Advanced Analytics: Position, Velocity, and Acceleration

As data has become a more critical part of communications strategy, we must look beyond just the data that comes out of the box from tools like Google Analytics, Facebook insights, etc.

One principle that’s helpful to turn data into insights 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%.

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:


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


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:


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


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:


Drag down the column and chart it, too:


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!

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