lemonaide standIn Canada, we have a seasonal, cultural tradition known as the Roll up the Rim to Win. Though I’ve never won big, I will usually have a few rolls where free coffee begets free coffee which begets free doughnut. But this year, not so well. Over the month that the Roll up the Rim contest was underway, some 30-odd coffees earned me only a couple of doughnuts. So I was quite jealous when Zoe revealed to the office that she was 100% for Roll up the Rim season. A full month and she had perfect wins on every cup. Unheard of!

Turns out, she had only had two cups over the course of the month, so her winning streak … not so much of one.

Context is everything when it comes to measurement.

Individual datum is a puzzling enigma. Your podcast had 1,000 downloads. Without any other points of reference, you can look at that number a dozen different ways and be no clearer as to what it means.

The more data you capture, the clearer the picture will become. Your podcast had 1,000 downloads today, 50 downloads last week and 45 the week before that. Put into context against the previous days, and suddenly your measurement is no longer a meaningless figure but part of a story. Set your numbers against something and you will begin to gain a sense of proportion.

But even then, the picture may be distorted; a funhouse mirror representation of the truth. Your podcast had 1,000 downloads today, but it resulted in only a handful of positive leads for your sales staff. Last week, with fraction the number of downloads, you had twice the results. The reason being that the bump in traffic came from a popculture site with millions of visitors that found an aspect of your program amusing, and linked to it. None of those people were nor would they ever be customers of your custom molded pipes. And this upcoming weekend being the big plumbing supplies conference, your typical audience is likely on the road.

Now, at last, the picture is clear. Context is everything when it comes to measurement.


  1. zoe

    Rob, actually, with one of my winning tabs I got another coffee and won. Also, someone bought me a coffee and I won. So, i guess that means I’m at 200%. ๐Ÿ˜‰


  2. Oh how I miss Tim Horton’s. I’m in DC these days, and spent some time living in Canada…and I miss Timmy’s.

    Great analogy though. Context is everything. I think it’s also worth mentioning that not only do you need context; but the humility to accept the facts when the data is disagreeing with you.

  3. Rob,

    I was recently on a CPRS media crawl in Victoria where we toured various traditional news media (radio, newspaper, television). A number of times, when asked about ratings, the TV folks at two different stations admitted their ratings numbers could be spun every which direction to present a favourable impression.

    From this example, it seems itโ€™s not just online media with this issue.


  4. Hello Rob,

    Very interesting post and analogy. It appears that context is an important part of understanding people’s perceptions about us. When speaking specifically about reputations, it’s become increasingly important to understand context. We can collect metrics to understand things about web audiences, but its not always the case that we can change people’s perceptions.

    Another way of looking at is that for some, reputations can be this tidy social currency that we like to carry around with us everywhere we go – a lot like we would our credit report when asking the bank for a loan. For others, constantly being looked at under a magnifying glass or under the careful and watchful eye of web critics can be a challenge. The latter can be especially punishing to ones reputation if you don’t have a way to understand exactly why you may have fallen out of favour with web audiences – an important first step to help improve the optics of a situation.

    The role of reputation metrics ought to work to help us better understand, for instance, why a green campaign won’t work. With metrics, we ought to be able to base it on the overwhelming web-based evidence of past failures, or if the verdict has already been passed by the web audiences who have deemed similar strategies a sham.

    There may also be cultural sensitivities to the approaches used in communications strategies that might be overlooked if we haven’t spent enough time aggregating metrics to help inform our decisions. The campaign may have been a hit in one market, but being able to guage online temperatures by geography can significantly help to avert a potential disaster.

    I see metrics and context being linked and serving as an integral part of brand and reputation monitoring. I especially see the two working together to help achieve a better understanding of audience influence. There is at least one effort that you may or may not have already heard being headed by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) to arrive at an Open Reputation Management Standards (ORMS). As an ORM services and solutions provider, this is one development that we are watching with a keen interest.


  5. Arthur

    Knowing that I have had only one winner out of 450+ tries in the past five years during the contest, I think I’m going to balance both you and Zoe out when I get into the office in two weeks.

    I guarantee you that Tim Horton’s spent countless amounts of fossil fuels and spewed a huge amount of greenhouse gases, if not the waste that 450+ cups makes for me to win one donut.

    Context is definitely everything. Is one donut worth the investment that I put in with the 450+ large caffeinated drinks that I’ve bought?

  6. @Josh Definitely agree. Some of the most valuable data you can collect is ‘something isn’t working.’ Whilst no one wants to be the bearer of bad news, it’s far worse for everyone if management is making decisions based on faulty assumptions. Of course, management can help by encouraging the flow of information, good or bad, and not shooting any messengers.

    @Joseph Too much analysis occurs in a vacuum; looking at a fixed point in time and attributing motives without any real sense of history or wider ranging issues. Not seeing the forest for the trees as it were.

    Actions and gestures can provide a level of inference as to motive, but what’s extremely important to remember is that at the end of the day, we’re dealing with people. Thanks for the link to ORMS – Reputation and ID are going to be key issues in the coming years, so it’s helpful to stay on top of what the current technical developments in that space are.

    @Arthur Well, the cups are biodegradable. As for the fossil fuels, I know an XL-DblDbl may seem like rocket fuel, but it’s just coffee. Really.

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