To follow, or not to follow?

I have been using Twitter for a few years, but more on a personal basis (private account, that was essentially the same stuff as my (also private) Facebook status updates.) It’s only in the last few months that I’ve explored Twitter for more professional reasons. I wish I’d caught onto this earlier. At least for my work, being in the online space, I find that Twitter is an amazing educational resource. There’s an entire web analytics community out there posting their experiences and interesting blogs and articles, some of the gurus of web analytics (@erictpeterson, @avinashkaushik) sharing their thoughts with us without a price tag, and even client-support people sitting on Twitter all day ready to answer questions. (@OmnitureCare)

The one thing I am trying to get my head around is Twitter “etiquette”. As a fairly pragmatic person, here’s how I am approaching the “to follow or not to follow” question.

If someone follows me, great. I’ll check out their recent tweets. If they sound like someone who I want to hear from, then I’ll follow. If not, it’s very nice they’re following me (thank you!) but I don’t feel obligated to reciprocate solely because they followed me.

Things that make me want to follow you:

  1. The majority of your posts are relevant to why I’m on Twitter (web or business analytics, social media, new gadgets, the online space generally, etc.) I’m fine with some more personal stuff interspersed, but I won’t follow you if 9 out of 10 posts are unrelated to my interests.
  2. You share some of your unique thoughts about the industry. I don’t want to follow someone who does nothing but RT others. I’m following you to hear your thoughts, not to hear you habitually regurgitate others.
  3. I am, however, interested in useful RTs, to help me find others I might want to hear from and article posts.  RTing is great, it can help distribute interesting content, and I like reading interesting RTs. And hey, I like being RTed! But per #2, if that’s all you do and share none of your own thoughts, I’ll figure why not just follow the people you keep RTing and take you out of the mix?
  4. You post regularly but not too regularly. I don’t want to hear from you every 30 seconds. I find it hard to believe you can post super frequently and still be posting quality information. Quality over quantity.

Things that will make either pass on following you, or un-follow you (if I already started):

  1. Too many posts. If you post so frequently to take over the feed, I’m likely to unfollow you, unless they’re absolute gems (again, this seems unlikely. PS Why aren’t you working?)
  2. Useless posts. I’m very sorry, but I don’t care if you just ate a ham sandwich, and I definitely don’t care about sports. If you tweet every two seconds of the World Cup, I’m going to un-follow you. It’s nothing personal, I just don’t care about sports. If I wanted to read about it, I’d follow some sports-type-people. (Can you tell I’m such a … uh … sports uh knowledgeable person?)
  3. If you write in a language I don’t understand. This one is absolutely not personal. I actually wish I could follow some people who are posting in German, Spanish, etc. It’s just the reality that there’s not a lot of point in me following you if I don’t know what you’re saying. Blame that one on me for not understanding every language. (That would be nice.)

I would love to hear anyone’s advice of some good dos and don’ts of Twitter etiquette. You can find me at @michelehinojosa. Feel free to follow me, but only if I meet your follow criteria.

The (most?) valuable trait of analysts (that you can’t teach)

I have been thinking a lot about the type of analyst I enjoy working with, and what I think the critical elements of being a good web analyst are. In the course of doing so, I had an interesting realisation, that I look forward to putting into practice next time I’m searching for an analyst.

We’ve all read a thousand job descriptions, and we know the drill. Attention to detail, analytic skills (of course), able to synthesize large amounts of data to extract meaningful insights, deliver concise message to stakeholders. Etc. Etc. Etc.

But the trait I’ve not seen (often) on job descriptions (or heard in people’s conversations about what they’re looking for) is curiosity.

I want to both be and work with analysts who are curious. Who are forever asking “Why? Why? Why?” Who look at the site redesign of their favourite site, and think, “Oh man I wish I could get my hands on their data, I wonder what they’re seeing …” (And perhaps tries to hack at it via or another competitive intelligence source.) I want the analyst who takes the initiative, and may even get a little side-tracked every now and then, because their curiosity takes them down an investigation path that no stakeholder or boss has asked them to go, or even thought to go. (The gems that can come of this …!)

If you’re lucky, you’ve worked with these kinds of analysts. If you’re very lucky, you are one yourself. (FYI, the fact that you’re reading a blog about web analytics pretty much suggests you are that curious person interested in the field. The 9-5 analysts don’t do this …) But me? I want to search for this, to hire and retain for it, and not just as a “nice to have”. This is top of my list. I can teach you how to use Omniture. I can’t teach you how to be interested in what we do, or to be curious to learn and grow.

iPhone 4

So, like much of the technology-loving world, I’m thinking iPhone 4. There are tons of reviews, details, specs out there. I’m not going to bore anyone with those. I’m merely jotting down a few of my thoughts, and for once, I’ll try to be brief.

My main reaction to the iPhone 4 WWDC announcment was … “Meh”.

Don’t get me wrong. iPhone 4 looks pretty and I’m sure in person it’ll blow me away. But here’s one thing I’m struggling with. The iPhone has in some ways revolutionised phones and smart phones (let’s not get too carried away though – smart phones did exist before the first iPhone!) But on the flip side, for all the surprising new features it has given us over the years, each time there is basic functionality that I feel has been overlooked.

So here was my reaction to iPhone 4: Multitasking? Wow, that’s so two years ago. This was due with iPhone 3G. Don’t boast that you just caught up. (And in my opinion, should have been included in the iPad, rather than available later via software upgrade.) While I’m on the topic of catching up, why did it take one year into my iPhone 3G contract (and two years since the release of the first iPhone) to get MMS? My 2002 Nokia was capable of that!

I will agree that the iPhone is in many ways a leader, innovative, providing new features we hadn’t thought of. But in others, it seems sorely lacking, and itself playing catch up.

I had feared that iPhone 4 would be so fantastic that I’d desperately want one, despite my intense desire to flee from AT&T. My conclusion? I’m not ruling it out, but I will be carefully cross-shopping before my iPhone 3G contract expires in August.  The good news is that with every iPhone, other devices rush to catch up or exceed what the iPhone has done. So perhaps there is a sweet little Android option I can take for a spin.

What would have gotten me excited? Making the iPhone available across different networks. The device itself would have been a no-brainer decision for me, being a current user, if it didn’t come shackled with AT&T.

Deciphering business user requests

In a previous post, I discussed the role of web analysts as “information architects”, responsible for outlining complex data and findings into easy-to-understand information. However, there is another hat we analysts wear, which is to serve as a an interpreter, or translator, between business users and analytics information.

Analysts are often charged with responding to business users’ requests for information. Whether it be a report of simple metrics or a more complicated analysis, this is the reactive side of our role. (Hopefully you also have a proactive aspect to your role, but that’s a topic for another time.)

Now, with no disrespect intended to business users (who know many things we don’t, and are good at many things we’re not) the simple truth is that business users don’t always know what they need.

Remember, this business user might be the person to whom you’ve explained the difference between a visitor and a visit, or a page view and an ad impression, four times already … this week. That’s okay – it’s our job to explain the subtle nuances of data and metrics. But you need to keep that conversation in mind when they later come back to you for information. Just because they want visitor information, doesn’t mean that’s the information they actually need. Perhaps a visits metric would be more appropriate in this case, because of XYZ reason that they’re not aware of, or because they’ve simply mixed up terminology.

I see this most with more junior analysts. Especially as the business person requesting the information becomes more senior, there is often an eagerness to provide exactly what they asked for, as quickly as possible. However, as an analyst, an essential developmental step is to question what is being asked of you.

It is less important to provide the information the user wants. What is crucial is to provide the information they need.

This is where an analyst needs to stop, consider the request, and ask: “What question are you trying to answer?” or “What problem are you trying to solve?” Once you understand what they need the information for, you’re then in a position to evaluate the request and ensure that the information you provide helps them with their business problem. After all, how can you respond to something you don’t even understand? Perhaps the user thinks they want visitors, but they actually want visits. Or perhaps they think they want last month’s information, but you know that it will help them to see last month, which was abnormally high or low, in the context of the last 13 rolling months. Perhaps there is even additional information available (other metrics, segmentation, etc) that they aren’t even aware of, that could help them solve this problem!

If done correctly (I don’t recommend rolling your eyes and saying, “Don’t be stupid, you don’t want that metric, duh!” – though not from personal experience! I just suspect it wouldn’t go over so well) business users really appreciate this assistance! They actually rely on it, whether they realise it or not. As subject matter experts, analysts are invaluable in helping the business figure out how to best solve problems, with the right information. We should be sharing our knowledge, and working collaboratively to solve business problems. After all, what’s the point of you handing over what they want, them finding it either useless or worse, it actually guiding a poor business decision?

This interpretation of requests never goes away, but it’s worth noting that it does lessen over time. As your business users and analysts work more closely together, and at least somewhat speak the same language, business users get better at knowing what to ask for and what is available, and analysts get better at understanding the business, and can proactively provide information that can help to solve problems, before it’s even asked of them. Makes you smile, doesn’t it?

The oh-so-elusive engagement metric

I was fortunate enough today to catch Eric T. Peterson‘s webinar about engagement, held by the International Institute for Analytics. The presentation was informative and, in some ways, reassuring. Why? Because even one of the leading experts in Web Analytics essentially agrees that engagement is not an objective, clearly defined metric, nor an easily measurable one. (What a sad day it would be to find out that measuring engagement is clear and simple, and I was just missing the point!)

While Peterson spoke of various definitions, as well as a “formula” by which he has measured engagement, he was very clear that this wasn’t the only possible formulation, nor that there was even one agreed upon industry definition.

What it came down to essentially was that:

  • Engagement truly doesn’t have a clear definition, at least not in the sense of “it is comprised of X + Y + Z metrics”. We all agree on the concept generally, but not necessarily what elements go into measuring it.
  • Sites really need to evaluate what engagement means in relation to their experience.

Perhaps this should be disheartening. Perhaps I should want a clear, defined notion of “engagement”.

But here’s why I don’t …

  • Web analytics is not simple (and anyone who thinks it probably isn’t doing much with it – if you are, and you still think it’s simple, please send me your resume!) Therefore I can’t believe a concept as powerful as engagement can actually be simple. Few (if any) web metrics are useful in and of themselves. We need context for our data to be meaningful. Engagement should be the same – it needs to be defined in the context of the site in question. (And its definition should be continually repeated and reinforced within an organisation, so everyone understands. A metric becomes more meaningless as we start forgetting what it actually represents and how it is defined.)
  • This fuzzy lack-of-definition of engagement allows flexibility. It allows the concept of an engagement metric to be truly tailored to the site it is measuring. No cookie-cutter solutions, or square pegs shoved into round holes, but something that is thought out, keeping in mind the goals of the business and the site’s visitor behaviour.
  • But most importantly – sites that work to define engagement as it pertains to their experience, to capture the data and to process, analyse and segment by engagement level will not let it turn into another useless metric touted at executive meetings. It will have meaning because of its specificity to the site in question, because it is truly helpful in understanding the site and its visitors’ behaviour.