The Baseball Lesson of Digital Marketing Metrics
Peter Panda

Anyone over the age of 30 who likes baseball knows the name Steve Garvey. He was the accomplished first baseman for the Los Angeles Dodgers during the team’s early 1980s heyday, and was with the San Diego Padres before that. As with any handsome professional athlete, especially one playing for L.A. teams, he was on billboards, in magazine ads, on television and in commercials.

If you look at the history books and even the awards of baseball, Steve Garvey shows up as an impressive figure. He was the MVP of the National League in 1974, a 10-time All-Star and the holder of the NL record for consecutive games played (1,207). And, if you dig a little deeper, you see that Garvey won four Gold Glove Awards.

Now, the Gold Glove Award is given to the best defensive player at each position in each league. So there are only 18 given each year — nine positions each in the National and American League. If you read the award right, Steve Garvey was supposedly one of the best (if not the best) first basemen in professional baseball for a time. But if you ask anyone who played with or against Steve Garvey, the notion is laughable.

You see, Steve Garvey fielded well, but he had a terrible arm. He couldn’t throw runners out from across the infield — that’s mainly why he played first base, a position that is more focused on catching throws from other infielders than throwing elsewhere.

Now, you might argue that since his position didn’t require throwing the ball much, that was just Garvey playing in the right spot. If he played that spot well, he still deserved the accolades. He didn’t make many errors — mistakes officially recorded in the score book of the game’s results that are of great consideration when voting for the Gold Glove Award — so what’s the beef?

Well, let’s consider this: With less than two outs and a runner on second base, if a grounder was hit to Garvey, the runner would almost always head for third, knowing Garvey wouldn’t try to throw him out. Garvey would defer to just get the out at first and let the runner advance. He may have even done so with a runner on third, allowing that run to score. And he rarely threw to second with a runner on first to try and record a double play.

He played his position rather poorly. He played his ability expertly. He knew he couldn’t throw well, so he didn’t. Even if it meant hurting his team’s chances because he gave up a base here or there.

The lesson here is there is much more to success than the surface metrics that say we did a good job. Garvey didn’t have errors. But Garvey made tactical mistakes that were not recorded in the official scoring of the game. On paper, he looked like a dandy first baseman. In actual analysis of what should have happened in the course of a game, he was average at best.

So, when you see Mashable, Social Media Examiner, Digiday or other websites presenting case studies of brands with outstanding social media programs, read a little deeper. It’s great to have fans, engagement and exposure. But what are the brand’s business goals, and are their social media programs helping them accomplish those goals? More often than not, the case studies skip that part.

We love trying to create social media and public relations success stories at Elasticity. But we start with the business objective and hope to drive real success, not just on-paper accolades for our clients. We’re not always perfect. Sometimes it takes experimenting to fine-tune a success story. But we’ve got a good track record, and we know better than to tell someone they’ve got a lot of followers or engagement and hope they don’t notice the lack of returns from the effort.

We love Steve Garvey, but we also know his defensive prowess was more on paper than on the field. Let us know if you’d like to take some grounders — and make some throws to third — with us.

Peter Panda

Pioneering social media panda bear Tagawa “Peter” Panda was born on a Chinese game reserve in 1969. He emigrated to the United States in 1987 speaking no English, with only the fur on his back and $97 stored in a Jansport fanny-pack wrapped around his waist.

In 2003 while searching for food on the campus of Washington University, he discovered a computer lab where he would ultimately teach himself web development, graphic design, and immerse himself into the growing digital media evolution that was erupting at the time.

With his trademark surly demeanor developed during beatings on his boat ride from China to the U.S., as well as having a penchant for eating vast quantities of bamboo, and enjoying Scotch and cigars, Peter is broadly recognized for coining the phrase “social media” in 2004. He joined Elasticity in late 2009 as the agency’s director of social media strategy and wildlife relations. Friend him on Facebook here.

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