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Peerview Data Insights

Be careful what you measure

Like Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy?”

Hate it?

(Never heard of it? You’re probably lucky.)

It was one of this summer’s hits, but as surprising as that was to a lot of people, the record companies probably had a pretty good idea it would be all over the airwaves.


A company called Next Big Sound crunches consumption data from social media and music-streaming sites, tracks buzz on Facebook, Twitter, SoundCloud, and YouTube, and collects private sales figures from clients and partners to predict what will be the “next big song” and then ranks the results.

Whether you like that idea or hate that idea, the effect of this is worth noting: because Next Big Sound has become the “go to” resource for record companies, many of them are adapting their business practices — the way they use social media, etc. — so “their artists” have a greater chance of ending up at the top of Next Big Sound’s list.

What started out as a clever and insightful way to impartially gauge interest in specific songs or artists is being turned on its head; will songs that reach the top of this list underperform because they’re (in some way) the result of a system people are starting to game?

This quote from the original Mother Jones article explains why this matters:

“Measurement is never neutral,” notes Nancy Baym, who studies social media metrics at Microsoft Research and has authored several papers on the topic. “The way you measure things shapes the way you think about what you’re measuring. It shapes the way you approach it. It shapes the kinds of materials that you create.”

The take-away is that any time you measure anything — whether it’s the popularly of a song or your company’s ability to compete — it’s important to understand not just what you’re measuring, but why you’re measuring it and how those measurements will influence action.

Topics: Money People Customers Planning & Forecasting