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Measuring the unknown: Evaluative practices and performance indicators for digital platforms

Christos Begkos (Alliance Manchester Business School, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK)
Katerina Antonopoulou (University of Sussex Business School, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK, )

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

ISSN: 0951-3574

Article publication date: 10 February 2020

Issue publication date: 17 April 2020

Abstract

Purpose

In the current digital era where online content is riddled with fabricated metrics and rankings, this research aims to investigate the underpinning mechanisms of the calculative practices which actors engage with to evaluate digital platform content in the absence of well-defined performance measures.

Design/methodology/approach

The paper focuses on the online, photo-sharing platform Instagram which is devoid of common performance measures such as rankings, ratings and reviews. The authors applied netnographic methods to capture users' actions and interactions at the Greek Instagram community. The authors adopt a practice lens as informed by Schatzki's ‘site ontology’ to capture actors' calculative practices as organised by rules, teleoaffective structures and general and practical understandings.

Findings

Platform actors engage in aesthetic and palpable evaluations of other user profiles and their posted content. They employ permissible (e.g., using third-party apps) and illicit (e.g., lobbying and procuring engagement) tactics to measure and manage digital platform performance, fabricate metrics and blur others' evaluations, in pursuit of prestige and material teleologies. Their calculative practices are conditioned by an implicit social etiquette, which permeates the platform both horizontally and vertically.

Originality/value

First, the paper captures and theorises the mechanisms which underpin actors' calculative practices for performance measurement in the absence of robust judgement devices. Second, it demonstrates how ambiguous assemblages of material and prestige teleologies, aesthetic and palpable evaluative regimes and implicit rules and practical expertise collectively invoke platform actors' calculative practices and the construction of performance measures. In doing so, it contributes to performance measurement literature via demonstrating how management accounting is implicated in the evaluation of digital platform outputs.

Practical implications

The paper provides insight on how platform actors fabricate performance metrics, what they perceive as ‘good’ online content and what constitutes an ‘impactful’ user account or a ‘successful’ social media campaign. Such findings are valuable to management accountants, entrepreneurs and practitioners who seek to evaluate digital platform performance.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

We gratefully acknowledge that the research towards this publication was supported by the British Academy and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. The views expressed remain, solely, those of the authors.

Citation

Begkos, C. and Antonopoulou, K. (2020), "Measuring the unknown: Evaluative practices and performance indicators for digital platforms", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 33 No. 3, pp. 588-619. https://doi.org/10.1108/AAAJ-04-2019-3977

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

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