I’m writing this overlooking a bird’s-eye view of the San Terenzo on Italy’s Cinque Terre coast. This view of the Mediterranean certainly makes it a great place for some reflection.

I spent the last few days in Milan, giving a speech about Social Media Measurement at the Swisscorner and participating in the third European Digital Leadership Conference, a retreat in the Piedmont region of Italy ,organized by Joakim Lundquist. Joakim runs the incredibly innovative and forward-thinking social media agency, Lundquist, based in Milan.

The 2-day retreat took place at Villa “D ’Amelie” a gorgeous guest house in the middle of the Piedmont wine region. Yes, we tasted a bit of the excellent wines produced in that area, but the real purpose of these conferences was to help develop outstanding digital leaders and equip them with the strategic vision and essential skills needed to manage their company’s digital communications. The initiative is built around a series of “retreats”– intimate and closed-door gatherings for exchange and thought leadership discussions among members. Here we all are:


What emerged was a refrain that I have heard for the past few years in similar conferences in the U.S. and Middle East: While there is a need for better measurement of real business outcomes from social strategies, the proliferation of vanity metrics (like followers and fans) consistently gets in the way. Bob Garfield would find fertile ground here for his anti-eyeball messages.  Marketers are still looking for those big numbers, and when confronted with much more meaningful metrics (like the percent of those “likes” that are actually engaged in sharing and commenting on your content) the numbers are just too small to register in the marketers’ minds.

Garfield would suggest that it is just a matter of time before the companies that continue down the “shouting ever louder” path must change or die. That may be true in the U.S. where efficiency is valued above all, but if you are doing business across the pond, relationships are seen as far more important than how much you can produce for the lowest cost.

Business is built around relationships; therefore, impressions already take a back seat to personal connections.  The problem is that “social” here is not seen as means to better relationships, or even greater satisfaction. It is seen as a medium of growing influence and imminent danger. The stories of social media’s dumbest moves and frequent disasters are well-known, as are the rules and regulations that govern disclosure, privacy, and other business aspects that most of us in the U.S. ignore.

As a result, the European C-Suite sees “social” more as a means to a more efficient way of amplifying message than as the social business strategy it should be.

The good news is that the participants in both the Executive Digital Leadership Forum, and many of the attendees at the breakfast, understand the real value of “social.” The challenge for them, as it is with their peers in the states, is to convince their bosses of the truth.

More good news — as measurement techniques improve and real value metrics are applied more frequently, the data will reveal the reality.

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