It’s not about the hashtag

Well, I know some of you saw a little frustration unfold this week about the #measure hashtag, and obviously that didn’t go so well. I want to clarify a few things and make my position on this whole thing crystal clear.

First, this is not about ruffling any feathers, challenging anyone, or causing a stir. It’s an assessment of a potential cultural barrier, a self-imposed glass ceiling that manifests itself in a number of forums, one being twitter, but much more major ones being the hallways of your company, the executive suite, and across teams that collaborate with us. I know that this tag was obviously chosen by someone, somewhere, for some justified and perfectly understandable reasons. And I truly appreciate those. But I think if you were to look at this from the perspective of how we think of ourselves, how we communicate what we do and our value, how we refer to the nature of our business, it just, in my mind, doesn’t represent a sound (or ambitious) view of the trade.

It’s clearly not about the hashtag, because I see the same message everywhere. I see it in job descriptions, job titles, blog posts, books, I hear it in people’s answers to the question, “What is web analytics?” I hear it at eMetrics, Omniture Summit, WAW, and everywhere I go and talk to people who do what we do. The way we define ourselves does not lend itself to where we are going as well as it could, in my opinion.

There is a huge issue getting in the way of our true potential and the greatest version of our future, and it has everything to do with how we brand ourselves, and of course, the cornerstone of branding is consistency. The analytics community is very consistent in how it refers to itself, defines itself, and communicates itself, and I just think that we’re consistently focusing in a slightly wrong direction. Not completely wrong, but not completely right.

I think that we should realize our potential to refocus companies at the highest levels, more efficiently allocate capital, more efficiently organize resources, more effectively path communication and workflows, and resolve inter-departmental conflicts that plague large organizations. Web analytics has a view of the operations of a company that very few other departments have the opportunity to see, and that is our greatest potential value. In the financial world, there is a clear division between the accountants and the analysts, and I think we need to see that same division begin to take place in our world. We will certainly face a new set of obstacles, but this is the inevitable future of our role, and it’s going to be pretty freaking awesome.

Analytics just is not about measurement. It is not measurement. Its input is not all measurement, and its output is not measurement. Measurement does play an absolutely vital role in what we do, but is is absolutely 100% not the most important input, output, process, focus, or deciding factor of what we do. The only quick and simple defense I can present of this is that even if web measurement were to completely disappear, we would still have jobs, and really good ones. More measurement doesn’t equal better analysis OR better analysts. Obviously, less can be a crippling factor, but it doesn’t mean that your company will actually experience any downside or any less upside (although if that’s the case, your analytics dept really sucks!), and it’s absolutely true today that very few companies really consistently turn measurement into action.

Measurement is the accounting of the Internet, and that is in no way a shot at anyone, any role, or any of that. It has an incredibly valuable and important purpose. The better the measurement, the more clearly we can see where we have been and predict where we are going. But even better, great measurement provides a platform upon which other trades can generate incredible value. Measurement will never tell you how to expand your market share. Analysis of that measurement can. Measurement will never increase your profitability or efficiency. Analysis of that measurement can.

My point is that we need to take the accounting part of our job descriptions and begin to de-emphasize it in a big way. We need to begin emphasizing the value we create. If anyone out there cares how (or with what) we create that data, we can tell them. But it’s my bet that after a while, they won’t care. When you prove your value, it won’t matter where it came from; they’ll just want more of it. And if you tell them you need resources, budget, time, or rainbows to invest in the accounting/measurement platform to boost your value, that investment is tied to an output, not an input, and you’ll get it.

I just think it’s time for us to really assess whether how we think about ourselves is in any way limiting our potential, and it’s my personal belief that it is, in some ways. That’s all I’m asking.

And I want to apologize for anyone who did feel assaulted or disrespected throughout this conversation. That is totally not the point. But it’s only fair for our community to consider we may not have everything perfectly right today. We didn’t yesterday, and we won’t tomorrow. But the only way we’ll get closer is to engage in these conversations and see where they go.

Thanks for reading.

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  1. Hi Evan

    You should have recaped the Twitter thing. I have no idea what you are referring to, and what point you are trying to make except that web analysts should bring value to their company through less reporting and more analysis. I’m sorry to say, but that message has been around for some time now (squirrels and ninjas anyone?).

    Can you clarify the context of your post

    BTW, Eric Peterson came up with #measure after some debate in the state of Washington started using the #wa we were all on. Personally, I don’t like it because we lost 5 precious characters in the process.

    Posted December 23, 2010 at 9:28 am | Permalink
  2. Jacques,

    Good point! The background is that I have been suggesting we discontinue describing ourselves by talking about measurement, and that our hashtag is one outcome of a much larger issue surrounding how we articulate our value.

    Obviously I’m well aware that I am not inventing a new idea, and I’m a huge fan of everyone who did think of this first. But this is not just about doing analysis and not reporting (and I’m also not talking about analysis, I’m talking about operations and real business conversations that are far different in scope than just the web site). The real point: It’s about how we sell ourselves, which is actually quite different. Phillip Morris makes things that kill people. They sell themselves as a lifestyle enhancer, making you a cool cowboy. Imagine how much easier our pr will be, since we actually do something good!

    The doing is only half of the battle, and until we beef up our pr and sales skills, the opportunity for us to be more than squirrels is smaller than it can and should be.

    The twitter thing was just me saying let’s be careful not to pin anything on ourselves that represents less than we should be. What transpired was the valid counterpoint that worrying about twitter hashtags is not a good use of our time. But I believe that what you practice is what you are, and we need to always be consistent in representing ourselves, and our trade, well.

    Posted December 23, 2010 at 10:30 am | Permalink
  3. @evanlapointe: Hello Evan. I see and agree. If I may, I will offer one part of the answer in a whitepaper I’m currently preparing with Webtrends. It is about how we speak to the business and how we learn to align with it. Should be in the same train of thoughts as yours.

    Posted December 23, 2010 at 11:16 am | Permalink
  4. I’m more-or-less new to the industry, but in my opinion the key to changing web analytics from an ad-hoc “measure mill” image lies in integrating with projects sooner and drawing out an analysis gameplan to present to the client/stakeholders. The current analytics climate seems to revolve around reactive analysis – however, if we take more of a proactive approach, we can design expectations as opposed to reactively responding to requests for ad-hoc reporting. The primary issue seems to be the perception of the role from those who don’t share the same job description. I don’t feel that we are being misrepresented as much as we aren’t clearly identifying our goals and tying these goals back to a strategy that will generate more money. If we are clearly outlining our purpose early in the game and speaking in terms of goals and achievements, I think there will be a substantial shift in the perception of web analytics. Right now I feel like we’re trying to build that reputation, but are being stonewalled because we’re asking the question of “why?” after all of the decisions have been made or the project has been finished. The client/stakeholder has made a request, their bosses expect to see x and y report, and it’s basically becomes a GIGO system that allows little time for real analysis or change of perception. I also feel as though this reactive approach diminishes the credit that analysts receive because it comes across as more of an insight discovered through the report request as opposed to a conclusion derived from experience and expertise… maybe that’s just me, though.

    Posted December 23, 2010 at 7:24 pm | Permalink
  5. Jim, absolutely right. We aren’t delivering the message earlier enough, and I don’t think well enough either. I’m hoping we will get better at both so your career can be beyond incredible!

    Posted December 23, 2010 at 9:40 pm | Permalink