Lies, Damned Lies, and Social Media Statistics

Mark Twain often said, “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.” In other words, falsehoods are all around us, and numbers are just as likely to be the culprit as words.  When it comes to social media, Twain’s famous maxim is perfectly applicable – be mindful of statistical deception.

Here are 3 social media statistics that might be outright lies, and 3 counter-metrics to turn to for a more truthful measurement.

1.  Number of Twitter Followers

It is almost impossible to avoid.  When stumbling upon a new Twitter user, we simply cannot help but glance at their number of followers – to use as part of our “sizing-up” process.  The problem with utilizing this method?  Twitter follower counts can be utterly bogus.  For every “real” Tweeter with 10,000 followers, there are ten fraudulent accounts peddling teeth whiteners or get-rich-quick schemes.

The usage of following-programs has stripped clean any meaning associated with follower counts.

A better metric to use?  Twitter lists. Twitter lists are almost definitely prepared by real people with real eyes and ears – in search of the best tweeters out there.  Find someone on many Twitter lists, or with a high respect ratio, and you’ve likely found a worthwhile person to follow.

2.  Blog Page Views

This one is a tough pill to swallow, especially for new bloggers:  Not all page views are created equal. Blog traffic can come from many angles, and if you are making money per page view, you don’t really care where it comes from.  But, if your aim is to build a lasting impression as a credible writer with authority, you might take a different view.

Specifically, I’m referring to Stumbleupon traffic, which can come suddenly and forcefully, and instantly shatter your previous page view records.  Yet, with the associated high bounce rates and low time on page – this type of “semi-random” traffic isn’t likely to attract interested, long-term blog readers.

A better metric?  Comments per page view. A blog comment received is a sure sign that what you’ve written has resonated in some way or another with your reader.  Positive or negative, you’ve invoked a reaction, which is likely more beneficial than 100 random page views.

3.  Facebook Friends

Similar to Twitter followers, one’s number of Facebook friends is incredibly easy to game.  If you really wanted to do so, you could reach the max of 5,000 friends in about a day by randomly inviting droves of random Facebookers to be your cyber-pal.

A better metric?  The eyeball test. I’m not here to critique how people use Facebook – I get that it is a place that means different things to different people.  Except in two distinct cases, that is: The uber-spammer and the game-playing-fanatic.

A simple check of one’s time-line (if public) should reveal whether or not their days are filled inviting people to acai-juice seminars or bombarding you with Fishville updates 37x per hour.  Please don’t friend this person, and pretty please – don’t be that person!

Long story short – social media is just like any other facet of life.  Statistics can be meaningful…but they can also be damn deceptive.  Be careful out there!

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For personal branding tips and tricks from Ryan Rancatore and a great group of guest bloggers, visit Personal Branding 101. Or, connect with @RyanRancatore on Twitter.

Photo credit, lrargerich.

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  • Jake LaCaze

    I really dig #2, most notably the part about comments. I've recently made this shift in thinking. My most-viewed blog post got no comments. Yet, some of my posts which were seen by only a handful of people may get a comment or two. Comments carry so much more value than views.

  • Ryan Rancatore

    Jake – True to form, you show me the value of blog comments by leaving a good one yourself! Thanks for doing so amigo.