Numbers are fun to play with. We see companies and governments doing all the time. Like a bunch of kids in a sandpile they play with their number making them look exactly how they would like them to look. It doesn’t matter if the kid on the other side of the sandbox has a different results for the same numbers that too can be swirled around like the sand under them. Number can be pretty powerful especially when being used to sway the public or the purse strings of companies looking to make a buck because of those numbers. The fact is that number can mean anything to anyone and they can be twisted to suit any need.
So when I ran across a post today by Frederic Lardinois on ReadWriteWeb with the attention getting headline of Study: 93 Percent of Americans Want Companies to Have Presence on Social Media Sites my first thought was wow that’s pretty cool but as I started reading the post the bullshit meter started heading into the red zone. As Frederic quoted from this Cone Study:
According to the 2008 Cone Business in Social Media Study, 93% of Americans believe that a company should have a presence on social media sites and 85 percent believe that these companies should use these services to interact with consumers. Cone, a Boston-based consulting firm, also found that men are far more likely to interact with a company through social media than women are. 56% of consumers believe that a company is providing them with a better service by interacting with them on social media sites.
Well I clicked through to the study to see how they were verifiing these kind of numbers and once more I was bedazzled by the swirling numbers in the sand that they were drawing. In addition to the portion reported by Frederic was the opening paragraph of the report
Almost 60 percent of Americans interact with companies on a social media Web site, and one in four interact more than once per week. These are among the findings of the 2008 Cone Business in Social Media Study.
At this point the numbers are becoming just a bit too stupid to believe so I decide to do some checking on a couple of things. First off just how many Americans are even online to begin with which was answered by a Reuters article from last year where they reported on a Harris Poll (some more magical number crunchers) where they found
The survey, which polled 2,062 adults in July and October, found that 79 percent of adults — about 178 million — go online, spending an average 11 hours a week on the Internet.
Even that didn’t sound right to me considering I always figured that the US had a pretty high population figure so I turned to Google and found
Now I don’t know about your math but the Harris poll numbers should put the percentage at a shade over the 55% – 60% mark, not the 79% that Harris claims especially considering the fact that the number of young kids online is accounting for more and more each year. But even if we take the Harris numbers at their face value that calls the numbers being promoted by Cone into question because no matter how you want to slice the percentages 79% is nowhere near 93%.
Except there is still one more qualifier to the Cone Study that has to be looked at and that is the fact that they say that this mythical 93% of Americans expect companies to have a presence in social media. Well once more the bullshit meter heads off into the red zone because when you look to see how many Americans even read online blogs; the mainstay of social media at this point and the principal selling point for branding expert companies like Cone, you will find the numbers once more don’t match up.
After a little bit of searching I found this on the Journalism.org site
The most recent data suggest a significant increase in the number of people who read blogs. Survey results from the Pew Internet & American Life Project indicates that the percentage of online users who say they have ever read blogs rose in February 2006 to 39%, up markedly from 27% a year earlier. That puts the total number of Americans who now read blogs at approximately 57 million.
Sorry but 39% comes nowhere near being the 93% that is being claimed by Cone but then again Cone has a vested interest in these high percentages given that a portion of their business comes from Brand Marketing of which Social Media is the lynch pin. There are a couple of questions that studies like this don’t answer though. Like how many people have signed up – technically that is using Social Media – for things like Twitter or Facebook but then never used the service. It doesn’t ask how many people were impressed enough with how these social media-ized companies to keep coming back. The trueth of the matter is that as Duncan Riley at The Inquisitr pointed out today in a post about Telstra going social media on Australia is nothing but a joke
Australia’s biggest telecommunications firm Telstra (think AT&T, but more evil) has joined Twitter.
The BigPond Twitter account sees Telstra’s internet service become available for the first time to monitor and respond to user concerns. It’s great in theory, but Alister Cameron points out, the responses so far are so canned that they could have only been made by a bot.
I realize that a lot of people have snazzy new job description and spanking new consultancies to protect and promote as social media grows but using made up numbers to do that doesn’t do anyone any favours – especially the users of social media and companies who are being sold a bill of questionable goods.