Social Media, Conflicting Data, and the Search for Truth

the social habit, social media research

A few months ago, I hired an SEO company to do some work on behalf one of my clients.  After just two months, there was an indeed a tick up in traffic to the site and the SEO company was using this data point to claim victory and justify a second phase of the program that would run my customer upwards of $10,000 a month.

I asked the SEO company, “How do you know that this was truly a result of your effort and not seasonality or normal variation in web traffic?”

“Well, you have to understand,” they said, “we have been doing this a long time and we have a feel for these things.”

“Did you use an appropriate statistical test to sift out variability?  Did you compare this to historical data to see if there is a 95% probability that this result came from your work and not something else?”

They just looked at me with blank stares.

The lack of real data in this business is shocking.

This scenario is not uncommon. I am amazed at the shoddy state of research on the social web and what people are trying to pass off as “science.”  Not a day goes by that I don’t see conflicting information about the value of Facebook “Likes,” the correlation between online conversations and buying behavior, whether blogging is going up or going down, and whether small businesses are adopting social media marketing or rejecting it, to name but a few.

Even the most “trusted” sources are taking shortcuts with the data to rush consulting services to market. One recent “research report” drew a conclusion from a 15% positive response rate from their sample population. If you looked at the numbers, that meant they were basing their new claim on the opinion of TWO PEOPLE! And yet this new insight was tweeted and reported and posted as fact thousands of times.

This is irresponsible. We are building our social media plans on a foundation of quicksand.

No place to turn

I realize that in our time-crunched, info-overloaded state, perpetually-stressed state of being, we need shortcuts and trusted sources and we don’t have the time to even question whether something we are reading is accurate or not.

But if you are trying to run a business, you cannot take shortcuts by taking a guess on data. Data is the heart of marketing, the soul of strategy.

It was time to stand up and do something about it. I’m part of a new project called The Social Habit and I’ve teamed up with three other folks who are also fed up with the state of data crap on the web: Tom Webster, Jason Falls and Jay Baer.

Here is what we are going to do: Change the game of social media research. We are bringing you real, actionable data backed by Edison Research, the company trusted by NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX and the Associated Press to be the sole providers for U.S. Election Exit Polling, and the authors of some of the most widely cited media research in the world.

In other words, they kick data ass.

Although The Social Habit has already put out its first free social media research, we are officially kicking off our website and new service offerings today.

This is a solution for us all

Whether you are a small business with no budget, an agency looking for a keen competitive edge, or a company sorting out the true value of its social media efforts, The Social Habit has something for you:

Free stuff. That’s right. free research! We will publish regular reports free for all to use, share, and enjoy. We are taking aim at the data hucksters and infusing data-backed conclusions and reasoned interpretation into the field of social media science.

Affordable research packages. By leveraging an experienced, highly-trained staff of Edison field researchers, we can conduct the type of quality research for you that used to be within the reach of only the largest companies and agencies. This valuable research can serve as a base for decision support for any organization seeking to optimize their social media efforts.

Custom questions. A truly extraordinary opportunity to tap into one of the world’s best research teams to solve problems, capture valuable brand insight, and discover powerful consumer attitudes and behaviors that translate into competitive advantage. This exclusive research will also provide brands and agencies with enormously valuable insights on where social media is going, and what they need to do to capitalize on both present and future trends. Examples of research topics would include:

  • Usage of various platforms and how users interact with your brand.
  • Interactions between brands and social influencers
  • eCommerce and social shopping
  • Mobile trends and usage patterns
  • Correlations between specific social media behaviors and awareness, trial, purchase intent and brand advocacy
  • Inputs for practical ROI calculations

You can be involved!

Now here’s the fun part. You can be part of our next research report. If you had one question to ask about social media that you could have answered in a national research program, what would it be?  All you have to do is click here to become part of Social Habit Research

You can learn more about the products and services The Social Habit will provide and stay up to date on the information and opportunities we’ll provide by visiting The Social Habit’s new website and signing up for our email list. You can also subscribe to our blog which will feature select data and analysis, plus discussions about social media research in general, for free.

It’s going to be fun to watch this grow and evolve, but most of all, it will be refreshing to have a conversation about social media based on FACTS. I hope you’ll let me know if The Social Habit can help your business find the truth about your social media marketing efforts and your customers.

Illustration courtesy BigStock Photo

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  • Mark, I agree, social media, and marketing in general these days, has devolved into using numbers to tell the story we want to tell instead of allowing the data and information to reveal the real story.

    Glad to see you launching this with three other people that I also have a ton or respect for, looking forward to seeing more from the Social Habit!

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  • Thanks Eric. Should be an interesting project!

  • Oh, you guys are going to have fun with this one! Really looking forward to the results.

  • Hi Mark

    I hit the website link to sign up and it took me to a Windows Outlook Live sign in screen.

  • What — a sample set of two isn’t valid? This is social media, don’t you know. The rules of statistics, mathematics, and even gravity no longer apply. 🙂

    This is a very exciting project Mark, and you make a great case for why it is needed. Congrats to you and the others on the launch! Heading over to check it out.

  • To make it worse, I tried to log in w/my live ID and it returned some error message.

  • Hey Mark,

    Fist I had the same issue as mbrewer (as I had to go the Google way to get to the site). Just and FYI

    Next, I wish you guys the best of luck, however I the report I felt that polling just over 2,000 people was a great indicator of what the numbers suggested, such as “an estimated 143 million American’s have Twitter” – Which has always been the biggest issue with any polling survey.

    One final point – and why I am a little fearful of this Mark – is that right on the homepage is says “The trusted source”…that sounds a lot like what those “other guys” are saying. But I hope you prove me wrong.

  • This is much needed, Mark. There are a lot of overblown claims and hype out there about how social media marketing massively increases small businesses sales. I regularly come across small business owners neglecting basic marketing techniques, and concentrating all their marketing hours on the holy grail that is social marketing; then getting frustrated with the amount of time they have to spend to get results. We need real research that provides evidence of what does and doesn’t work, so business owners can make informed decisions, instead of jumping right into every trend.

  • @mbrewer:disqus and @TheSolopreneurM:disqus Sorry. Actually two of the three words were working as a link. That’s how I missed it when I checked it last night. It’s working now. Sorry for the inconvenience.

  • Thanks Adam. This will help a lot of people I think!

  • This is going to be awesome. I have a feeling that some of your research results will be a wake up call for many. Very much needed! Plus seeing people such as yourself and Jay Baer in the team, guarantees that this is going to be a project that will be choc-a-block with hype free and valuable insights for businesses. Fantastic!

    Just signed up and very much looking forward to your updates 🙂

    Best of luck with the launch!

  • I think the track record of Edison Research speaks for itself. They are obsessed with detail and accuracy. Believe me, they ARE a trusted source! This is an exceptional opportunity for our field.

  • Hopefully, over time, that is part of what we will accomplish. Thanks for the support!

  • Many thanks for your kind words Marica!

  • Mark:

    A great and important effort. I look forward to this resource!

    However don’t be so harsh on businesspeople and marketers – if you read about statistical issues in other fields it seems that marketers have higher empirical standards than in practitioners other vital areas such as medicine(!)…

    – Gary

  • I haven’t seen that. Pretty wild information though! But that won’t make me ease up on marketers : )

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  • It is all right I guess if someone wanted to find it, just googled it. I hated to see that all those sharing and tweeting got wasted 🙂

  • Congratulations, Jay, Jason, Tom and Mark. What a powerful and formidable team you make to bring integrity to the social sphere. Thank you; eager to absorb your products and content.

  • Bravo Mark… Looking forward to being involved with you Jay, Jason, and Tom in this awesome program…

  • Wow. This is so exciting. Four of the most “top notch” social media dudes out there joining forces to bring us some legit research. Now THAT is what I’m talking about! Bravo, guys!! I’ve had the pleasure of hearing all of you speak several times, read your books and had some very enlightening conversations with you guys. I have yet to be disappointed. Having the data master himself, Tom Webster and Edison Research, behind you all gives instant credibility to this project. Not to mention Mr. No B.S. Social Media, Jason Falls…rock on. I’can’t wait to see what you all accomplish with this project. I’ve already submitted my idea for your next research report.

    Keep up the awesomeness, Mark. Congrats, my friend!

  • wow. Just Wow:) Cheers! Kaarina

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  • I do understand that they are a trusted source – but still need to illustrate their social media chops.

    Like I said – I hope this proves me wrong, and builds actually benchmarks for future use.

  • Let’s put this way. Our reports will have a sample size of 3,000. For starters. Nobody can touch that.

  • Thanks Jayme!

  • Thanks so much for the kind comment Leah. Very exciting!!

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  • This is great! Wish you the best of luck with the project. I signed up and look forward to some great research. Bad data can ruin the credibility of many companies and even an industry. You’re definitely saving people from following bad data around blindly.

  • This is worthy effort to organize and act upon. I signed up on the social habit website.
    I am always extremely wary of anyone who calls themselves ‘social guru’ or even ‘social expert’. The fact is that social media and its outputs in terms of marketing is still a black box to me. More importantly, it doesn’t replace the need to build a terrific product or service that you can then promote to your clients or user base. Focusing too much on how to use social media and attaching too much importance to the number of likes or twitter followers is an exercise in vanity. I

  • Gary, most of the time medical practitioners are guilty of applying population statistics to individuals. If a population has a ten percent chance of being cured of a disease by a certain medication, some people equate that to YOUR chance of being cured, which of course is NOT ten per cent. However, I take offense when you suggest that medical research might not be statistically sound. The editorial board of most reputable medical journals are fanatical in their quest for truth in research. Now, as for web-based practitioners, I am not so sure.

  • Bravo! This is a wonderful step in the right direction.

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  • This is an awesome venture, Mark. In fact, it just sounds too good! Reading this also reminded me of what you’ve told me a couple of months back in our emails. Having real, trustable data is vital.

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  • I think a lot of people don’t understand the different things you need to do to get a semi-accurate result from polling or a research study involving people.

    Also, it takes a LOT of time and effort to get trustworthy data that is both relevant and representative. With the speed that digital marketing changes, findings are often outdated before they are confirmed. I’ve tried to do 2 case studies this year, and both times while pursuing it I felt like the data would not be valid 6 months later.

  • Mark, looks like a fantastic site and phenomenal partnership – congrats. Looking over those initial Edison slides was surprised at both the lack of awareness of Google Plus and the number of users who primarily use Facebook through their mobile device. Good stuff!

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