Lies, Damn Lies and Social Network Statistics

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Apr 10, 2012
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

Did you hear? Pinterest is more popular than LinkedIn. And by popular, we mean by traffic, not by number of members. It might be better for driving revenue than either Facebook or Twitter. And Facebook acquired Instagram to beat Pinterest so they can maintain their popularity (in both number of members and web traffic popularity).

And all of this helps you how? Sure, you could source using Pinterest. You can start connecting with people on Instagram too, hoping to find the next purple squirrel. More logically, you could use these as branding or marketing channels. Or you can get socially influential people in your organization engaged with it as a marketing exercise.

But in the tradition of SourceCon, it is time again to look beyond the obvious and question what exactly are we doing with all of this information? And more critically, what is important, real and worth worrying about.

Social network news smorgasbord

Every day, I am bombarded with news about the shifting landscape of social media. Some of that change is real: long term shifts in what people are paying attention to and what networks are most effective at finding talent. Myspace didn’t disappear overnight. Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter took years to grow into their hype.

Many of the changes that are talked about are manufactured. Vendors, analysts and even networks themselves, all with skin in the game, start creating news about some of the more subtle shifts in social media. So for example, the bombastic headline above from VentureBeat about how Pinterest drives more revenue than Facebook and Twitter is based on one vendor and 40 of their client sites. Bold declarations like this are common, sometimes with even less data. Making a move based on a sensational headline is not a good choice. Of course, that’s not to even mention that those in the talent acquisition game drive revenue differently through their involvement in social networks than their product sales and marketing teams.

Facebook timeline and engagement

Another one of those stories has been engagement with your brand or company page since the launch of Facebook’s Timeline. Depending on the story or study you consider, you can expect your engagement to increase by 46% or a slight decrease. Or if you’re a big brand or small brand, you can see it go up or down. Or maybe it’s 190% increase. Or maybe it’s not.

Miranda Miller over at Search Engine Watch ever so elloquently points out the farce of some of these stories. She says:

We can use their data not at face value as the be-all-that-ends-all or cornerstone of our own strategy, but as a benchmark for our own pages. It could mean as much to you as the catalyst for a full audit of your own accounts, or as little as a piece you skimmed over in 30 seconds and might only recall as, “I heard something, somewhere about that… 190 percent or something, what was that…”

It is a bit tragic that someone, somewhere, will stumble across one of the aforementioned studies on its own and make it the foundation of everything they do on Facebook until the next big, shiny headline comes along. But you’re smarter than that. You know to go looking for alternate sources of information and to consider the size, scope, and most importantly the source of a study before buying in.

It’s an easy story to write: “BREAKING: FACEBOOK TIMELINE INCREASES FAN ENGAGEMENT BY 190%.” So what’s the alternative?

The power of anecdotes and demonstrative stories

There’s a better way. It’s by talking with your peers about what they are doing in their practice and what results they are getting from it. It’s by getting it from someone who has no incentive to give you an answer one way or another.

We’ve done this at SourceCon conferences and on the website as well. We are always looking for stories around this (and if you have a great success or failure story about using a particular source for researching candidates, you should get in touch).

Instead of making a bold declaration based on a limited sample, we can talk about what is and isn’t working and how we’re making it happen. Especially when it comes to nebulous concepts like social recruiting ROI or rating engagement, it is probably more useful to hear about how people on the bleeding edge are recruiting using social networks and use that to modify or improve your own program.

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.
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