Quantitative versus Qualitative: Which do you value?

Q versus Q

Every week I take part in a tweetchat, #mediachat (hosted by Aaron Kilby, @kilby76 , every Thursday 10PM EST) that is very informative, fast-paced, and draws the attention of some of the most well-versed people in social media marketing/content management that I have had the pleasure of meeting. Last night’s chats’ special guest,  Michele Price, answered questions covering the misconception, negative connotation, and appeal of data/numbers in relation to social media. While I won’t get into all of the specifics of the particulars of the conversation, there was a common theme of everyone involved. We love measuring ROI on the things that we can, but what about those that we can’t? IE customer sentiments, customer loyalty, relationship cultivation, etc. This brought about a question that has stuck with me into the better part of today; Quantitative numbers are great; they allow us to map out ROI based upon figures of engagement and action, but what about the qualitative data that measures overall sentiment, those things measured that I can’t lay over a chart and see what I am getting in return for my contributions? Which is more important? Are either of them?

To get to the answer I think is most important to any of us in the social media realm, we first have to realize some simple truths:

  • You cannot, I repeat, cannot measure everything. You can try, and you can say you are, but you can’t.

Social media marketing and the analytics that come with it are still a relatively new science. We are making huge strides in the field, but to be honest, no one really knows definitively what makes this all work. We have very good guesses, and we cater our marketing campaigns based on statistics of what we think matter, but this changes daily. Figure out what your brand’s goals are, and run with it. It wouldn’t make since to monitor leads and sales if you don’t sale anything, right? While that may be an extreme example  I think you get the point.

  • Any measured data can be twisted in anyway necessary to come to a desired final conclusion.

Take your charts, data ranges, and statistics with a grain of salt. Yes, they are important, but if they aren’t as high as you want, it is not the end of the world.

  • A brand advocate may never spend any money directly with you, but they could potentially send thousands of dollars your way.
If we can accept these truths, then it becomes quite apparent that both types of data sets are important to our overall success. We need quantitative data because the simple underlying truth of any marketing is that it depends on the bottom line. You want to see the measured success in terms of shares, likes, RTs, mentions, comments, number of followers, because they give you a direct line to measure ROI. They allow you to create the visual aids necessary to show your direct superiors the effect you are having; at the end of the day we have to do this to collect a salary or to keep our firms afloat. You won’t convince any investor or CEO to spend thousands of dollars if you cannot show them a quantified measure of success.  Despite all that, the qualitative data you can collect is just as vitally important; perhaps not to the number crunching clerk or CFO at your office, but to the overall well-being of the brand and to your peace of mind, it is irreplaceable. Brand sentiment and relational cultivation are the big ones for me here. We know innately that these two things are vital if we are to grow and see a brand prosper; As you monitor traffic on the web and see the conversations happening about your brand, you not only get a sense of how things really are, but it gives you a chance to join in the conversation and try and change things. Is it so far of a stretch to say that as brand sentiment is all-around positive that it does not correlate with a period of high sales in the fiscal quarter? Would your marketing goals change if you found sentiment was at an all time low? Though these types of data may not allow us to see direct increases or decreases in ROI, they do allow us something even better. The ability to shape the future of our campaigns on facts that are not purely number driven.


In the end, I have come to decide that although we cannot possibly measure anything with any real degree of accuracy, we can use the tools we do have to measure hard numbers and hard emotions; the combination of which gives a defined path and goals for the future.


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