Learning On the Job: Notes From a Sherpa-in-Training

Brian Ward, Sherpa-in-Training

This article is part of The Measurement Advisor’s Special Issue on the Measurement Sherpa, an in-house data wrangler and measurement resource who organizes, queries, and gains insight from data. Our coverage follows the development of a Sherpa’s skill and experience, from newbie to pro, and is organized in three levels:

sherpa badge level 1

Sherpa Level One: Getting Out of Base Camp

sherpa badge level 2Sherpa Level Two: Climbing the Mountain

sherpa badge level 3Sherpa Level Three: Peak Operations

By Brian Ward — I knew nothing about social media measurement when I started working at Paine Publishing. I thought I was going to be an office gofer.

The first time I had to write an editorial on the topic was a bit stressful. There was a period in the beginning where I nodded, wrote things down, and acted like I had a clue. I kept expecting someone to respond to my articles: A comment, or email saying “J’accuse!,” or more likely, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

I had three things going for me that made the task possible. The first is the knack for learning just enough about a subject to sound knowledgeable, a skill I developed working in journalism. That experience also taught me how to comb through numbers and documents to find usable info. The third thing is that, as a child of the 21st century, I’m familiar with the uses of social media, so it took less time than I feared to get a clue.

I’m not a measurement expert by any definition (I’ve been on the job three months — cut me some slack!). However I’m at a place now where I can read measurement articles and mostly understand what they’re talking about. In some cases I can be the one saying, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

In a lot of ways measurement is very similar to journalism. You take a lot of big data and break it down into usable info that a layperson can understand and use. What I found is that once you know the terms, a lot of it becomes intuitive. Sentiment is different than volume? Duh. Different demographics react differently to different media? No-brainer. The logic behind marketing Puerto Rico to Americans without passports? Took a bit of calculator work, but I did it.

The few months I’ve been here have given me a lot of information on a topic I probably should have learned in college. I had a couple of classes in which I had to write a blog, but none of them taught me how to measure readership, bounce rates, time on site, etc. I was told that as a journalist I should tweet to gain followers, but no one ever gave me a solid number for what the benefit of that would be (my Twitter account still hasn’t been used in months).

So why should you, a hypothetical college student (and congratulations if you’re not hypothetical), learn about measurement?

  1. It makes you unique.

One of the first things you realize out of college is that you’re competing with everyone who graduated with you, plus everyone already in the workforce. What do you have that make you special? In this day and age it’s not enough to be a generalist; you need something that makes you stand out among the stacks of resumes that employers flip through. Measurement is a fairly underrepresented skill, so if you can show that you have experience with it  (and how it can be used to help your boss) then it could earn you that post-college position.

  1. It can be useful in many different fields.

Measurement can be used to determine public opinion, stop PR crises, determine what forms of marketing are effective, compare your business with competitors, and more effectively reach clients or customers. If your job involves providing a service or product to a client, then you can probably use measurement in one form or another. That goes double if your company has a website or social media accounts. Here’s how measurement can be applied to different industries:

  • Hospitality Find out what local events bring the most people to your hotel. What pages do they visit when they’re on your website that convince them to come to your hotel or go to a different hotel? What kinds of things do people tweet about your hotel after they leave?
  • Business Find out and stomp out negative PR crises before things like this happen. What types of media campaigns are most cost-effective? What terms are most often used in reference to your company (“Citibank sucks” or “Zappos is awesome”)?
  • Journalism How many people are reading your articles all the way through and how many are leaving as soon as they arrive at the page? How many read another article after reading the first? How are they arriving at your homepage?
  • Tech What group is the most outspoken (for or against) your product? How do people compare you to the competition (PC vs. Mac, anyone?)? What bugs or problems with your product do people complain about most often?

If you’re on the fence about getting more involved in measurement, don’t be. It gives you a unique skill that is applicable to a variety of fields. That being said, not everyone is suited for measurement. If you don’t like numbers, graphs, stats, or analytical thinking, you should probably not get involved in measurement. But, if you do like those things, then I would definitely recommend that you take the plunge into measurement. I did and I haven’t drowned yet. ∞

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