Busting Myths About View Counts... And Other Engagement Metrics
SOME CONSIDER VIEW COUNTS THE BE-ALL AND END-ALL, WHILE OTHERS DISCOUNT THEM ENTIRELY... BUT NEITHER APPROACH IS ENTIRELY CORRECT...
Preface: For the record, I didn't start this discussion. It was started by those who make fantastic statements about view counts and other engagement metrics, as well as the relative merits of various digital self-publishing platforms.
In fact, I began to write this article more than eight months ago. But I put it aside several times because I wasn't sure I wanted to deal with the flood of consternation I expected it would generate.
Unfortunately, it seems that, once an idea for an article grabs me, I just can't leave it alone. Never mind any potential negative reaction it might conjure up. Add the fact numerous SM marketing people continue to make what I saw as radically unsupportable claims about how the stats "prove" that one platform is heads and shoulders above the others. And the topic kept drawing my attention like a nasty mosquito bite.
Consequently, I returned to my draft, time and time again, until it became clear the only way to scratch the itch was to complete the piece.
Please understand, I have no dog in the hunt to find the "best" social media self-publishing platform. And that my sole interest here is as a writer, and lies in gaining a better understanding of how the different platforms measure up against one another.
Engagement. Reach. Views. Visits. Clicks. Impressions. Likes. Relevants. Shares. Comments.
All these terms are commonly used by those who own, manage and market various social media platforms, in particular, those which incorporate a digital self-publishing sub-platform.
These terms comprise part of their respective marketing campaigns to attract or recruit writers and others to those platforms.
It might, therefore, seem a straightforward matter to compare social media platforms, using at least some of these expressions as metrics. But it isn't.
The problem with view counts or "eyeballs" is that writers and readers don't really know what they represent. And social media platforms generally won't tell us...
Does a "view" register only when someone reads an article? Or does a view register when they simply scroll over it as they scan their feed?
If a view registers upon an article being scanned, is there a minimum amount of pause-time needed to trigger it? Or does a view register when the platform simply puts that post into a reader's feed?
I don't really know, do you? Does anyone, other than those running social media platforms?
But if we don't know what constitutes a "view", then we certainly cannot ― as so many writers and bloggers are wont to do ― compare views or eyeballs or reads counts between platforms, with any reasonable expectation of figuring out where the best ROI is being achieved.
Does that mean view stats are entirely meaningless?
I think not. For even if view stats do not have a directly comparable numerical value to be used between platforms, they can and do form the basis for a non-dimensional numerical "coefficient" of exposure or reach, intra-platform.
Provided that, independent of their meaning, they are generated and tracked in an internally consistent manner on a given social media platform.
For example, consider the stats compiled by LinkedIn for the article designated above. (If you're curious about the article itself, you can read it by clicking on the image.)
Note that these stats show 843 of what LI now calls, in one place, "visits" and, in another place, "clicks".
Does that mean the post was read by 843 people? Not on your life.
Does it mean that 843 people scrolled over the article in their respective general feeds? Or does it mean that LI put it into the feeds of 843 people?
No and no.
When it comes to view counts and eyeballs, what we "know" is pretty much only the sum total what we don't know... and what social media moguls won't tell us...
Recently, LI began also to refer to views as "clicks." Which seems to imply that now the view counts reflect the number of times a LinkedIn member of members opens an article.
But whether it means that for sure, I haven't a clue. Because, despite having asked LI the question numerous times, LI management remains publicly mute on the subject.
Indeed, so does the management of beBee, as well as that of Medium, Niume, Facebook, and the other platforms. Nobody in charge apparently wants to discuss what they're actually saying when they tell you that some post of yours has 1,500 or 150 "views". And if I were of a cynical bent, I might conclude that they seek purposely to obfuscate and confuse.
Nevertheless, I suggest as long as methodology remains consistent intra-platform, we can reasonably infer that a greater number of "views" is indicative of a higher number of potential readers to which the article has been exposed...
In other words, more views registered on a given platform means greater Reach ― on that particular platform.
Keep in mind, however, it does not say anything about the comparison inter-platform between, for example, LinkedIn and beBee. Such comparisons, which depend on knowing the true distribution of a post, will have to await a full disclosure by the management of the respective platforms as to the meaning of Views.
It's Official: beBee Producer Crushes Linkedin Pulse for Engagement
"Engagement" is another term that is continually bandied about, yet remains ill-defined.
Part of the difficulty in measuring "Engagement" is that most social media platforms report a variety of stats such as Likes, Comments, and Shares, but vary widely in how they relate these categories to one another and to Reach (exposure to readers).
The beBee buzz cited above suggests that a measurement of Engagement can be attained by adding the Views, Likes (Relevants) and Comments accruing to a given post, then dividing by the number of the author's Followers on the platform involved.
For example, one article ("the Example Post") cited above accumulated on LinkedIn, 161 Views, 41 Likes, and 1 Comment. And therefore, according to this calculation:
Engagement = (161 + 41 + 1) / 29,600 = 0.7%.
When that same article appeared on beBee, it accumulated 3,100 Views, 54 Likes (Relevants), and 21 Comments.
Engagement = (3,100 + 54 + 21) / 1,188 = 267.0%
Thus, it appears as though Engagement on beBee, for the Example Post, is 392 times greater than on LinkedIn.
Which would indeed be startling, if it made any sense and were true. But it doesn't... and it isn't...
In the first place, it doesn't make a lot of sense to use the View Count as an element in the ratio ― primarily because, as outlined above, we don't know what a "view" really is, nor do we know if views are treated consistently from platform to platform. And when, in fact, there is every reason to suspect they are not.
Which immediately invalidates any platform-to-platform comparison of Engagement ratios ― if those ratios incorporate View Counts as an element.
Beyond that, there is a strong alternative explanation for the wide variance in the comparative Engagement ratios in the case cited. Which is that the 29,600 followers are what are known as "social followers". That is people who are acquired as followers not because they like and want to read the author's posts, but rather because they reciprocated, as a social media courtesy, when the author followed them, and for the most part, couldn't give less of a damn about what the author publishes.
One might make the argument that the followers on beBee are more likely to be engaged readers than on LinkedIn ― but that argument is completely independent of trying to use the respective numbers of followers in some sort of inter-platform comparison of Engagement...
Instead, I suggest to you that there is a better way to gain a handle on Engagement, which is with what I call the "Sharpe Coefficient"...
The Sharpe Coefficient of Engagement was suggested several years ago on LinkedIn by Gary Sharpe, Ph.D. when he was one of the reigning independent authorities on the ins and outs of LinkedIn stats and its algorithm.
At the time I thought it brilliant, notwithstanding that Gary and I had an adversarial history and despite the fact Gary never, to my knowledge, elucidated the concept any further.
Anyway, what I call the Sharpe Coefficient works like this:
Engagement = [(Likes x 1) + (Comments x 2) + (Shares x 3)] / Views
As you can see, the Sharpe Coefficient assigns weights to various activities.
It considers the simplest act to be clicking a Like while treating the additional time in takes to comment as indicating a greater level of engagement, and finally, recognizes that sharing the post exhibits the highest level of engagement (assuming one does not share posts one does not read).
The Sharpe Coefficient still suffers from the vagaries of what constitutes a view, but if restricted to intra-platform comparisons, it can yield significant insights into what appeals most to the readership in terms of topic, headline, style, graphics, and so on.
It also provides some basis, admittedly imperfect, for comparing Engagement across different platforms, because the Sharpe Coefficient relates reader response to the measure of reader exposure a platform provides a given post.
And finally, I personally like the Sharpe Coefficient because it disincentivizes platform ownership and management from "cooking" the View counts as, all other factors held constant for a given post, a higher View count lowers the Sharpe Coefficient of Engagement.
Using the Sharpe Coefficient, if post (A) has 20 likes on a View count of 100 (Sharpe Engagement = 0.20), it rates higher than post (B) with 40 likes on a View count of 500 (Sharpe Engagement = .08).post (A) has 20 likes on a View count of 100 (Sharpe Engagement = 0.20), it rates higher than post (B) with 40 likes on a View count of 500 (Sharpe Engagement = .08).
Moreover, post (A) with 20 Likes and 10 comments on 100 Views (Sharpe Engagement = .040) rates higher than post (B) with 40 Likes and 20 Comments on 500 Views (Sharpe Engagement = 0.16).
As you can see, using the Sharpe Coefficient works to overcome the rating bias that would otherwise intrude because of the platform-controlled decision as to how much Reach to allow an article to have...
Note that, if we re-calculate the Example Post above according to the Sharpe Coefficient, the results are as follows:
LinkedIn: Sharpe Engagement = [(41 x 1) + (1 x 2) + (5 x 3)] / 161] = 0.36
beBee: Sharpe Engagement = [(54 x 1) + (21 x 2) + (28 x 3)] / 3,200] = 0.06
Granted, numbers may not lie. But marketers can spin numbers in many different ways, almost always to their own benefit...
The radical variance between this latter analysis of Engagement for The Example Post from the analysis offered by beBee indicates a number of things. Mostly, though, that you can't just run a few numbers and then go around claiming that "BeBee crushes LinkedIn for Engagement...." At least, not if you want to maintain your credibility. For the circumstances and the comparisons are much more complicated than such statements allow for.
Another complication in judging relative Engagement is to what extent the Likes, Comments, and Shares for a given post might be skewed by forces not directly related to the way it is perceived by readers. This issue was highlighted by John Vaughan, the UX/UI guy, in several articles that appeared both on LinkedIn and beBee. The most prominent of these were "Priming the Pump" and "beBee vs LinkedIn: the Bottom Line".
Vaughan's thesis is that the numbers on beBee are distorted by the fact that a significant if not major proportion are generated by monetarily-incentivized affiliate-marketers, whose assigned tasks include a responsibility to, in beBee's words, "Interact with other Bees in a constructive manner, by commenting, marking relevant and sharing their posts..."
Perhaps, the discussion would be improved by introducing a new metric, e.g., the Per Post Average of Non-recurring Commenters ("Peter Pans"). Or not.
Personally, I have zero interest in revisiting the acrimony generated by Vaughan's post and comments, other than to point out their perspicuity as they relate to the core issue(s) being discussed here..
Which is that the admixing of monetarily-incentivized nominal Likes, Comments, and Shares with their genuine, organically-driven counterparts undermines the validity of any comparisons and claims regarding comparative levels of Engagement.
I've already expressed my consternation with the high level of denial and aggressive special pleading that emerged at the time. And so, will not repeat that here.
Yet, just to be clear, I am certainly not an apologist for LinkedIn. Nor, for that matter, any other social media platform. In fact, I've been an outspoken critic of algorithmic control of content distribution, as well as the way in which LinkedIn treated ― more accurately, mistreated ― independent writers whom it had actually invited to "publish on LinkedIn".
For those who may not know, LI promised that, in exchange for the contributed content of those writers, it would back them up with support for building their own individual networks of followers (readers). Then LI, arbitrarily and without notice, effectively abandoned those independent writers after they had contributed in a major way to the growth of the LI platform by contributing a massive amount of content.
We cannot just ignore the 800 lb. gorillas (plural) in the room when it comes to achieving Reach and Engagement for one's writing and self-publishing...
LinkedIn reputedly had 467 million user-members as at the close of the third quarter, 2016.
If even as few as 50% of those listed are active on a monthly basis (MAUs), that means LinkedIn has ready access to an audience of more than 200 Million readers.
Of course, that is not to say LI's algorithm allows an independent writer or blogger unfettered access to more than just a minuscule portion of that audience. But there is simply no comparison between the potential Reach presented by LinkedIn and that offered by Medium, Niume, beBee, or other digital self-publishing platforms.
Now, Facebook is a different matter entirely.
As of the first quarter 2017, Facebook reportedly has 1.94 Billion MAUs.
Based on MAUs alone, to assert, without further qualification, that " ... beBee Producer Crushes Linkedin Pulse for Engagement ... " strains the limits of credulity.
Much more so, if a similar claim were to be made in respect of Facebook.
Beyond that, it's also important in this context to recognize that LinkedIn by Microsoft may, in fact, be walking back some of the disastrous changes LI made post-January, 2015.
Consider, for instance, the notice I recently received about stats on a piece of mine that seems to have gotten some "long-tail" play of late. (See figure 3 above.) And compare this to the results racked up on beBee for exactly the same article. (See figure 4 below.)
One of the interesting facets of this particular comparison is that the article received nominally equal numbers of Views on LinkedIn and beBee respectively.
We still don't know what that really means, if anything, because we don't really know what constitutes a View on either of the two platforms involved. But the similarity of nominal Reach at least eliminates one point about which to quibble.
Anyway, notice the results for Engagement as calculated according to the Sharpe Coefficient:
BeBee: Sharpe Engagement = [(25 Likes x 1) + (19 Comments x 2)] / 2,300 Views = 0.03
LinkedIn: Sharpe Engagement = [(164 Likes x 1) + (47 Comments x 2)] / 2,394 Views = 0.11
Which means that in this particular case, the level of Engagement achieved by the same article was approximately 4 times greater on LinkedIn than on beBee...
Granted, this is only a single example and cannot be generalized without first considering a much larger sampling.
Nevertheless, on its own, it still argues very strongly against making any generalizations until the management of the various social media platforms become more forthcoming as to the meanings of their various metrics, and in particular, Views.
To my mind, in this age of "Branding" and "Authenticity", it seems advisable for social media platforms to keep their marketing hounds on a short leash ― perhaps even muzzle them ― when it comes to advancing fantastic claims about the superiority of one platform over another vis a vis Engagement and Reach.
So, why not try something new for a change? Perhaps, the facts?Which include:
1) Most SM platforms artificially control the distribution of articles and posts entirely by an algorithm and do not deliver content produced by writers, bloggers, and other members consistently to the self-elected friends, connections, followers or readers of those writers, bloggers, and other members. This group of SM platforms includes LinkedIn and Facebook.
2) Currently, only beBee ownership and management have made a public commitment in print to distributing 100% of a writer's articles and blogs to 100% of that writer's Followers 100% of the time. This alone constitutes a strong reason for a writer and self-publisher to include beBee as a primary vehicle in his or her arsenal of social media springboards.
3) Only one SM self-publishing platform I know of regularly promotes the work of its active writers and bloggers off-site on Twitter... beBee.
4) No SM self-publishing platform I know of makes sharing a post or a blog easy to as many competing platforms as beBee does. LinkedIn enables a writer to share to Twitter, and if your Twitter is linked to Facebook, that puts the post there as well. But beBee provides the capability to share off-site to LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.
Earlier in this discussion, I said that I did not have a dog in the hunt for the best social media platform for digital self-publishing. You're probably now questioning whether I really meant what I said. Well, I did... and I do.
I'm simply using this recap of facts about beBee to illustrate the folly of making unrestrained marketing claims on behalf of a platform ― for example, that beBee "crushes" LinkedIn for Engagement ― when those claims cannot be supported by any reasonable interpretation of the available metrics. And even more so when there are genuinely solid and strong reasons for preferring beBee to the other platforms, including LinkedIn.
It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently...
Every time a fantastic, unsupportable claim is made by a marketer, in-house or outsourced, on behalf of a given platform and knocked down, the platform's general credibility suffers and its brand is damaged.
So, why not just drop the spin and simply tell the truth?
Hey, Mr. Platform Owner, why not just tell us all how you count "Views" or eyeballs?
Why not, indeed?
Certainly, that would blow a gale of fresh air through all the extant stale bull chips about Engagement and related "metrics" presently dropped on social media. ― Phil Friedman
Postscript: This is very likely the last post concerning beBee and social media I will ever publish on beBee. Which I'm confident will come as good news to some.
By my count, I've done more than a dozen articles on the general topic of social media under my solo byline and maybe another four or five as part of the HE SAID HE SAID series that I've co-authored with Jim Murray for more than two years and 27 installments to date, starting on LinkedIn and continuing here on beBee.
Fact is, I think I've said just about everything I have to say about the topic of social media. At this point, I seriously doubt that anything I have said or have left to say will have any affect on those who steadfastly cling to their illusions (or delusions). Or upon those who speak in one breath about "authenticity" while in another spin their representation of the facts to their own marketing-driven ends.
I started out about a decade ago not understanding anything about social media and taking everything and everyone at face value. Now, after much activity and thought and study, I've ended up understanding just a little and believing just about nobody, especially not anyone who is in the business of social media.
Except, that is, for a few people who are a lot smarter than I about social media, and whom I trust to speak the truth with acumen and accuracy, some of whom are mentioned below under "Suggested Additional Reading".
What I've witnessed over the last decade or so is the accumulation of vast fortunes by a number of those in the business of social media, whilst at the same time, I've watched the wanton squandering of the ever so high potential social media held for worldwide engagement and free exchange of ideas and opinions. And truth be told, I am feeling more than just a bit weary about it these days.
Which is why I am planning to return the focus of my writing to my core offline activity of marine sector technical and business consulting.
Fair winds and safe harbors. ― PLF
Suggested Additional Reading:
Signposts to the Imminent Diminution of LinkedIn Groups and Professional Networking, Samantha Bailey, Data Analyst, LinkedIn, February, 2017
The Agony and Ecstasy of Social Media Writing, Milos Djukic, LinkedIn, September, 2014
BeBee is Taking Member Content Sharing to the Next Level, John White, beBee, April, 2017
BeBee At the Crossroads: Wrapping Up This Series, Phil Friedman, beBee, April, 2017
Organic Reach on Social Media is Declining, Javier Camara Rica, beBee, March, 2017
The 5 Advantages of Blogging Through beBee's Publishing Platform, Juan Imaz, beBee, April, 2017
Does Social Media Have a Future — Or Is It Just a Stepping Stone to the Next Big Thing?, Don Kerr, et. al., beBee, September, 2016
Is It Time For a Friendectomy? Kevin Pashuk, beBee, March, 2017
Author's Notes: If you enjoyed this post and would like to receive notifications of my writing on a regular basis, simply click the [FOLLOW] button on my beBee profile. Better yet, elect there to follow my blog by email. As a writer-friend of mine says, you can always change your mind later.
As well, feel free to "like" and "share" this post and my other articles — whether on beBee, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, or Google+, provided only that you credit me properly as the author, and include a live link to my original post.
About me, Phil Friedman: With 30 some years background in the marine industry, I've worn numerous hats — as a yacht designer, boat builder, marine operations and business manager, marine industry consultant, marine marketing and communications specialist, yachting magazine writer and editor, yacht surveyor, and marine industry educator. I am also trained and experienced in interest-based negotiation and mediation.
In a previous life, I was formally trained as an academic philosopher and taught logic and philosophy at university.
Before writing comes thinking (The optional-to-read pitch)
As a professional writer, editor, university educator, and speaker, with more than 1,000 print and digital publications, I've recently launched an online program for enhancing your expository writing: learn2engage — With Confidence. My mission is to help writers and would-be writers improve their thought and writing, master the logic of discussion, and strengthen their ability to deal with disagreement.
For more information, click on the image immediately above. Or to schedule an appointment for a free 1/2-hour consult or to sit in on one of our online group sessions, email: email@example.com. I look forward to speaking with you soon.
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