The Network is the Message

The Network is the MessageNow that the internet is rapidly displacing television as our dominant form of public discourse, we need to evaluate communication different.

I’ve spoken with most anyone I’ve collaborated or done business with in the last two years about why effectiveness for the modern brand means becoming interactive. (I’m cooking up a post with more details about this, and will link to it from here as soon as it’s done.)

For this discussion, what’s important is that when I talk about an interactive brand, I don’t mean a brand that primarily expresses itself through the internet. I mean a brand that has absorbed the biases and principles inherent in internet-based communication into its very operational structure and cultural expression. (In fact, it’s entirely possible for an interactive brand to have little or no direct web-presence. Unlikely, but possible).

At the very least, this means considering the fundamental building blocks of openness, collaboration and the humble hyperlink and how they increasingly change the lens through which we view the world.

One of the challenges this poses for traditional communications professionals is how to evaluate performance.

Ad agencies, communications firms and “new media” companies love to reassure skeptical clients with the fairytale called Measurement. In it, all the client’s fears about wasting significant swaths of their operating budget are laid to rest by the magic of numbers and the power of the noble knight Metrics to slay the evil dragon of uncertainty. Don’t worry, your money’s in good hands— we have metrics!

Well, things are changing, and even Google Analytics can’t really help you measure whether or not a campaign or an initiative or PR work is really all that successful. It can only measure clicks and traffic— not how many people told a friend good or bad things about you.

In reality, even before the rise of the internet, the value of measurement had already been disputed— are you successful because of that multi-million dollar media buy, or do you have a multi-million dollar media buy because you’re successful?

This doesn’t mean that measurement is impossible in the interactive age, it simply means that it has to be an entirely different kind of thing. And as uncomfortable as it seems, that measurement is likely to be far more qualitative than quantitative.

The network is the metaphor.

Measurement will need to start by defining the network that you want to influence, plotting your co-ordinates within that network at present and gauging the movement and strength of your influence within it over time:

How powerful of a node has your brand become within the network? How many incoming and outgoing signals are there? How strong are they? How far out into the network do your pings reach? Have you achieved “hub” status? Are you able to leverage your network to influence other networks?

The network is the message.

Which networks do you belong to? It’s an important question. In the interactive age, it’s how you will be defined, and measuring your movement, influence and status within it will be how you measure success. That measurement can only happen from within, by the people who form its nodes, relays and repeaters.

What does this all mean? Well, to be honest, we’re still figuring it out. But one thing that’s certain— it’s going to be a lot more like knowing when you have become part of a group and a lot less like counting beans, eye-balls or even sales.

4 Responses to ‘The Network is the Message’

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention The Network is the Message | David Pensato -- Topsy.com

  2. Measurement may be complex in the digital age, but it's a heck of a lot more data-rich than it was when "how many cars are estimated to drive past my billboard each day?" was the best information marketers had.

    Growth in numbers is a general indicator of success, and should be tracked. Decline or holding steady means you're doing something wrong, so it's important to validate the time you take creating content (etc) with a consistent quantitative report.

    The interesting thing social media brings to the table IS the ability to gather quantitative data…I just discovered Booshaka the other day, a way to see public posts on Facebook about the brand I manage, from people not in my social graph (so, previously invisible to me). You can use these kind of tools to compile the kind of comments people are making, potentially identifying PR issues and gauging sentiment about recent initiatives.

    I'm a big proponent of the weekly brand report that combines numbers and anecdotes (quantity and quality). Feedback like this encourages the client and directs marketing efforts.

    I agree 100% about your brand's place in the network as a key indicator to success. Every brand should be striving to become indispensable for some reason, whether it's information, deals, or cachet.

  3. Good points Erica. You're definitely right about the data that we collect online being incredibly rich, and there is no doubt that type of data can form one aspect of network measurement. I think that where I may have been overstating my case is in the inference that all measurement is useless; clearly, it is not.

    What I'm driving at has more to do with the multidimensional nature of our interactions and the sophistication and complexity of assessing networks as opposed to measuring audience response.

    The internet, as our dominant form of public discourse becomes our metaphor for understanding communication, even beyond the internet. Where we used to see speaker and audience, we see various nodes, connections and repeaters.

    Social networks, and even the internet itself becomes one (central, powerful and multifaceted) aspect of the web of communication. Think of all the times you repeated in conversation something your read online, or of all the times tv clips, photos of billboards or book excerpts served as fodder for blog posts which then feed back out into those offline conversations.

    How those interactions spread throughout a given network needs a different kind of measurement and various techniques, including the raw data you glean from online analytics, will be utilized to varying degrees and in varying combinations depending on the particular network being assessed.

  4. Pingback: Maybe what gets measured doesn’t matter as much as you think it does. | David Pensato

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