Sunday, January 10, 2010

Got a social-media measuring cup?

I'll never forget the day I watched cookbook author Rose Levy Berenbaum -- the New York Times observed she may be "the most meticulous cook who ever lived" -- have a near-meltdown over a measuring cup.

The incident comes back to me whenever I hear communicators fretting over social media measurement issues. They want metrics and measurement tools for social media, even before they've tried them. They want to know which measurements matter most, or which ones they should track. They'd like something right now--so much so, they don't want to start trying social media options without clear-cut metrics and measurement tools.

Here's what happened with the measuring cup: We were at the International Association of Culinary Professionals conference, in the exhibits at lunchtime. I noticed a thick knot of people huddled around the OXO booth, but staying a respectful distance away. And then I saw Berenbaum, a bit of a rock-star in this crowd, whose recipes include dozens of steps and highly precise measures. She held a little OXO angled measuring cup, the kind that lets you look down into the cup and still get an accurate measure, instead of holding it up to eye level. And she was in the thick of an argument with the booth attendant. (The cups are common now, but at this conference, they were not yet on the retail market.)

"I want it," Berenbaum said to the young lady behind the booth.

"It's a prototype. I only have the one," she replied.

"I want it."

"It's a prototype. It may not even be accurate."

"I want it. Now."

"I need it for the next conference I'm going to. I'll get in trouble if I don't have it with me."

"I want it."

"Come back at five...."

Now, you could pre-order the cup at the conference and get your IACP discount to boot. But that wasn't fast enough, apparently. So Berenbaum took home a prototype cup, one that might not even measure accurately, rather than keep going with the tools she had that did work fine.

It wasn't until the Fannie Farmer cookbook appeared in 1896 that standard measures were used in recipes, from teaspoons to measuring cups. Before that, cooks worked by eye and by feel, and primarily experience. Some things failed, and they learned from their mistakes...and that, ultimately, is how standardized measures in cooking came to be.

We're in a transitional time with social media measurement, too. Old measures--and the factors we once considered gold-standards of communications success--aren't quite what they used to be. At the same time, standards are yet to be set for many of the new tools and options available to us. You may wind up measuring factors today that you'll ignore five years from now, or find a dozen new tools to try before you settle on the one that best meets your needs. And in this case, you may not want to be an early adopter (something few of us qualify for, in any case).

Most of the social-media marketing stars I've heard say, in effect, "Don't wait for that new measuring cup" before you get started. Now's the time to remember those cooks who worked before the measuring cup showed up. If what you're cooking up in social media is going to work, ultimately, you need to be trying your hand at it, over and over, until you get a feel for the right amounts and measures that result in a good recipe...and then use those measures to repeat your successes.
What are you using to measure social media progress? Are you cooking up a storm first, and waiting to find out what you should or can measure? Share your thoughts in the comments.

1 comment:

@thecommich said...

Great insights! Will repost. Thanks.