Socialnomics Should Not Be Voodoo Economics

UPDATE: Eric Qualman, author of Socialnomics has now produced a full refresh (and much better) video promoting his book: Social Media Revolution 2 (Refresh). I am happy to report that in the true spirit of social media, he has taken the criticism from his first video to heart, listened to the community and addressed the issues by producing a new video that now represents the best in social media, respect for intellectual property; factual accuracy, and the integrity to present information in a compelling, but responsible manner. As a result, his role in the social media revolution has changed from propagandist to evangelist. His new approach itself provides an excellent example of social media’s power to effect change.

I am as big a social media evangelist as anyone – I sincerely believe the growth and impact of social media has been transformational on global culture. Because of these convictions, it drives me crazy when this genuine phenomenon gets spun into hype. Case in point – Socialnomics.net has produced a fairly popular YouTube video (328,000 views & counting) to support the sale of its book Socialnomics: How social media transforms our lives and the way we do business.

Crossing my fingers...Creative Commons License photo credit: Erica Marshall

If the subject is social media, are 'LMAO', 'ROFL' or '#FAIL' acceptable citations for some statistics?

Unfortunately, the video format is completely derivative of Karl Fisch, Scott McLeod and Jeff Brenman’s great “Did You Know” series, down to the same Fatboy Slim soundtrack. However, this disregard for intellectual property is not even what concerns me most about the video – It is the fundamental issue that several of the statistics presented are flat-out wrong.

One of the major gripes about social media is that its impact is difficult to empirically measure. This presentation does nothing to help dispel that criticism – in fact, it makes it worse by presenting some statistics that can only be characterized as unsubstantiated hype. While I can not fault the video’s obvious intent to promote social media as a revolution, the fact checking was abysmal.

For example, at 1:05 the statistic “80% of companies are using LinkedIn as their primary tool to find employees” is presented. Wrong. The source information was from a Jobvite.com survey that revealed: 68% of respondents (or their companies) used social networks or social media to support recruitment efforts. 13% planned to start using social networks or media within a year. Of the 81% who responded affirmatively to the social network question, 95% used LinkedIn. At most, 64.6% of the responding companies would have been using LinkedIn in some capacity. There was also no indication that LinkedIn was used as “their primary” tool for recruitment. The Jobvite survey was conducted online, based on a sample of 438 respondents to invitations from the Jobvite web site and e-mails sent to HR professionals. The survey methodology and sample would seem to skew results heavily toward individuals predisposed to using online social networks, especially since Jobvite web site claims it is “The only recruitment platform tied into social networks…”

At 1:28, the statement is made that “80% of Twitter usage is on mobile devices.” Not even close. The statement was probably based on the fact that only 20% of Twitter users actually use the Twitter website due to all the 3rd party applications (TweetDeck, Twitterfeed, etc.) running on desktops and notebooks in addition to mobile clients.

Similarly, the statement that Amazon’s Kindle e-book sales are tracking at “35% of book sales on Amazon” as stated at the 3:18 mark. This is an unfathomable misrepresentation by omission. The original 35% figure was limited to titles where a Kindle version of the e-book was available. Further, when Jeff Bezos originally presented the slide, he caught some flack because the 35% was compared to the base of print sales for the book, not the title’s total sales – a more accurate and meaningful statement would be “Kindle sales are tracking at 26% of total sales for the title when a Kindle version of the book is available.” That’s still an amazingly high figure, but publishing the fictional “35% of Amazon book sales” factoid makes one question the legitimacy of the other stats getting tossed onto the screen.

Let’s make it clear, there are many factual statistics included in the presentation. Facebook has added over 100 million active users within a year. There is plenty of great news. Inflated numbers do not strengthen the argument, they weaken it – judge for yourself.

This video accidentally highlights the underlying challenges facing social media and contrasts them against the value provided by quality research and journalistic standards – the frequent absence of an editing process and the lack of citations for source material. So it becomes even more startling that the Socialnomics blog tried to substantiate its video content by blogging to cite its sources. This would normally be an excellent idea to silence the critics. It looks very professional and convincing until one starts to read the actual citations.

What amazes me is that the blog post “reworks” some of the facts presented in the video and then cites the source for the misstatement. For example, in the video, the aforementioned Linked in example read “80% of companies are using LinkedIn as their primary tool to find employees”. This is altered in the blog post to read “% of companies using LinkedIn as a primary tool to find employees….80%”. That is a considerably softer statement, even though it is still nowhere close to accurate. Even worse, the citation references the Jobvite.com link, but goes on to state “80% will use social networks in their assessment. 95% will use LinkedIn in their assessment. When we revise the Video needs to be updated changing ‘their’ to ‘a’ primary tool need to see if we bump 80% to 95%” (bold type indicates my emphasis.) Based on the actual survey results, Socialnomic could not reasonably bump the figure to anything higher than 77%, but only IF they also strike the word “primary” from the sentence.

This certainly gives one the impression that the inaccuracies did not stem from simple errors, but that the data is being purposefully manipulated.

Hilariously, the blog shows the 80% mobile Twitter usage item from “Source: Attempting to relocate.” I’m not even sure what that means… Out of the 37 “facts” presented by the video, two offer the “Source: Attempting to relocate” citation and another four are categorized as “Opinion.” One point had no citation (it was an opinion as well.) My calculations indicate that at least 18.9% of the content was knowingly not based on substantiated facts.

One final example (cited as a fact in the blog) is the Kindle statistic. The citation is for a Silicon Alley Insider blog, but the factoid actually misquotes the blog. Incidentally, the blog, in turn, had misinterpreted an ambiguous statement by Jeff Bezos when announcing the launch of the Kindle DX. Jeff states Kindle sales are 35% of the “books” – later clarified as the number of printed books sold. This is a good example how social media can feed a viral “mob think” mentality based on inaccurate information. This is not a social media benefit; if anything, it could serve as an Achilles heel to thwart the long term success of social media.

Simply put, Socialnomics’ fact checking was sloppy. But, who really cares because the tune is catchy and the video is well produced? Or that the originators of this video format and soundtrack were not acknowledged? In social media, packaging sometimes trumps truth. I would have preferred it if Socialnomics had used the same packaging to relay accurate information and then referenced their creative muse. Such transparency would not dilute the message and could help to validate the value of social media. Instead, we have accurate statistics mixed in with a bunch of hyperbole that inadvertently undermines the credibility of both the presentation and social media. The video is a perfect example of social media at its worst.

The title of the Socialnomics blog post was “Statistics Show Social Media Is Bigger Than You Think.” It could have more accurately read “Statistics Show Socialnomics is Bigger than Reality.” So please vote – based on this information, is the team at Socialnomics:

    a) Sloppy
    b) Stupid
    c) Evil
    d) All of the above
    d) None of the above – social media is new & complex, so it is impossible to measure its impact

I could not tell you which answer would be the worst, but I will work up the statistical analysis and present the findings as soon as I can find a snappy tune (perhaps Daft Punk’s Technologic might work…)

Incidentally, I do find it deliciously ironic that in this renaissance age of social media, the viral nature of the medium itself has now caused a video factoid barrage featuring a Faboy Slim “Right Here, Right Now” soundtrack to become a cliche… Given the nature of several Socialnomics statistics, the tune could well have been “Never Here, Not Now.”

About Robert Cole

Robert Cole is the founder of RockCheetah, a hotel marketing strategy and travel technology consulting practice. He also authors the Views from a Corner Suite Blog and publishes the Travel Quote of the Day. Robert speaks regularly at major travel industry conferences, authors articles for leading travel industry publications, advises travel-related startups and the equity investment community. He is an evangelist for the global travel industry.

  • http://www.desticorp.typepad.com Anna Pollock

    Thank you Robert for doing the homework we should all be doing. I was disappointed that there were no references or credits and, frankly, am becoming increasingly sick of the hype. It’s not that many social media tools are not potentially potent ways of supporting conversations, it’s that so often they are used to shout and scream rather than listen and dialogue. A further indication that the author doesn’t appreciate the new values underpinning a “collaborative web” nor the speed of change is his need to Trademark the term “socialnomics” – as if it is likely to have a shelf life of more than a few weeks.

  • http://www.TintypePop.com Gabriel LaRusso

    Hi Robert,

    Thank you for this critical analysis. I saw this video posted on Facebook, and after viewing it, recognized it as a shallow copy of the compelling “Did You Know” video. Erik, the self-promoter of this video, didn’t even bother using different music and incorporated the same Fat Boy Slim score.

    Erik’s video floods us with “facts”, and with nothing more needed than a cursory glance, we discover that what we are being served up by Erik is nothing more than a fatty piece of grizzle presented on a silver tray with a tuxedo-donned butler. It’s not only lacking any meat, but it is disingenuous for many of the reasons you cite.

    Not only does he gives us reason to question his authenticity by ripping off the “Do You Know” video format and music, he also undermines his own credibility by cherry-picking data and presenting them out of context, resulting in wild claims that are unsubstantiated.

    Example, Erik’s claim that 80% of companies are using LinkedIn as a primary tool to find employees. That number looks completely bunk. Upon a cursory glance, he cites his source as a survey conducted by Jobvite, a recruiting firm that specializes in Internet recruiting tools. So Erik is citing a company White Paper, not a peer reviewed source. We read more and see that of those companies which CURRENTLY use, or even expect FUTURE use of online recruitment tools, LinkIn grew from 80% in 2008 to 95% in 2009. Now we see the problem. In the video Erik gives the impression that 80% of ALL employers use LinkIn to recruit, when the reality is that 80% of employers who use, or even expect to use online recruiting tools, may use LinkIn. It’s intellectually dishonest and manipulative for his own intentions.

    And what are his intentions?

    To sell his printed book “Socialnomics” on Amazon. So much for Erik’s premise of a meaningful media revolution moving beyond the printed page.

    Erik’s book may be compelling, but his video is a disservice towards an intellectually honest discussion on social media’s impact in today’s economy. Add to that the questionably unethical action of using an artist’s musical work in his own commercial endeavor without [I can safely assume] paying a royalty fee, and I find his body of work and scholarly authenticity as intellectually dishonest at best, and manipulative at worst.

    I’m skipping the grizzle, and will pass on Erik’s main entree.

  • Ejaz Asi

    I first began to question the authenticity and credibility of the presentation only two days ago when I tweeted two of the pointers one of which was regarding “Wikipedia to be more authentic than Brittanica, according to some studies”. Brittanica instantly replied back asking “what studies?” and it got me to think, yeah right. I asked Eric here http://socialnomics.net/2009/08/11/statistics-show-social-media-is-bigger-than-you-think/#comment-687 but no response thus far. The original citation just says: Wikipedia.org No matter how much I appreciate Wikipedia and think Brittanica, sadly, didn’t innovate but to say “Wikipedia is more authentic than Brittanica” is kind of final nail in the coffin for Brittanica if it’s true.

  • howard

    I suspected problems as soon as I saw the video with so many too-good-to-be-true “facts” and some notions that simply defied common sense. (Closer reading about the impact of online learning environments vs. in-person learning environments reveal that it’s much complicated than the video suggests, for instance.)

    What’s dangerous is that the video could lead to drawing the wrong conclusions and thus send you on a coarse of action that will ultimately fail. And may even do harm.

    Only accurate information and clear-eyed analysis can help create social media strategies and tools that will succeed.

  • http://andyhayes.com Andy Hayes

    Wow. Crazy video. Thanks for the (more than) comprehensive analysis – fascinating, and in a bad way.

    Thanks again for sharing.

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  • http://www.kaimac.com kai

    Great post. It’s actually rather a shame, as there’s an awful lot of great data in the vid.

    You’re right though, the errors make one question everything.

    The Facebook/4th largest country in the world stat is one my my faves :)

  • Phillip Farris

    Um…… Never make assumptions?

  • http://www.digitaltonto.com Greg Satell

    Unfortunately, while socialnomiocs’ author Erik Qualman may be a Social Media expert, he tends to be somewhat naïve and foolish when it comes to general brand management.

    See here: http://www.digitaltonto.com/archives/314

    – Greg

  • http://www.worldfire.com Wes Linda

    Very nicely presented. This was my case to a few people I saw passing the video around. Unfortunately, most just replied with “that may be true, but…”. Very dissapointing that facts are no longer important to many individuals.

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  • http://www.thebookofrevelations.co.uk/ Tom Gibson

    Hi Robert,
    Thank you for taking the time to check the stats. Very useful post!
    Tom

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  • http://www.carveconsulting.com.au Sarah Thomas

    Great post Robert, I was kind of hoping there was some legitimacy to these stats and that they’d properly reference them somewhere but hadn’t found the time to dig…thanks for doing the digging for all of us.

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  • http://www.hrabaconsulting.com/blog @hhotelconsult

    I loved it…. so warm, and exciting, and thrilling! The music itself trumps any need for honesty, like a hollywood blockbuster drowning out a terrible speech with patriotic music. Frankly…. those are gimmicks, nothing more… and people know it. As I watched, I kept thinking – “They better cite their sources”…. and offered a link, of course, to the site selling their book.

    Social media matters, it *is* a paradigm shift…. but it is a lot of hot air at a cocktail party until it is measurable. Hype isn’t healthy for it… you are DEAD on. It just makes our jobs tougher seperating wheat and chaffe.

    Thanks for doing all this homework… I know how long that takes based off some of my older Yelp articles where I felt like a freaking reporter. I really appreciate this… from all the skeptics on the webz tubes. =)

    http://www.twitter.com/hhotelconsult

  • http://sullieseverything.wordpress.com Sully

    Thanks – I put it on my site thinking “well it gets a message across….”, but you’ve convinced me of just how wrong a message it can be.
    The beauty of social media is exactly this sort of open critique!

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  • http://www.degriephoto.com Royce

    Thank you for an intelligent review of a presentation that is heavily skewed and just plain sloppy in it’s presentation of the facts. I, too, am a believer in the ability of social media to positively impact the way we communicate but I am quick to verify the accuracy of any claim. I am astounded by the willingness of people to accept anything they read as “gospel truth”. I have seen so many people believe these statistics without an ounce of reasonable doubt. When did a slick presentation trump the ability to question before you believe?

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  • http://www.stubbornmule.net Sean Carmody

    I posted the following comment on the SocialNomics post:

    I am a bit confused about #12. According to twitter, Ashton has 3.6m followers and Ellen 3.3m. While they both beat Panama (3.3m people), Ireland (4.1.m) and Norway (4.6m) are both bigger than either follower count. Perhaps you meant Ashton and Ellen combined have more followers than any one of these countries. If this is the case, then the statement is still misleading as it would suggest that Ashton and Ellen combined have more followers than the population of Ireland, Norway and Panama combined, which is certainly not the case.

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  • fidelman

    Thanks for the well documented update Robert. I've added it to my post about the video here. http://ping.fm/uAmwV Well thought out and valuable to our readers.

  • Cheryl

    Sloppy and stupid

  • http://rockcheetah.com/blog RobertKCole

    Cheryl, I certainly hope that you do not mean that my analysis and opinions were sloppy and stupid… :)

  • swinhoe

    facts are facts, this is true. but they dont de-bunk a cultural trend if not true,..

    many of the facts quoted in the video may be incorrect, but the point is still salient – only 60% instead of 80% of companies use LinkedIn to hire… thats still 60%!!, a staggering number…

    qualman, may not be perfect with his fact or figures, but he capture the feeling of the hour very well, and gives people a way in to the concept if they need it.

  • swinhoe

    facts are facts, this is true. but they dont de-bunk a cultural trend if not true,..

    many of the facts quoted in the video may be incorrect, but the point is still salient – only 60% instead of 80% of companies use LinkedIn to hire… thats still 60%!!, a staggering number…

    qualman, may not be perfect with his fact or figures, but he capture the feeling of the hour very well, and gives people a way in to the concept if they need it.

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  • http://visaprepaidcards.org Visa Prepaid Cards

    In a way, Erik Qualman reminds me of people I met in post-communist Europe after the Berlin Wall fell. People from insular cultures are often more certain of themselves because they lack facts.

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