Advanced analytics: position, velocity, and acceleration

At this year’s Social Media Success Summit, I had the opportunity to teach an advanced marketing and communications analytics session. One of the ideas I shared was looking beyond just the data that comes out of the box from tools like Google Analytics, Facebook insights, etc. and using some relatively simple mathematical principles to turn data into insights.

One principle that’s important to understand is the concept of derivatives, or understanding what’s changed. A metric of any kind is a snapshot in time of where a piece of data is. For example, you can get a snapshot of how many people have viewed a bylined article, or get a snapshot of how many followers you have on Twitter. These are positional metrics – they tell you where you are.

If you track how much your position changes over time, you are starting to measure velocity. You had 100 likes on your best Facebook post yesterday. Today you have 110. Your velocity, the rate of change, is +10 likes, or a 10% rate of change.

If you track how much your change is changing, you are starting to measure acceleration. You had a 10% rate of change yesterday, and today you have a 15% rate of change. Your acceleration rate is 50%.

Driving The Volvo

Put another way, imagine you’re driving a car. Where the car is on the map is your position. The rate of change in your position is your velocity, or how fast your car is going. It’s the number on the speedometer, or possibly the number written on the speeding ticket the police officer gives you. The rate of change of change is your acceleration – it’s how hard you’re stepping on the gas pedal to make the car go faster, or how hard you’re stepping on the brakes when you see the speeding trap just around the corner.

When it comes to analytics and metrics, all three sets of numbers are important:

It’s important to know where you are.
It’s important to know how fast you’re going.
It’s important to know whether you are going faster or slower.

Let’s look at how you’d apply this concept in practice. Go to your Facebook Page and export your data for the last 180 days. You should see something that looks like this:

Facebook_Insights_Data_Export_-_SHIFT_Communications_-_2014-10-30__1__xls

Illuminate the data by turning the lifetime total likes into a line chart, like so:

Screenshot_10_30_14__8_34_AM

This is your position. This tells you where you were and where you are right now.

Next, insert a new column, and in the new column, select the second cell. In that cell, put in the formula (new – old) / old:

Screenshot_10_30_14__8_36_AM

Drag down the column until it’s auto-filled, then chart it:

Screenshot_10_30_14__8_37_AM

Suddenly I can see a lot more. I can see that the rate of change really stepped up a couple of months into this timeframe, and for the most part the pace of change has been steady, the velocity has been steady. If my goal was to have access to a greater audience on Facebook, then whatever I’m doing is clearly starting to work.

Do the same process again to find the acceleration; insert a new column, and in the new column, select the second cell. In that cell, put in the formula (new – old) / old:

Screenshot_10_30_14__8_39_AM

Drag down the column and chart it, too:

Screenshot_10_30_14__8_40_AM

What does this tell me? This tells me how hard I was stepping on the gas at various points throughout the year. There are clearly points where the pedal hit the metal and growth really took off, and there are periods where I kept a steady pressure on the gas pedal and didn’t need to accelerate. There were even a couple of points where I took my foot off the gas pedal and slowed down.

This tells you two things: first, it tells you when you stepped on the gas. If you meant to, if it was intentional, then you can see whether it worked or not.

Second, it tells you just how hard you CAN step on the gas. If you’re coming up on the end of the month, quarter, or year and you haven’t grown your audience (in this example) to hit the goal you’ve set, you know whether that goal is achievable or not based on how hard you can accelerate. It’s analogous to knowing whether your car can beat the traffic light by knowing how fast you can go from 30 MPH to 60 MPH.

This process of developing an understanding of position, velocity, and acceleration can illuminate any series of metrics, from press hits to website traffic to lead generation and beyond. Use it whenever you need to know more than just what your position is!

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology

Download our new eBook, Google Analytics Basics

Posted on October 30, 2014 in Analytics, Data, Data-Driven PR, Marketing, Metrics, Strategy, Training

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About the Author

Christopher S. Penn is an authority on digital marketing and marketing technology. A recognized thought leader, author, and speaker, he has shaped three key fields in the marketing industry: Google Analytics adoption, data-driven marketing and PR, and email marketing. Known for his high-octane, here’s how to get it done approach, his expertise benefits companies such as Citrix Systems, McDonald’s, GoDaddy, McKesson, and many others. His latest work, Leading Innovation, teaches organizations how to implement and scale innovative practices to direct change.

Christopher is a highly-sought keynote speaker thanks to his energetic, informative talks. In 2015, he delivered insightful, innovative talks on all aspects of marketing and analytics at over 30 events to critical acclaim.

He is a founding member of IBM’s Watson Analytics Predictioneers, co-founder of the groundbreaking PodCamp Conference, and co-host of the Marketing Over Coffee marketing podcast.

Christopher is a Google Analytics Certified Professional and a Google AdWords Certified Professional. He is the author of over two dozen marketing books including bestsellers such as Marketing White Belt: Basics for the Digital Marketer, Marketing Red Belt: Connecting With Your Creative Mind, and Marketing Blue Belt: From Data Zero to Marketing Hero.

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