How do we measure return from our social networking?

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For many of us, answering the question 'What are you doing' is analogous to checking our email – we do it several times a day and it's become second nature.  But for every new social network we jump on, there are friends, families, and colleagues who will ask us 'Why are you doing it?'

They're questioning what drives and motivates us to open up our daily lives to anyone and everyone, when it's possible that no one's listening.   They can't imagine opening a Twitter account and talking to an empty room, so why do we bother?

It's a good point.  Taking a step back for a moment (from whatever social medium you're reading this in), you might wonder how we - the users who aren't necessarily using social media for financial gain – measure any type of return out of social media? 

What's the underlying factor that lets us get a return out social media, and makes us keep using it?

First, just skip the marketing-centric, revenue-generating B2B/B2C user who recognizes the potential in social media, so they tap into like it was the Klondike.  For these users, social interaction is a business decision, and going social is often associated with a brand or product to result in revenue.  Identifying why they're using social media is easy – it's money.

For the other type of user - the everyday social media/network user –identifying value and drive gets tricky.  There's no money involved, so they're simply doing it because they want to.  These 'C2C' (consumer to consumer) users share information and opinions across their network(s) with like-minded people, gaining knowledge and contacts in the process.   So what drives them to continue using social media?

Interaction = Confidence = Value

Some seasoned social networkers might be reading this and thinking 'There is no immediate return, stop thinking like a marketer.  The return is the interaction itself.

So what happens when you get no interaction? Do you stop?

Social media is linked to confidence, and that confidence is linked to value for the user.  In fact it's a lot closer to tracking a basic marketing campaign than you might think, although perhaps not as easy as looking at a finite percentage or number that represents how many people X/Y/Z'd your product.  There are little value-trackers - different to each network - that we all look for and use to show us how we're doing.   Any significant lack of these value-trackers often leads to low confidence, which results in a user asking the question 'Why are you doing it?'  Conversely, get a lot of interaction, and you know you're doing it right.

There are little value-trackers - different to each network - that we all look for and use to show us how we’re doing.

Take Twitter.  First-timers clearly find it daunting to broadcast what they're doing, but the minute they get an '@' reply, broadcasting becomes interaction, and they're hooked.  The same goes for blogging – comments are crucial in knowing that people out there are actually reading your blog.  Lack of comments means lack of confidence, which means lack of value, which leads to no more blogging.  Even having a post bookmarked on Delicious means your hard-worked content has been deemed valuable by someone, somewhere, which spurs you on.

Of course there are ton of these 'value-trackers' out there, each particular to a network, but the most obvious might include:

Get any of the above in a respective network, and you start getting personal value out of it.  Your confidence goes up, and you keep going.  At this point it's easy to answer the doubters why you're doing it – because you want to and you have proof that it's worth it.

Do we need social media KPI's?

Does this mean all social networks should have ways to monitor performance so that users know what they're getting out of them?  Or does it totally defeat the gregarious, organic nature of social media and risks making them yet another way to track popularity?   Does the lack of performance indicators lessen the likelihood of adoption by 'newbies', or is it a good thing that you either use social media because you want to, or don't use it at all?

What do you think? Add your comment below.