I have learned more from being the official Photobucket tweeter (http://twitter.com/photobucket) in the past few months, then over two years of watching customer service reports, following Yahoo Answers, searching blogs for our brand and more. The immediacy of reply, and the “stalker appeal” of just searching for my brand’s name is captivating and not just a little bit addictive.

But when I come to report back to colleagues and management the results of what I’ve found in listening to the Internet pulse, I find it very hard to quantify the data I found. Where’s the formality in my approach to collecting, analyzing and reporting on what I hear? What can I judge it against?

The Dizzying Speed of Social Conversations
The volumes of customer conversation is so huge, and so fast, it can be a bewildering task to uncover the trends and commonalities in customer sentiment. Some are easy to spot and shoot up over night — look at the Motrin debacle. But some are much harder because the come and go, or might not be spotted immediately. Plus, marketers have to combine and analyze those more subtle responses and trends in social conversations and measure them against the data they are collecting from site visits, site behaviors, transactional data and other sources into a meaningful analysis that can be relied upon.

The Shock of the New
When I was a history student in 1980, I studied Robert Hughes “The Shock of the New” — a series and book that changed the way people think about modern art, its relationship to speed and change in modern society, and the worship of anything that’s “new” for the sake of being new.

Sound familiar? I feel parallels to that story today as a marketer in a social media world, with all kinds of shiny new tools and widgets at my disposal every day. Will these shiny new toys hold up to the cruel light of history? Will they be considered worthy and important 6 months, a year, or even 5 years from now?

One of the problems I see is that the new social media marketing platforms are so new that there are few touchstones we can use to judge the quality of the results we see. If I see 5 tweets a day on the same topic about a brand and 10 posts on Facebook a month on the same topic, is that a lot, or not? I need to compare it over at least a year. And I need to be able to measure it as I go along. Do I count them up as I go?!

As I said. Bewildering.

But not hopeless. The tools will catch up. The benchmarks will form as social networking matures and brands build some historical data online. New job roles are already forming, with expertise in the measurement of social conversations and brand tracking. It cannot be ignored, or sub-contracted off to an agency. The best marketing groups will have this expertise in-house, and their results should be watched, respected and acted upon.