Why Bad Research Could Kill Social Media’s Credibility

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I recently had a really interesting conversation with a favourite client. We “clashed” over a chart I produced saying that insight and data are what drives digital strategy. The client had recently attended a conference where big players such as Unilever were saying that data is killing marketing. Interesting.

At that point in time I didn’t think that was the case, but, actually, perhaps she was right. I don’t think data is killing marketing, but I do think bad research, pointless numbers, or data lacking real insight is. Not a day goes by where I don’t see data from a social media agency or research panel, pointing out how great social media is or who isn’t great at it. These are interesting, for a bit, but I think they are damaging to the industry that we work in. Fundamentally, this sort of research is clouding the more serious issues that we, in social media, need to answer. (continues below…)

Some recent examples include:

– Nielsen’s  “People who follow celebrities, also follow brands” (Link here)

– Radley Yeldar’s “Not all the Top 100 FTSE companies are that social” (Link here)

– Peer Index’s “whoever has the most influence on twitter is the best social agency” (Link here)

It’s not that I completely disagree with these reports, I just don’t feel they are going to help drive the industry forward to the point where we are a meaningful force, with hugely credible research supporting investment. As we have seen, and as Brian Solis pointed out, Social ROI and research is time-consuming. It takes time to pull together tools which don’t always answer the questions we post on their own.

I think focused research, potentially lead by the IAB, will enable all parties to sell in the idea of social media without the slightly dismissive notion that “companies simply aren’t committed to being open and transparent”. The more we push out meaningless stats, hand drawn infographics, and basic panel results (I saw one recently for 40 people and it was being billed as conclusive), the less seriously people will treat tools like BrandWatch, Radian6, or others.

My background is data, direct response, boring I know. However, I do think its the responsibility of all of us who work in social media, those who study social culture and preach twitter/facebook, to create groundbreaking research into what we do convincing more clients than just Coke to invest sizeable chunks of their media and ad spend.

The key things I would love to find out are:

– What the differing ROI of followers/fans/likes are across multiple industries.

– What is the value of an influencer tweet/post/update about our brands.

– What is the path to conversion from a video play to an in-store sale.

– What factors should be considered in the differing approaches to social channels and how do these convert to sale differently.

– How successful is the shortening of the commercial process by “socialising” your commerce platform.

I’d much rather see these. And you, what would you like to see?

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