Last month Michael Stelzner's The Social Media Examiner put out the 2011 Social Media Marketing Industry Report. The report starts with a bold statement "Social media has gone mainstream. And for business it represents an unprecedented marketing opportunity."
Hyperbole? Of course. This is social media after all. Everything in social media is "epic," amazing," and "winning" unless of course it "fails."
Before we go on, let me say that I am a huge believer in social media as part of your overall marketing strategy. In fact, today's social media craze reminds me of the dot-com rush of the late 90s. Businesses really didn't know why they needed a Web site back then, but it seemed every company had one, so you looked conspicuous without one. Social media is in the same boat right now. Companies don't know why they need a social media presence, but they know they just need one.
Many people seem to think that social media is all or nothing. And that is not the case. It is my belief that when used properly and in conjunction with more traditional marketing tactics, social media can be very effective. But the first thing you have to ask yourself before jumping in the social media pool, is this: What do you want to accomplish with social media and will that help you achieve your overall business objectives?
Let's get back to the study and take a closer look at the statistics. According to the report, these are the major findings:
- 90% of marketers indicate that social media is important for their business
- Measurement is a top concern among "marketing pros"
- The majority of marketers are using social media 6+ hours every week
- 70% of marketers surveyed want to learn more about Facebook and blogging
- 77% of marketers plan to increase their use of YouTube and other video marketing
- 88% of marketers think the #1 advantage of social media is generating more business exposure
- 72% also thought increased traffic and 62% thought search rankings were important advantages of social media marketing
- According to the survey, the top four social media sites are Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and blogs, in that order
- Only 28% are outsourcing their social media marketing
Now here's the rub, and the problem I have with many of these reports with grandiose titles such as these, they wrapped a simple survey in the guise of a major industry report. There was a time when you could count on info from companies like Nielsen, Forrester and the like. There was the assumption that these companies followed best practices when formulating statistics. This report, however, is not good statistics and everything should be looked at with a grain of salt.
Let's start with the sample size. They had 3,342 participants. A good sample size. But what is the cross section? Are these CMOs? Top business leaders? According to the survey, the authors of this survey sent out posts on Twitter asking for participants. They emailed the 50K that responded and received the 3,342 back.
The first problem I have with this report is that they asked people using social media what they thought of social media. The statistics will be skewed from the beginning. That's like asking people attending a baseball game what they think of baseball and then coming out and saying 97% of people we surveyed think baseball is the greatest sport in the world. In addition, and again according to the authors of the survey, 33% of participants are self-employed. 30% were people who worked for companies with 2-100 employees. 19% worked for companies with 100 – 1,000+ employees. 15% were business owners with employees, and the remaining 3% (or 100 people) were either unemployed or students.
But, for me at least, those numbers mean nothing. Are the people working for companies working in the marketing departments and what are their titles? Are the C-level or interns?
I could further pick apart the survey, but my point has less with the errors in this report and more about most social media reports I see.
They all use bad statistics.
Worst of all in this report, the author of the report uses words like "according to marketing pros" to drill his points home. How do we know these are marketing pros? We know part of the respondents are students. Are they marketing pros?
Again, this is one of the main problems I have with many social media reports. You have to look at any report with an eye towards accuracy. I believe this "industry" survey is not really a sample of marketing pros. I think it is a good representation of people who took the survey (who were probably already predisposed to love social media), but not of a general marketing population.
Unfortunately, this survey will be used again and again to help other social media marketers back up their claims. And soon these numbers will be taken as gospel. And that's too bad.
As I said at the beginning of this post, social media does, for most businesses, have many positive applications. But when you are looking to develop a marketing campaign for your company and you are researching social media applications, don't take all the stats at face value. And always remember, consider the source.
What do you think? Is this survey actionable? Is it valid?
Kevin Duffy is the Creative Director for The Duffy Agency's Boston office.