Awareness is one third of the story

Sites like Upworthy have brought up a new discussion to the table: what good is awareness on the social web?

In terms of social media strategy, awareness is a frequent objective which we can measure through metrics such as a post's organic reach or a fan base. But how good an objective can it be?

The Verge has a pretty juicy article on the subject of social metrics, through which we can learn a bit more about the role of awareness. My favorite part:

So if you see someone tweet an article, it likely means they either didn’t really read it, or they read every word. That makes it tough to judge a story by how many tweets it has. But new insights into how many people tweet and click versus how many actually read are actually prompting a change in the way publishers market themselves to advertisers. Upworthy, YouTube, and other platforms have started paying less attention to page views and more attention to how engaged people actually are.

There seems to be little correlation between social metrics and actual intent (i.e. reading a linked article). So awareness, alone, seems to be a half right approach. But according to The Verge, the share of interactions doesn't cut it either. Time has a recent superb (data-focused) article to back this up:

Bottom line, measuring social sharing is great for understanding social sharing, but if you’re using that to understand which content is capturing more of someone’s attention, you’re going beyond the data. Social is not the silver bullet of the Attention Web.

In other words: social sharing doesn't directly correlate with attention or intention. So we have a problem here when we look at these metrics alone.

On a brighter note, back to Upworthy. I like where they are going when it comes to understanding their audience's relationship with their content. They are putting aside uniques and page views (i.e. pure awareness metrics) and focusing on more actionable stuff, such as total attention on site and total attention per piece. So more than knowing how many people shared something on Facebook or even ended up in a web page, they want to figure out what they actually do there, and for how long.

Social media isn't about new human needs, but rather the tools that help us fulfill those needs on a higher scale than ever. That being said, the numbers themselves may lie in the sense they don't give us the qualitative side of it. Awareness and even engagement metrics are misleading if we don't consider their context, or combine them with variables that help us further understand the behavior (and drive) behind the numbers.

Upworthy is on to something here, by focusing on more actionable metrics with stronger correlation with actual intent and activity. This presents an opportunity to have a deeper understanding of how people relate to content. It's the difference between tracking the numbers and understanding behaviors.

Awareness alone is not enough because it doesn't even tell half the story. At most, it tells one third of what we want to know (the remaining two thirds are distributed at least between interaction and intention). It's like judging a book by the number of people that see its cover, instead of trying to understand how far they went in the story. That's not enough to win the battle against indifference.