Social Media Measurement Attribute: Defining Velocity

I would love to do some formal research on this on the day job, the following is just highlighting a probabble definition and formula, it certainly doesn’t include any formal methodology or practiced process.

There’s been a great deal of talk about ‘virality’ or ‘word of mouth’ but when it comes to measurement, we need something just a bit more substantial.

When I was on the vendor side at PodTech as Director of Corporate Social Media Strategy (client facing), I worked closely with Darold Masaro, VP of Sales. We frequently bantered over new ways to improve measurement as this is important improving existing programs and increasing budgets.

For many of those in the social media space, the goal is to ‘let go’ of your message and let it fly all around the web, getting folks to come to your irrelevant corporate website isn’t the goal –fish where the fish are.

Defining Social Media Velocity: Distance over Time
But how do you measure a distributed web strategy? We looked to one of many attributes called “Velocity”. This is not a new term, in fact, Physicists define this as distance traveled per unit time. As I described to Darold what we should be measuring, he quickly pegged I was seeking the term ‘velocity’, it’s stuck with me ever sense, the credit should go to him. The same applies to the web, and here’s how:

[Velocity, when applied to Social Media, is the measurement of how fast an idea, embed, widget or other like unit spreads over web properties. Benchmarked over time, acceleration and deceleration indicate relevancy]

Distance: As units (text, audio embeds, video embeds, widgets, memes) spread from one website to another you can track the URLs where they spread to.


Time: Depending on how fast a unit moves, it can vary from day to week, or less effective, perhaps a month.


Week One: A widget was installed on 5,000 Facebook profiles within 7 days, resulting in a weekly velocity of 714.

Week Two: A widget was installed on 15,000 Facebook profiles within 7 days, resulting in a weekly velocity of 2142.

Also, you could look at this over time and benchmark, and then look for accelerations and decelerations, in this case, week two accelerated from week one by 300%.

Now here’s how Darold further explains velocity:

“Velocity is the speed, direction, and size of conversations traveling the Internet around our brands. When I talk about velocity it’s from the perspective of a wave. So in that case we need to answer this question…What do markteers and sailors have in common? They should both be concerned about waves. Marketers should think in terms of conversational waves. Conversations are more effective for building brands than buzz, but this requires keeping the conversation alive.”

I asked Darold for just a definition but I see he couldn’t help but share more, I guess his days of getting an MBA just compelled him to think this through further. What’s interesting is Darold is a sailor, no not the cursing, one-eyed patch sailors with a parrot named jenkins, but pilots sailboats in Santa Cruz bay over wine and cheese.

He extends the sailing metaphor further, here’s just a portion of his thesis:

“It’s helpful to understand the four key aspects of a wave in order to gain insight into conversations around our brands. Hey I am a sailor and I see the world as a series of nautical metaphors.

Velocity represents both speed AND direction. This is important to point out as most use the common term of velocity which is just speed. I associate speed with what I hear a lot these days … “I want my campaign to go viral.” Where viral represents speed (how quickly, by how many), but we should also look at who is consuming our messages (direction) and sustaining the momentum. So there is more to velocity than speed and direction, and is important to understand if we are to build sustainable conversations around our brands.

We need to understand amplitude which is the size of the wave (this is equivalent to buzz), and frequency. The IceRocket graph below is an example of amplitude and frequency. The size of the wave is easy to understand, but frequency is less clear. In sailing we replace the word frequency with period. That is how long (in seconds) between the crest of one wave to the next. In the world of sailing the amplitude and period of a wave is very important for understanding the sea state. In marketing we have a sea state around our brand. To often the sea is calm, choppy or pounding with large unsustainable waves that come crashing down.”


If you want to reach Darold he can be emailed at

32 Replies to “Social Media Measurement Attribute: Defining Velocity”

  1. I think you’ve got the bones of a great concept here, Jeremiah. The issue of direction is key, of course, as Darold says, but what does direction actually mean in social media circles? Darold mentions consumption but perhaps it’s not so much who but with what that determines velocity. The waves emanate from a central point and take longer to reach a destination dependent on wind, depth, currents etc. The consumer who reads a blog and leaves a comment may cause some small ripple effect. The consumer who then posts to another blog, creates a tweet, and sets up a Facebook Group to discuss it adds to the wave’s momentum in many directions.

    You’re right! It’s hard to get to grips with.

  2. “So there is more to velocity than speed and direction, and is important to understand if we are to build sustainable conversations around our brands.”

    The conversation is the Brand , your brand is only good as to what people think and say of the product. There is no sustainable way to build brand equity other then community chatter. What matters, is that a company provides a good product.PERIOD.

    Branding is a by-product of something good..Sustainability will come naturally and waves will form themselves based on how on the company strategies the product.

  3. What is velocity without the values of the travelling object being taken into account though? It’s not enough to say that something travelled a distance over time as a measure as a very different type of object will react to the gravitational forces of direction, distribution and divergence dependent on what its ingredients are. So in order for it to be a useful measure it needs to take into account the ingredients and environment. It’s not just about the brand, it’s about how the brand is realised and whether it is socially pleasing.

  4. I like the speed and direction idea. Velocity is a vector, and that direction is an interesting additional piece of data.

    How about distance traversed over the social graph, and which part of the social graph? As a brand owner I’d want to know how fast the message got out (measured in people) and what direction did it go (was it the right tone and to the right social network).

  5. This is great stuff. I’ve been talking to a lot of clients lately about the idea that community management, at least in the beginning, is not about the numbers alone. It’s about the ratios – what’s your growth path look like week after week?

    I have one client who just soft launched a beta community to a select group of customers (i.e. it’s a small group that even has access). They’re really really concerned that the small number hasn’t flocked yet. My point to them was to look at the overall growth curve, not the sheer number, and balance than against goals of the community at the time.

    So, at launch, they may only have a handful of people participating, but so what? The real question is whether two things are happening in this VERY early stage:

    1. Enough content is being generated to make the community feel alive (and a handful of people certainly have the potential to deliver that)

    2. Is the use curve of growth increasing steadily over time?

    If both of those things are true, you’re doing good. Sit back, relax, have a cold drink.

    Over time, looking at this metric is crucial too to identify the health of the community. Sure it might slow after a while, but it shouldn’t dip.

    Anyway, great stuff, Jeremiah!

  6. Wow – this was a very thought provoking post, thank you. While analyzing historical data is valuable (especially for determining ROI), I think the killer app is able to predict the “wave” based on data that has been collected.

    Kind of a weather forecast for social media trends and disturbances.

  7. There are some really interesting ideas here! From the comments, it seems to me we are potentially mixing two ideas here:

    1) The spread of something “pure” (for lack of a better term) like a widget, where spread does not change, dilute or reverse the original message. An embedded widget or video, generally speaking, is what it is.

    2) The spread of a message through channels like blogs, where inevitably the spread modifies the original message.

    My feeling would be that a “straight” velocity model would work really well for the former, but perhaps not so well for the latter.

    Maybe what is needed is a 3rd dimension added to speed and direction for purpose of tracking things like blog conversation as opposed to things like widget spread… I’m thinking, to extend the metaphor natural, attitude. Mentions could be moving quickly, but it could also be “raising” or “falling” depending on whether the sentiment about the brand is positive or negative.

  8. Jeremiah, you’re the best. This is a very interesting concept. Not the first time I’ve heard about it, but you have a way of making things more accessible to creative types like me. One worry I have in all of this conversation: yes, we’re building traffic, we’re building noise. But in the end, if we don’t sell something we can’t support the idea over the long term. That’s why I think the concept of direction is so important. An idea can have a lot of buzz, but if the people doing the talking aren’t the people doing the buying OR influencing the people doing the buying, it’s ultimately going to fail. Right off the top of my head, I can think of a couple of terrific brands with great recognition and buzz in the marketplace, but they’re courting the wrong consumers and their sales are heading south pretty fast. They need to change the direction of the buzz to change the direction of the sales curve.

    I don’t want to rain on the parade here because your ideas are always fabulous. So…am I right? Completely and hopelessly wrong? A humble, un-analytical brain is reaching out to all you smart guys for thoughts.

  9. ROI is indeed an important factor, commercial reality dictates this. But seeding the idea in this space as to be seen as a long term aproach as opposed a direct attempt to influence that months figures. You may get lucky but for every lucky result there be plenty of time waiting. There are other routes for immediate ROI.

    However velocity as a metric for the social space is a really great attempt at measuring the impact of a brand, idea or product release(widget etc..)
    A great KPI for any social exercise…..
    I see direction as a classification of negative and positive reaction as opposed a specific social site.

  10. It’s intersting how some folks are suggesting velocity is only valid or important if it’s in the right direction.

    But if it’s not? What does that tells us?

  11. I think accessing directionality has to be tied to goals. If broad reach is all that is desired, I think directionality is less important. If success is being measured against reaching specific targets, directionality would be more important.

    For example, here in Canada one of the things we have to access with many clients is how much of the reach is to consumers outside of Canada, particularly within the U.S. For traditional media with geo- targeting and fencing this can be limited but this is not necessarily possible with a social media campaign, so accessing reach to Canadian consumers in particular is important, particularly for brands that don’t exist outside the country.

  12. Wow Jeremiah, great comments and additional insight from your community!

    Really the essence of this question is what should we measure, and what will that reveal? Until then we can™t really create a standard for understanding social media ROI. We have so many questions on this front. Ultimately we need to come up with a social media index for measuring brand engagement. Sounds like something an analyst at Forrester might do some day¦

    BTW “ To provide a little perspective for where I am coming from with the notion of a conversational wave. Being in sales of social media tools and strategies I deal directly with PR and marketing professional on a daily basis. Many are just beginning to get into social media, but initially approach it with a traditional mindset. That is to take a firework approach. For example, a lot of energy invested to support say a product launch. The product is launched, fireworks light up the sky, everyone say oooh, aaaah and then the lights quickly fade. A lot of buzz, no real conversation, and off to the next project we go. So I use the metaphor of a conversational wave to help illustrate the importance of sustaining conversation around brands and how social media tools can be used to help achieve this. This is nothing new; we all know the importance of conversations, but often we get very tactical in our approach to marketing and lose sight of this.

    The rest of this theory is stated below. It is a bit long, sorry.

    Tall fast waves, say 10 feet at 8 seconds, equals a lot of buzz, but quickly break and wash out. Choppy waves, 2 feet at 2 seconds, results in no real conversation around your brand, just a lot of noise. We are interested in creating loud and persistent conversational waves; that is a large wave that takes a long period to pass by, say 20 feet at 30 seconds. This represents a lot of buzz over a long period of time which equals conversation; more effective for fostering brand preference than just buzz. Markteers should strive to develop large waves that linger in an effort to sustain conversation around their brands.

    So how do you create a wave? Waves are created by wind blowing on the sea. To predict the size of the wave your marketing wind will produce you need to understand the following (I™m not insinuating that marketing just blows hot air):
    1. Strength of the wind
    2. Duration “ over what period of time the wind has been blowing at a given strength
    3. Fetch “ the distance over which the wind is blowing before the waves and wind hit land

    How waves are created are remarkably similar to how we create conversations around our brands. You need some combination of these three factors to develop a conversational wave. If the wind is extremely strong but blows for a short period the waves will not get big and will quickly dissipate. In sailing we call this a squall, a sudden intense storm that disappears as quickly as it comes. Interesting how similar this is to our traditional marketing and PR efforts ¦ such as a product launch squall. A lot of information being shouted at you and just by the time that you figure out what is going on the squall is dying down. In nature this is very true; a really strong wind blowing on a small pond for a short period equals small waves. But a moderate wind for a sustained period on the open seas will produce sizable waves. There-in-lies the answer; what can we do to sustain the wind between squalls? This is where social media can effectively augment your traditional approach, by adding wind between our squalls to keep the conversations persisting. Sustainable conversations build our brands.

    So let™s break it down:

    How do we create a conversational wave (wind):
    1.Strength “ you already have your marketing and PR machines that can put a lot of wind into the sea
    2.Duration “ blogs, podcasting, social networking tools, and online communities can all be utilized to sustain the wind
    3.Fetch “ thanks to the Internet and the social media tools now available to us, we are no longer bounded by Traditional Media to play in their pond. We now have direct access to the sea

    What does the velocity of a conversational wave illustrate:
    ¢Speed “ how fast is our story traveling
    ¢Direction “ where is it being heard / discussed (who is listening, contributing, sharing)
    ¢Amplitude “ the size of conversation around your brand
    ¢Period “ the duration of conversation around your brand

    Finally there is one other aspect that has nothing to do with waves and that is tone of conversations. But we already know the importance of listening.

  13. Jeremiah, to your follow on comment about direction being important: I think there is a lot to be learnt here from traditional PR metrics.

    Whilst they can’t be applied wholesale to the SM space, valuable lessons have been learnt in measurement in PR over the years those shouldn’t be lost. No point reinventing the wheel. PR isn’t just about coverage, it is about GOOD coverage, with the RIGHT messages. Ah, the old controlled world!

    I wouldn’t say this applies tightly to SM, it would be missing the point, or that you can measure that at scale – although the media relations world has tried – but you do want to know that you are hitting the right people (so to speak!) and that it is having a positive, rather than negative, outcome.

  14. Jeremiah and Darold, Great discussion. There is a book in here somewhere. When Geoffrey Moore wrote Crossing the Chasm, the first thing he did was create a language that all marketers could use and understand e.g. inside a tornado, hitting the side of a cliff etc.–all of that allowed him to use a language or metaphors that everyone could use to refer to certain types of events that were happening in the marketplace. That is what you and Darold are beginning to do here…create a language with definitions that all marketers could use. Great beginning.

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  16. I love these metaphors and there are other analogies that could be used often involving nature – flyfishing for one. great stuff!!

  17. fantastic visuals here…really paints a picture for the numerically challenged 🙂 Darold and Jeremiah, has there been any progression on this philosophy? i noticed the post was written in March of 2008, nearly a year ago…I would love to find a lengthier discussion on this topic. Know of any places?

  18. Great, I would love to explore this idea further, as I am trying to create a more comprehensive way to measure engagement and the benefits of a community manager. This post is the only reference of “velocity” I can find…is this the only place this philosophy exists? Of course, I understand the proprietary nature if you choose not to extrapolate

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