Rubbish social media stats let the side down

20 09 2009

It’s been about a month or so since I first came across this video via a post on Mashable called 30+ Impressive Social Media Stats Visualized.  The video was put together by Erik Qualman, author of the upcoming book Socialnomics, and has received over 646,000 views to date.

At first I thought that it was pretty decent, especially if you like numbers and stats and all that (which I do).

But a few things just didn’t seem right at first.

It might have been the use of a Moby as the backing track, which is enough to make me suspicious of pretty much anything. Or perhaps it was the opening teaser question ‘…is [social media] the biggest shift since the Industrial Revolution?’ Um, no. That’s just nonsense.

But I looked past all that, and enjoyed the video. It was the sort of thing I could picture myself pulling up in a training session. I even jotted down what I thought were some of the most noteworthy stats, which were to form the basis of this blog post.

SocMedFailWhaleBut focus of this post has shifted completely since I began looking into some of these grand stats more closely. It seems that Qualman has fudged or completely misrepresented a few numbers which makes the video now look a bit sloppy.

Read just a few comments on Erik’s blog and on the original Mashable article and you’ll quickly see what I mean.

Robert Cole has written a fantastic blog post about his reaction to the video and some of those duff stats, and the following summary bears repeating:

…we have accurate statistics mixed in with a bunch of hyperbole that inadvertently undermines the credibility of both the presentation and social media. The video is a perfect example of social media at its worst.

So what’s the big deal? Well, a couple of things.

  1. Some of the stats are just plain wrong. This not only takes some of the shine off the glossy-techno-social-media-love-fest, but also arms those who watch it (and don’t question it) with incorrect facts to perpetuate. By way of example, the Mashable article has been re-tweeted over 450 times.
  2. At a time when social media enthusiasts from PR/Ad/Media circles are trying to determine the best way of measuring effectiveness and ROI, the last thing we need is someone overstating the case for effect (or to sell more books). It’s counterproductive for a start, but also gives anyone who thinks this area is a little flaky the ammunition they need to be, well, right.

I’m sure Qualman’s intentions were good and completely genuine. And I do agree with one of the closing lines of the video: ‘[social media is] a fundamental shift in the way we communicate.’

But huge numbers in social media – like Facebook cracking 300 million users this week – though impressive, tell only part of the story.  I worry that by overstating the numbers to inflate the impact of social media, the Qualmans of the world let the side down a bit.

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