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What can we learn from Stephen Colbert on tweets per minute and ROI

Taking a slight tangent from all things publishing and tablet related, I was watching a re-run of an episode of “The Colbert Report” from last week, and a segment on the news media’s reporting of tweets during Michelle Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention caught my eye.

“Folks, this is the greatest numbers-related reporting since Cronkite broke the horrific cannibal story, the 7 8 9″, Colbert states. He goes on to ask, “Given these unprecedented tweet numbers what do they mean? Are they good or bad? … Who knows? Who cares? Point is, these numbers are out there, and it’s the media’s duty to report them without the liberal filter of meaning something.”

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Though Colbert is criticizing news programs for reporting on numbers they can’t offer any analysis on, his criticism is relevant more broadly for anyone involved with social media metrics. And personally, I have yet to see a more amusing summary of the frequently discussed problem of social media ROI.

Andrew Beaujon at Poynter commented on the same Colbert segment and asked: ”So what good are measurements like tweets per minute? In March, TPM’s Kyle Leighton and David Taintor compared measuring hashtags, not favorably, to campaign lawn signs”.

What does Michelle Obama’s 28,003 tweets per minute or Barack Obama’s record 52,756 tweets per minute mean? Do people have more positive things to say about the Obamas? Or is it that people have more negative things to say about Obama’s performance? Or does Obama just deliver the best tweetable one-liners? The main question that I’m sure both Romey and Obama would like an answer to is does this tweet record mean Obama is more popular and, therefore, more likely to win. Similarly, all businesses would like to know what the number of tweets, likes, shares, etc mean for their bottom line.

One alternative to tweets per minute is measuring the sentiments on Twitter. Politico reported that “responses to both Obama and Mitt Romney grew more negative after their speeches, whereas responses to former President Bill Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden and First Lady Michelle Obama grew more positive”. But again, what does this say about who will win the upcoming election? Or in fact, what will measuring sentiments tell us about the outcome? Does it tell us if people will or will not vote, go to a company’s website, buy a product…or buy a subscription to their favorite weekly magazine? 

I tend to agree with Colbert: “Who knows. Point is, these numbers are out there”. With social media metrics still at a fairly nascent stage, let’s hope that by the next election, the news media actually has some meaningful analysis if it continues to report on tweet records.

But I am curious, for those who deal with social media, which metrics do you find most useful/useless?