“Mine is Bigger than Yours”: Social Media Ranking and Scientists

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Cartoon from Tom FishburneOne of the things I’ve struggled with during my online career is how to figure out what impact, if any, I’m actually creating with all my blogging, tweeting, and other online social media activity.   It would be nice to show a potential funding agency or employer that I’m not just farting around on the internet.  I’m actually accomplishing something.

By. Um.
Farting around on the internet.

Anyway.

There are a lot of different ways that you can try to measure how far your online efforts are spreading your ideas. (BTW, there is a large and argumentative literature about the differences between Assessment, Evaluation, and Measurement.  I am going to stick with the less controversial term ‘Measurement’ here.)

You can track your traffic using Google Analytics.  You can count how many followers you have on Twitter, Friends on Facebook, Followers on G+, and Pinheads (?) on Pinterest.  But before you jump into measuring, stop and think.  You are a scientist. Would you run around measuring all possible variables for an experiment?  I hope not.

social media planning strategyStart with WHY you are online. What do you want to accomplish? I really like this graphic, because it shows how what you measure should be driven by your goals.

When I started blogging, I wanted to try to get better at writing for a non-technical audience (personal goal) and I wanted to get more people thinking insects are cool (squidgy professional goal).  Those are not, of course, proper goals. But it’s a start.

I’ve had 1.3 million visits to my blog.  But what does that really mean in terms of my goals?   That traffic could just be the result of very good search engine optimization.  It might be a million people clicking through, going “Damn it, no porn!” and then leaving.

If you are counting followers, or blog visits, you probably have an upward trending line. Yay!  But that doesn’t actually mean that you are changing any behavior, or having any influence. What you want to know is how many “Likes”, RTs, comments, or other sorts of things that show people actually engaging with your content there are.

What’s an appropriate metric for those goals? Google Analytics data for length of time on a page tells me if people found my writing interesting enough to stay for a while.  Number of return visitors tells me if people ever come back, or if they read one thing, and then decide that’s enough.

Don’t measure everything from the giant firehose of internet data.  Choose metrics that actually help decide if you’re heading toward your goals, or at least give an indirect measure.

Do you really need to keep track of any of this stuff?

That depends on your goal! If you really are messing around on the internet just for fun, then why worry about investing time in this sort of record keeping? That’s time you aren’t writing awesome stuff.

On the other hand,  you might want this info for a portfolio.  Much better to have some data than none.  You can set up a few monthly routines or use some automated tools to gather basic info that you might want, so it won’t eat a lot of your time.

This post will focus on Quantitative data about your online activity–things you can measure.  You should also save things that are qualitative–really nice comments, emails, or other interactions. Those are nice for portfolios, and also preserve moments you can look back on for a warm fuzzy feeling.

There are good tools out there that can give you lots of data about your social media and blogs.   Many of them are expensive, but some are free. Lets look at some of the biggest free ones. Continue reading