CASE STUDY: Subscribers Are Not a Good ROI Metric

Situation

I wanted to start a new blog to share links, graphics, photos and other interesting nuggets encountered during my endless hours of Internet research, which my wife refers to as “piddling around.”

I created a new scrapblog using Posterous, an upstart blogging platform that was all the rage in social media circles two months ago.

During the next two weeks I added a link or so a day, but didn’t tell anyone about it. You can imagine my surprise then when I checked my Feedburner statistics and saw this:

found611 subscribers! Woo-hoo!

Analysis

Then reality set in. Impossible. There’s no way anyone knows about this blog. I started digging through the analytics and discovered that nearly all my subscriptions came from Friendfeed, a popular aggregation tool of social networking sites that was recently acquired by Facebook.

friendfeed

Since I only had about 150 collective views, it was totally impossible that so many people had “subscribed” to my blog. They hadn’t even seen the content! Apparently when I added the new blog to my Friendfeed profile, they were automatically counted as individual subscribers by Feedburner since my new posts appear on my Friendfeed page.

These aren’t actual subscribers. The majority of these users won’t view my blog or my content, as you can see:

feedburnerLesson

A little bit of Googling revealed that I’m not the first to discover this discrepancy. But when I talk to clients about measuring social media ROI, I now have a great example of why counting subscribers, comments or page views aren’t valuable metrics. They are all easy to artificially inflate with no effort.

Most social media savvy clients accept this in theory, but continue to have a difficult time selling the concept to management. My hope is that more stories like this will illustrate the value of new metrics. While there is still no standard, the pressure is on for companies like Radian6 and Visible Technologies, now armed with several years of data and statistical samples, to demonstrate their value in 2010.

Have your social media success metrics changed in the last 12 months? If so, how? Please share in the comments.

The below links are referenced in this post:

Aaron’s Posterous blog
Aaron’s Tumblr blog
Friendfeed
Feedburner
Google Results for “Friendfeed AND Feedburner”

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