The Hard Math of Social Media

By SuperSpy 

Since the dawn of social media, clients have been asking their agencies, “How many sales is all this activity driving?” As an industry, we spend time doing what we do best–reframing that question, so that it sounded more like, “What’s the WOM value of social media?” Or, another spin would be, “What’s your return on influence or interaction?” While there is validity in both of those questions, honestly, we were also just being supremely dodgy.

However, such answers weren’t going to satisfy most CMOs. These individuals live by a P&L with a bonus structure tethered directly to sales. So, the question has changed just a tiny little bit in 2010. Now, with more educated clients, that question has become, “What is the value dollar of a like?” Wanna take a guess? I’ll give you a couple of minutes to do some back-of-the-envelope math. In the mean time, know that Syncapse has a number, as does Nielsen. The question is, do you believe them? Personally, it feels a little too close to foreclosure crisis thinking. No hard numbers. No hard facts. Go ahead. Sign on the dotted line and have your client hold you to that KPI. No thanks.

Such a state of affairs makes me keenly interested in anyone who is applying a little science to the craft of social media planning such as when Noah Brier posted “The Math of Viral.” That’s why I was also happy to read about Organic’s very own Jason Harper, who has started using social media as a way to foresee turns in the road ahead, to predict and thus optimize campaigns.


“To gauge the predictive powers of tweets and Facebook sign-ups, Harper borrowed the concepts of velocity and acceleration from the world of physics. To come up with those numbers, Harper had to collect data during three phases of a campaign: the baseline, or the number of Tweets or Facebook fans before an ad campaign starts; The Hot Zone, or the main surge of activity during the campaign, and the Fallout, the inevitable decline when the campaign is finished.”

Okay, so that’s the simple version of some serious calculus and the only thing you need to know is that this model, which Harper calls Velocity and Acceleration, can predict whether a mass-marketing campaign will reach its overall goals within the first few days it begins running. That’s a nice tool to have, no?

I’m wondering what kind of mathematics, if any, you’re using at all to predict, value, evaluate or optimize social media campaigns that play across one or many platforms. Because really, social media has advanced far beyond this two-way dialogue crap I hear people are still peddling, you dig?

If you’ve got something to say about this topic, guest posts are welcome: superspyin at gmail com