Barely a day after I wrote a post about how surveys can mislead with their headline statistics, I've run into an article telling me that "Facebook matters to every business", including B2B. Since I'm working on our media presence, I've got to take notice. The apparent clincher is that "one out of every eight minutes online is spent on Facebook."
Wow. The authority of that statement is so compelling, so absolute that we'd be foolish to question it. If we did, we'd only be a step away from doubting that half the world has never made a phone call, we need to drink eight glasses of water a day or Eskimos have 50 words for snow. In these strage days when even Manchester City can win trophies, we need some certainties to cling to.
But I'm not going to cling to that one. I've already told my MD that we need to be on Twitter but not Facebook. I hear my colleagues whisper as I pass, "he's got two Twitter accounts", so my reputation as a digital savant will be bruised if I start backsliding. Fortunately, I don't have to.
I know my customers are on Facebook because I'm friends with some of them. But even more of them are on LinkedIn and I've no doubt that many are regular visitors to leatherjoyboys.com as well. That's not the point.
As I wrote yesterday, headline statistics tell us very little on their own. One-in-eight is accurate enough (the precise number, which originated in ComScore's 2010 Digital Year In Review, is 12.3%), but it doesn't tell me much about my customers.
The first point is that ComScore's survey only covered the USA. A lot of research into the internet is done by US companies and is then picked up by journalists, commentators and bloggers who don't even bother to mention that it's a domestic study because, for them, America is the world. But in my industry, the USA is no more important than China, India, the UK, Germany, Japan, Russia, the UAE and Norway, and in some cases it's a lot less important.
As you'd expect, there are also some interesting variations in that 12.3%. Women spend 16.8% of their time on social networking sites, and, as the survey says, "Women not only spend more of their time on these sites than men, but they are also accelerating their usage at a faster rate." What's more, the share of 35-54 year-olds using Facebook is slipping. I'm not proud of this, but most of the decision-makers in my industry are middle-aged men, who are just the people who are engaging least with Facebook (and that's according to the research being cited as proof that I need to put our business there).
Then there's the question of what these people are doing on Facebook (the survey doesn't say, but a lot of it seems to revolve around pictures of kittens). The next question is how engaged they are with the site. As I write this, my browser has ten tabs open. One of them is Facebook, so you might say I'm spending 10% of my online time on Facebook, which is consistent with what the study says. But it's been open for eight hours now and I've only spent about four minutes actively looking at it.
So, somebody tells me that I need to be on Facebook because my customers are there. And yet, when I look at the research on which the advice is based, it tells me I need to be on Facebook because my customer's wife might be there looking at kittens. It's hardly compelling.
Moral: Same as yesterday: don't draw conclusions from the headline statistics.