Monday, 12 November 2012

Social Media Statistics: who can you trust?


Recently, IT expert Shaun Dewberry released an article relating to online radio statistics, “The Truth behind Streaming Internet Radio in South Africa”.  Essentially, the article argues that online statistics relating to streaming radio in South Africa are grossly inflated.  This led to an independent investigation and a reputable online technology publication, MyBroadband, backing the claims made by Dewberry. It is alleged that statistics could be inflated by as much as 20,000 to 30,000%. These are worrying times for advertisers and other business models that rely on these statistics when making crucial business decisions.

There have been various other instances of inflated statistics in the social media and website advertising space.  In Facebook’s IPO, it was disclosed that duplicate accounts could account for as much of 10% of the user base. Inflated statistics have resulted in agencies or advertisers calling foul, or pulling campaigns entirely. As pointed out by another online technology publication, ITWeb, there is a crisis of trust in the industry at the moment.

If you follow the news or go online from time to time in South Africa, you would have heard about the Woolworths issue relating to alleged racist recruitment policies. One of Woolworth’s online critics was referred to as “South Africa’s biggest online fake”, accusations which he wholeheartedly denies.  Be that as it may, there does appear to be a certain degree of mistrust in the industry at the moment, and with good reason I would think.

If you consider that for under a thousand bucks you can buy yourself one or more of the following: 25 000 YouTube views, 20 000 Twitter followers, 5 000 Facebook likes, YouTube comments and likes, Facebook comments, the list is endless really.  Clever technical guys have created code that creates duplicate accounts creating an impression of a large following.  Similarly, advanced scripting or “bots” can be programmed to rapidly ramp up views on YouTube, likes on Facebook and so on.  Social media platforms are aware of the issue and obviously have checks in place, but if you spend 5 minutes on Google you will realize that there are a multitude of service offerings relating to increased social media presence, all over the globe.  Some of them appear to work, checks and balances notwithstanding.

By way of example, there are analytical tools that allow you to analyze social media accounts and social media activity.  Further, on certain platforms, there are built in analysis tools. On YouTube you can check the analytics tab (basic as it is) and obtain a good feel for the following or viewership of a video or channel.

If a YouTube user who claims to be a viral video expert has a number of videos with low views (under 100) and one or two large ones (20 000+), check the analytics. If the video jumped by 20 000 views in mere hours, that should, at the very least, be questioned.  Typical patterns on YouTube should be considered.

Practically, if using an agency or social media service, you should probably scrutinize the expertise of your service provider and question the veracity of the statistics you are provided with.  Look deeper into the sales pitch.  Understand the social media facts and statistics you are presented with and ascertain if they can be independently verified.  If the statistics are hidden behind jargon and reasons why they can’t be verified, questions should probably be asked.

Make no mistake, this is a lucrative industry and in considering a corporate social media policy, the following should probably be asked / reviewed:

1.       Twitter / Youtube / Facebook / Google+ / LinkedIn  

a.       How long has the expert/company been registered, i.e.: track record;

b.      Details and samples of previous campaigns;

c.       Verifiable results of past campaigns;

d.      How many tweets/posts etc. has the expert/company made;

e.      How many likes, followers etc. does the expert/company have;

f.        If a following is large (relative to the industry), analyze.  What period did the following increase over? What does the track record look like?

g.       Typical patterns on the social media platform and how they compare to the user/company you are analyzing;

h.      Use an online tool such as StatusPeople to check for fake followers on Twitter, Google searching will reveal other tools of this nature;

i.         Review previous tweets/posts etc. to get a feel for what the person is saying, style, grammar amongst others;

j.        What sort of person/brand is following the expert/company?  Are there others who are similar to you/your brand;

k.       What sort of profile does the expert/company have online? Are they retweeted often, posts regularly commented on, dispensing useful information?
Another factor to consider is the website of your potential guru. Decision making on the basis of a service providers website is probably foolhardy as it is, largely, a subjective analysis.  However, when doing so (as part of reviewing the holistic package or offering), the primary considerations will be skill and professionalism. It is difficult to create a standard, as industry to industry the needs and norms will differ.

Technology, and the optimizations it can bring to any industry (whether in the guise of social media or in another form) will wait for no one and considerations of this type need to be taken seriously, if not already. Those with "effective ads" would succeed in the past.  Today, a holistic digital media strategy must be employed to be truly effective and reliance on statistics alone is never ideal.  

Given the cost that is potentially involved, and the potential reward if your service provider gets it right for you or your brand, the type of analysis above should be the bare minimum before expending one single cent in this arena.

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