Let's Take A Closer Look

Explaining complicated subject matter simply since 1986

I showed my MBA students a newspaper article that said Trinidad & Tobago’s Facebook account rate of 97% ranked #1 in the world. When asked to explain why T&T was at the top, every student readily produced good-sounding reasons. Most concluded they would increase their social media marketing spending. “Now,” I said, “we see how easy it is to construct an argument around data, without looking into where it came from. This time, let’s take a step back before making our decisions and begin by asking some simple questions about the research behind the World Number One ranking.”

What are some worldwide Facebook statistics?

A brief search of a dozen sources shows national averages are between 30%-50%.

What are some worldwide Internet penetration rates?

The UK, US, Canada, and most of Europe and East Asia are in the nineties. T&T is about 70%. Let’s do some simple math. Worldwide, 2/3 of those online use social media, and 2/3 of social media users are on Facebook. So if 70% in T&T are online, 2/3 of them are social media users, and 2/3 of social media users are FB users, then about one in three would be on Facebook.

So where does the 97% come from?

A closer look showed the research was sponsored by a company that sold social media marketing services. The design of the study stacked the deck to get results favorable to the marketing company’s goal, which was to get companies to spend more on their social media marketing services.

What did the sample look like?

All study subjects were between 16 and 34. Most of us are aware that social media rates for younger people skew higher. A sample that throws out everyone 35 and older deliberately distorts the findings.

How were study subjects contacted?

Surveys were administered only via social media (!). Limiting the sample to those on social media deliberately distorts the findings.

The sample and the method intentionally concocted the story the sponsors wanted to tell.

This is often what happens when Marketing people run the research – they find what they want to find so they can sell what they want to sell.

End-of-year reviews showed students found this to be one of the most valuable lessons they learned: don’t assume any single-source information you read or hear is true. Look into things for yourself. You will more often than not find self-serving voodoo statistics.

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