Larry Brauner
Everything defies measurement and tracking. Everything, really.

Try recording your food intake. If you’re an emotional eater, committing your diet to paper ought to make you feel quite uncomfortable. However, even if you eat normally, listing your meals poses the following interesting problem:

Because you’re making a list of your meals and snacks, you’ll tend to make healthier eating choices than you would otherwise make. You may eat less or more than usual. Therefore, the items on your list will not represent your typical food intake. Rather, they’ll be biased.

Tracking the Untrackable

For several years, I worked as a business analyst at IDT Corporation.

One of several areas responsibility at IDT was analyzing advertising tracking data, partly in order to evaluate each advertising purchase, and partly to in order to determine the net value of each customer (after factoring out the cost of acquiring that customer).

Given our level of sophistication, tracking the new customers by marketing channel should have been straightforward. Nevertheless, there was a major problem: Our new customer defied tracking.

A different toll-free telephone number and a different web address was used for each newspaper, magazine, television station, radio station and direct mail piece. When a customer called the toll-free number or visited the web site, we knew how the customer was referred to us.

Well, sort of. The problem was that the customer didn’t always behave as we had hoped.

No matter which phone number or web address the customer was given, that customer sometimes found it more convenient to obtain the phone number by calling Information or going online, and to bypass their assigned web address, going to the company’s main website instead.

We called such a customer “untrackable” and were forced to make the best assumptions we could to deal with the untrackables in our analyses.

Tracking Twitter

I can provide many examples of tracking and measurement difficulties, especially from my years working in marketing research at Eric Marder Associates, but not to bore you too much, I’ll jump now to my discussion of Twitter.

My thoughts on Twitter will apply in varying degrees to Facebook and other social sites as well. I break down the measurement and tracking of Twitter traffic into these eight parts:

  1. You need to realize that much activity on the Internet, and on Twitter specifically is generated by cyber robots or plain bots. They tweet the majority of updates on Twitter, and they account for more than 90% of the traffic that flows through the links in Twitter posts.
  2. While some techies may be very interested in bot activity, most of us are simply interested in counting and tracking human clicks on our links. We need to separate out and count only real clicks by real peeps.
  3. Realize too that most humans access Twitter from desktop and mobile clients, not from the Twitter domain. (The extent to which this is true depends on the particular audience you’re targeting.)
  4. Web analytics tools, such as Google Analytics and Clicky, do exclude bot traffic from their stats. However, they do not know how to break down and allocate the so-called direct traffic coming from users’ desktops and mobile devices. In web analytics, direct traffic is the untrackable element which I discussed above in connection with my work at IDT. Nevertheless, do not rely on the stats from your site’s log. Install and use Google Analytics and Clicky in your blog or website. I use both myself. (For my Wordpress blog, I use the Ultimate Google Analytics plugin, and I installed the Clicky script in a sidebar.)
  5. Web untrackables come to websites in many different ways, such as directly typing a website address, selecting browser bookmarks, using a variety of desktop and mobile clients like TweetDeck, and even clicking on a link in an e-mail program such as Microsoft Outlook. Try and get a sense of where your direct traffic comes from.
  6. Rules of thumb provide no more than ball park estimates, and these crude approximations are often inadequate. Use rules of thumb only as a last resort.
  7. You can substitute tracked links in your tweets, but tracked links generally count bot traffic. However, BudUrl from Live Oak 360 has begun counting only human clicks. Great news! While their links can’t be generated automatically by TweetDeck, if you’re serious about tracking, you’ll put up with the inconvenience. Not every tweet will have a link, and not every link will need to be tracked.
  8. Even if you use BudUrl as I recommend, there’s still one more thing defying measurement, the Twitter user who replaces your link with theirs in order to track their retweet or because they prefer another shortening link. No way around this one! Remember, “Everything defies measurement and tracking.”

I count the comments made on each article. Don’t you defy measurement and tracking. :-P

Share your ideas below in a comment. :-)

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