections with other people. And how that can lead you to lose your sense of yourself and your own wonderful, invaluable voice.

“I don’t ever want you to feel your worth as a person depends on how many followers you have, or how many people are liking or sharing your content,” you could say. “Your voice is worthwhile in and of itself. Listen, maybe you’ll have five or ten or thousands of people who love what you have to say. Which is great. Just don’t ever confuse loving your content with loving you.

“That said” (and here a hug wouldn’t be out of place) “as long as I’m online, you’ll always be able to count on at least one like for everything you post.”

(Captain Renaud from Casablanca) Major Strasser has launched a social media strategy. Round up the usual metrics.

I came to Casablanca for the retweets. I was misinformed.

I came to Casablanca for the retweets. I was misinformed. published on No Comments on I came to Casablanca for the retweets. I was misinformed.

Some of the advice I’ve seen around social media measurement boils down to “Don’t pay attention to x. You should be measuring y.”

Don’t pay attention to retweets; you should be measuring follower growth. Don’t pay attention to follower growth; you should be measuring post likes. Don’t pay attention to post likes; you should be measuring FlegmaRank, our proprietary new index based on a secret algorithm that boils eighty thousand different variables into a single integer between 0 and 1.

It’s enough to drive an online campaigner to drink… or, more productively, to the bookshelf. This stuff is why I was so pleased to draw the cartoons for Beth Kanter and K.D. Paine’s Measuring the Networked Nonprofit. And why I loved reading Katie’s Measure What Matters. And (this’ll take you back) Avinash Kaushik’s Web Analytics: An Hour a Day. (I’d link to it, but he has a more recent follow-up, Web Analytics 2.0.)

What all that advice really should boil down to is this: what do you want your online efforts to achieve? How do you believe they’ll do it? (That is, what’s your theory of change?) How can you measure each stage of the mechanism underlying your theory? How can you benchmark against peers, competitors and past performance? And how can your measurements help you assess your model against real-world results, and adjust accordingly?

Answer those questions, and you’ll know which metrics matter. (They may be the usual suspects. They may not. Chances are they’ll be some of each.) Everything else is noise.


Metrics published on No Comments on Metrics

Key Performance Indicator, in case you’re wondering.

Chasing numbers

Chasing numbers published on No Comments on Chasing numbers

I don’t believe in chasing metrics for their own sake. I really don’t.

But for the past month, Noise to Signal has hovered tantalizingly close to 2,000 fans on Facebook, and dammit, I really like it when the cartoon reaches more people. If an arbitrary number can help make that happen, then by god, I’ll embrace that arbitrary number and tickle it under its chin.

So I posted that if we can crack that 2,000-fan barrier tonight, I’ll post next week’s cartoon today:

I have a cartoon that I’m planning to post next week. But if you fine people can convince 18 more people to like the page and crack 2,000, it’ll go live RIGHT AWAY. (Why? Because I like round numbers and because my subconscious is convinced that more Likes mean I won’t die alone and unloved someday.)

And my old friend Kevin Marsh from my Queen’s Park days replied that he might be game for it if I post a cartoon about my subconscious. And here it is.

The offer still stands. Next week’s cartoon awaits just 18 more Facebook Likes.

(In case you’re wondering, yes: I went back and forth over whether to say “shitload”. I ultimately went with it because I think it’s funny as hell when a monk says “shitload.” In many ways, I never really stopped being 12.)

Woman has dumped drink on man's head. Man's friend says 'I'd say the key metric here is your bounce rate.'

We just didn’t click

We just didn’t click published on No Comments on We just didn’t click

Originally posted on ReadWriteWeb

As I was drawing this one it occurred to me that if you look at nearly any piece of web terminology long enough, it starts to seem vaguely smutty.

Sometimes it doesn’t take any contemplation at all; Facebook should feel downright embarrassed about pushing “frictionless sharing”. (No, I’m not drawing that one – at least not here. This is a family site, bub.)

And don’t get me started on HTTP status codes – although, sadly, it’s the client errors that seem the most compelling. Between 417 (“Expectation Failed”), 405 (“Method Not Allowed”) and 429 (“Too Many Requests”), they tell the story of two tragically incompatible people who should never have hooked up in the first place. “And when he woke up the next morning, she was 410.”

Anyway, to everyone who’s been up to their eyeballs in web analytics this week, this one’s for you.

Get thee behind me, Twitalyzer

Get thee behind me, Twitalyzer published on No Comments on Get thee behind me, Twitalyzer

Originally posted on ReadWriteWeb.

I’m a numbers junkie.

Oh, I talk a good line about how it’s the quality of the conversation that matters, and the connections you make… but you won’t see a day go by when I’m not checking on stats. Twitter followers, Klout score, blog traffic: if I can measure it, I’m counting.

And it’s not like those numbers aren’t important… so long as they’re measuring something that ultimately represents some kind of impact I can have on the world, or vice versa.

But that doesn’t explain why it’s such a compulsion for me – and, let’s face it, for an awful lot of people. I’ve subscribed to a number of theories over the years, most of them variants on “It’s all about making up for not being cool in high school.”

That still makes some sense to me. Yet it doesn’t seem to capture something even more primal: the innate attraction of just plain measuring. Especially when it’s measuring, comparing, and passing milestones.

For instance, this cartoon came about because one of the people I follow on Twitter mentioned on Friday that he was a single follower away from 3,000, and wouldn’t that be a nice way to start the weekend? I and a few others retweeted his request; he crossed the threshold; and then someone else tweeted to remind us both that what’s important is content, and not the number of people following you.

She’s completely right. But it’s also true that it’s human nature to watch as the odometer turns over, to commemorate 40th birthdays, or to take quiet notice when we ram-lap. (Ram-lapping? That’s when you finally get a computer that has the same amount of RAM as your first computer’s hard drive size.) And when my Twitter follower count passes its next round number, I fully intend to mark the occasion. (Not with anything royal-wedding in scale, but something more than just a cupcake with blue icing.)

Of course, as part of an online strategy, measurement should lead to actionable insights. But it can be a pleasure to measure. And maybe recognizing that is the under-appreciated first step in keeping metrics in perspective.


I’m just a 34 dressed up as a 68

I’m just a 34 dressed up as a 68 published on No Comments on I’m just a 34 dressed up as a 68

Klout is an intriguing service, one that aims to measure your influence on Twitter (and now on Facebook). It’s admittedly far from perfect; “I can get people to retweet things” is pretty minor influence compared to “I can get people to consider certain ideas” or “I can sway people’s voting habits”. But until the Twitter API is hooked up to some of the machinery from Inception – or unless you’re willing to pay for some far more intensive and probably more manual analysis – we work with what we have.

And if you take “influence” to mean “reach of voice” or “ability to direct others’ attention at least for a moment”, then Klout (and cousins like Twinfluence, Twitalyzer, Tweetlevel and my very own Influ-a-rama-matic – what it lacks in reliability it makes up for in ego-boosting) can be pretty useful. Just remember it’s a starting point… and that the raw Klout score is a pretty blunt instrument. (“How influential are you?” “64.”) Diving in and looking at some of the more detailed metrics can take you further, and tell you, for instance, that person x has a lot of followers but doesn’t often engage them, while person y has a smaller audience but much more vigorous engagement.

Even then, though, you’ll need to figure out for yourself what subjects they’re most “influential” on, and with whom. (Klout takes a stab at it with a topic summary at the bottom of each profile, and it’s not a bad starting point. Also, I had no idea that Alex was so influential about the Vancouver Canucks.)

So why, then, do I check Klout obsessively?

  1. Badges. They have badges.
  2. To make up for what happened in high school. (Yes, I know.) Dammit, people do love me, and I can quantify it.
  3. Badges and personal validation… do I really need a third reason?

Social media: where you’re never a loan

Social media: where you’re never a loan published on No Comments on Social media: where you’re never a loan

Oh, sure, it would be neat if your bank (or credit union) counted your social media assets when they calculated your net worth. But you just know they’ll start skimming your followers as a service fee. And they’ll pull your gold card the moment your Klout score drops below 55.

It’s not cheating if…

It’s not cheating if… published on 3 Comments on It’s not cheating if…

Before we get to the cartoon, two announcements for my Vancouver friends.

  1. Morgan Brayton’s show Raccoonery at the Vancouver Fringe Festival on Granville Island is funny as hell, brilliantly performed and just generally entertaining. There are three more shows – September 16, 17 and 19 – and tickets are $17, including a Fringe membership. Go, go, go.
  2. I’m teaching The Art of Social Media starting Wednesday evening, September 15 at Emily Carr University of Art and Design (also on Granville Island). This six-session course looks at social media basics, with a special focus on the arts, self-expression and marketing. There are still a few spaces left – more info here (and more social media courses here).

I’ve posted a few times about how my unease at the way social media can help a marketing mentality shape our self-expression and online relationships. Obsessing over metrics and follower counts is the beginning; before you know it, you’re thinking of romantic dinners and late-night liaisons as “conversions.”

But give marketing – especially online marketing – its due. The same thing has happened with marketing that happened with video, audio and many other fields: tools that were priced far out of our reach only a few years ago are suddenly cheap (or even free) and readily available.

Google Analytics is probably the best-known of those tools, now joined by innovators likeChartbeat. You’ll also find everything from keyword analysis… to Facebook demographic numbers (a Facebook Ads account opens up a huge window into the makeup of their users, even if you never buy a single ad)… to sophisticated e-mailing list services like Campaign Monitor and MailChimp… to simple A/B testing plugins for your blog.

But there’s a cautionary note to sound here. Case in point: if you’re old enough to remember the advent of desktop publishing, then 1) I hope you can read this through your bifocals, and 2) you’ll also remember the eyeball-searing newsletters and posters pumped out by folks who could read the PageMaker manual but didn’t have a clue about design. (Sixty different typefaces on one page! Cool!)

The point is that a tool might be easy to use, but it isn’t necessarily easy to use well. And reading even a few books about, say, analytics – I’m a fan of Avinash Kaushik‘s, for example – will put you head and shoulders above most of the rest of us.

And once you know how to use a tool well, you’ll be in a much better position to use it (or when not to) to achieve the things that really matter to you, whether it’s valuable business conversions or meaningful personal connections.

Ernst Stavro Blofeld would like to be your friend

Ernst Stavro Blofeld would like to be your friend published on 5 Comments on Ernst Stavro Blofeld would like to be your friend

Metrics. They’re so tempting to chase, because you can so easily see your progress: this many Likes. This many friends. This many retweets. This many uniques.

But very few metrics have ultimate meaning; they’re mostly means to an end. Maybe that end is profit. Maybe it’s social change. Maybe it’s finding love in an uncertain world. (And for the record, “two hearts beating as one” is too a measurable outcome.)

Don’t just obsess about metrics. Interrogate them. Skeptically. “Yeah? So what?” is a solid opening question. Once you get that answer, so is “Since when?” Sometimes “Says who?” isn’t a bad one either.

Otherwise, we end up chasing metrics instead of goals. We follow tactics instead of strategy. And instead of focusing on that one thing we truly want to achieve, we settle for being a hundred people’s ninth favourite thing.

I will grasp at any straw, no matter how thin, to do a Bond cartoon. This probably wasn’t my most technically proficient cartoon ever… but it was fun as hell to draw.

If they won’t rise up and smite your enemies when you ask them to, are they really “followers”?

If they won’t rise up and smite your enemies when you ask them to, are they really “followers”? published on No Comments on If they won’t rise up and smite your enemies when you ask them to, are they really “followers”?

For a few brief, glorious moments on Monday, as Twitter responded to a security issue by reverting all follower counts to zero, we were all equals. The neoest of neophytes had as many followers as Oprah or Ashton. (Hell, I had as many followers as @awsamuel. When was the last time that happened?)

Now the old order has been restored, and metrics-obsessed mavens can go back to human-bean-counting (I’ll admit it, I’m one of them). But I would have liked to see how things might have worked out if the follower-count-outage had lasted a few days instead of a few minutes. How would it have changed how we interact? Would we have resorted to deciding whether to engage with someone based on the quality of their conversation, or would we have found some other proxy for their capital-I Importance?