A cautionary tale of social media statistics

Lies damn lies and statistics
It’s important to understand the full context relating to social media statistics before you act on them.

The Stat

I came across this stat the other day:

91 per cent of mentions [on social media] come from people with fewer than 500 followers.

The implication in the source blog post and whitepaper was:

When it comes to your social media strategy, don’t discount the importance of brand mentions by Twitter users with low follower counts.

It’s complicated

Follower numbers shouldn’t be the be all and end all when it comes to defining your social media strategy. Agreed.

For a start, where influence is concerned, relevance, proximity, context and other factors are crucial. And followers is a very simplistic metric and depending on how they use social platforms, may have little in common with a person’s real potential for influence.

Also, even if the mention itself doesn’t influence anyone, simply the knowledge that an individual has shown an interest in your brand in some way is potentially of value.

But while sympathising with the inference drawn, I think the statistic and its underlying data would benefit from some numerical context to better understand their implications.

N.B. I’ve focussed on Twitter in this analysis as that’s where the majority of the data in the particular research apparently came from.

Analysis

Given the stat focuses on accounts with less than 500 followers, let’s split Twitter into two groups:

– Low Follower Group – Less than 500 followers.
– High Follower Group – 500 or more followers.

And then let’s look at two relevant areas – Impressions and Retweets.

Impressions

Who could have seen brand mentions by each of these groups and potentially been influenced by them?

To calculate this we need to know the following for each group:

– Average number of followers.
– Impression rate.

Average followers

I used this estimated distribution of follower numbers across Twitter users*, combined with Lissted‘s data on nearly 2 million of the most influential accounts, to calculate a weighted average of the number of followers each group is likely to have.

Results:

– Low Follower Group – 100
– High Follower Group – 8,400

Impression rate

Every time you tweet only a proportion of your followers will actually see it. For many users this proportion could be less than ten per cent. The “impression rate” represents the total number of impressions generated by your tweet, divided by your follower number.

It only includes impressions on specific Twitter platforms – web, iOS app and Android app. This means impressions in applications like Hootsuite and Tweetdeck don’t count.

The rate is also complicated by retweets. The rate calculated by Twitter Analytics includes impressions that were actually seen by followers of the retweeting account, who may not follow you.

I’ve tried to look at retweets separately below, so for the purpose of this analysis I’m looking for impression rates without the benefit of retweet amplification.

On this basis I’ve assumed an impression rate of ten per cent for the Low Follower Group and five per cent for the High Follower Group. These assumptions are based on various articles estimating impression rates in the range of 2-10%. For the sake of prudence I’ve used a lower rate for High Follower accounts on the assumption that they could have a higher proportion of inactive and spam followers.

We can now calculate the proportion of total impressions related to each group as shown in this table:

Brand mentions impressions analysis

Finding: only 19 per cent of impressions relate to the Low Follower Group.

Quite simply the difference in reach of the High Follower accounts (84x higher – 8,400 v 100) more than offsets the difference in volume of mentions by the Low Follower Group (only 10x higher – 910 v 90).

For the Low Follower Group to even represent 50 per cent of the total impressions we’d need to assume an impressions rate for this group that is over 8x higher than for the High Follower Group e.g. 42% v 5%.

Though I suspect there may be a difference, is it really likely to be that much?

Retweets

Next we need to consider if any of the brand mentions were retweets. If so were the original tweets more likely to be by accounts with high or low followers?

A lot of retweets by volume are by accounts with low followers. That’s just common sense because the vast majority of Twitter users have low follower numbers. But when we’re exposed to a retweet it’s the original tweet that we’re exposed to. This is the very reason why Twitter includes the resulting impressions in the Impression rate (I’m assuming automatic retweets, not manual ones).

To understand this better I analysed a sample of over six million tweets tracked by Lissted over the last two months that were retweeted at least once. The sample included tweets by 1.27 million different accounts and collectively these tweets received over 200 million retweets in total.

Of these six million tweets, 0.6% of them (c.39,000) accounted for two thirds of the total retweets generated.

And 99 per cent of these “top tweets” were by users with 500+ followers.

Finding: a high proportion of retweets are of users with High Followers, even if many are by users with Low Followers.

Conclusion

Mentions relating to accounts with higher than 500 followers appear more likely to:

– represent the majority of initial impressions; and
– generate the majority of any resulting retweets.

In other words it’s high follower accounts that are more likely to be the source of the majority of the brand mentions that people are exposed to on Twitter.

Caveat

As I said at the start the purpose of this analysis is simply to give some proper context to an isolated statistic. Assessing the impact and actions you should take due to mentions of your brand requires consideration of a lot more factors than simply numerical exposure.

It could be the case that high follower tweets make up the vast majority of the mentions people are exposed to, but factors like trust, context, proximity and relevance could lead to mentions by low followers having more influence on business outcomes.

The key is to properly understand who is talking about you and why, and not base decisions on sweeping statistics.

*N.B the follower distribution analysis is from Dec 2013, but as Twitter hasn’t grown a huge amount in the last year, it seems reasonable to assume its validity. Happy to share my detailed workings with anyone who’s interested.

Coca Cola isn’t the “Real Thing” on Twitter

CocaColaWilliam

When it comes to engaging on Twitter, Coca Cola has a huge organic opportunity that they seem to be ignoring. So instead of resorting to automated campaigns that result in embarrassment, they should get back to basics.

Last week wasn’t great for Coca Cola. On Wednesday the brand pulled its automated #MakeItHappy social campaign. The campaign auto tweeted ASCII images based on negative tweets. In response, Gawker created a bot that submitted passages from Mein Kampf. Sure enough, the campaign tweeted them.

And that got me wondering….just how well is Coca Cola utilising Twitter?

The findings aren’t great.

Accounts

The @CocaCola account is far and away the most important to the brand.

@CocaCola has 2.85 million followers, follows 67,815 and has tweeted 125,000 times. According to Status People 57 per cent of these followers are “Good”. That’s a potential audience of 1.6 million.

It has six times more followers than the next most popular Coca Cola account.

The rest of the analysis therefore focuses on this account.

Top 10 Coca Cola brand accounts by followers excluding @Coca Cola
Screen Name  Followers
CocaColaMx     458,254
CocaColaCo     321,159
DietCoke     300,586
CokeZero     226,594
Sprite     221,604
CocaColafr     167,734
vitaminwater     127,701
docpemberton     125,069
WorldofCocaCola     116,334
CocaColaRacing     108,676

Tweet activity

CocaCola will have appeared to be silent to its followers for most of the last six months.

Almost all the activity on the @CocaCola account in the last six months has been @replies. This includes those #MakeItHappy tweets.

@replies are only seen by people who follow both accounts involved in the conversation. This means a tiny fraction of @CocaCola’s followers will have seen these tweets.

Apart from replies, they have only tweeted four times and retweeted three times. The last occasion was in November last year.

Who they follow

Coca Cola are ignoring high profile “fan” accounts that have massive organic reach potential, both within and outside of Twitter.

@CocaCola follows 67,815 accounts. A lot less than their follower count, but still a big number.

But it’s not the number they follow that’s the most surprising thing, it’s the apparent lack of logic or strategy.

For instance they do follow this account:

Tweets with replies by Thomas Williams   tomwills76    Twitter

And yet all of these accounts follow @CocaCola, but they don’t follow them back:

Coca Cola Fans

Many of these accounts even have strong links to the brand. Will I Am, Agnez Mo, FIFA, Adventure Girl and the Olympics.

The 8 accounts pictured have a gross follower count of over 38 million. I also spotted other similar high profile “fan accounts”, the top 25 of which totaled 70 million followers. That’s a huge potential audience to tap into, even allowing for duplication or fakes.

Plus, high profile people and organisations like these have a  reach that goes way beyond Twitter.

Report Card

Grade D – Huge missed opportunity

Coca Cola has a significant organic reach of its own on Twitter.

It replies to individual fans, but it isn’t saying anything to the wider community.

It follows accounts that don’t even tweet.

Meanwhile it has high profile followers with even greater reach than their own that it doesn’t follow back.

Instead of investing in an automated campaign, a better strategy would be to get back to basics.

To carry out the analysis I used Lissted’s database of 1.8 million of the most influential accounts on Twitter.

UK journalists say social media more important than ever (the real story of Cision’s study)

Social journalism headlines

A survey by Cision has found that time spent using social media for work by the UK journalists who responded has fallen. The focus this finding has received is unfortunate as this reduction may simply be due to increased productivity. Meanwhile, for the first time the same survey found that a majority of UK journalists now think social media use for work is both necessary and beneficial.

Cision have produced their annual survey of how journalists are using social media. The top finding is a fall in the proportion of UK journalists using social media for work for four hours or more per day. The level has reduced from 24 per cent in 2012 to 13 per cent in 2014. The inference drawn is that we’ve reached a point of “saturation”, or even decline, in the use of social media by UK journalists.

The thing is, time spent is only relevant if you can relate it to a set objective. In this case the reduction in time seems most likely to me to be due to improved productivity in the use of social media by journalists.

Here are a few potential reasons for this:

– According to the survey, Twitter is the No.1 tool used by UK journalists (75 per cent). Our analysis of when UK journalists joined Twitter suggests they have had between three and six years to become proficient at it.

– Productivity tools are likely to be widely used by now, particularly by those who use social media the most. An example of this is in the survey where it highlights 25% of respondents saying they use Hootsuite.

– Knowledge from earlier adopters will have been shared with colleagues who joined later. Journalism.co.uk’s excellent newsrewired conferences are an example (the latest of which was yesterday).

Meanwhile the same survey also tells us:

– 54% of journalists who responded couldn’t carry out their work without social media (up from 43% in 2013 and 28% in 2012).

– 58% say social media has improved their productivity (up from 54% in 2013 and 39% in 2012).

If the survey is representative, this means a majority of UK journalists now think that the use of social media for work is both necessary and beneficial.

Isn’t this the real story?

Where have all the UK PR bloggers gone?

26/1/15 Post has been updated to include some entries that were missed off the original post and to take account of feedback in comments and on Twitter.

Paul Sutton posted yesterday about the “Mysterious Case of the Disappearing Comms Bloggers“. In the post Paul highlights the apparent demise of marketing and communications bloggers in the UK.

I thought I’d investigate PR related blogs in particular. To do this I analysed the tweets from over 500 of the most influential members of the UK PR community over the last 60 days (c. 140,000 tweets all told).

Within these there were a little under 2,000 domains represented that were shared by two or more members of the community during the period. Of these I spotted 73 sites that are PR related, or carry PR content, and are UK based.

6 media outlets – The Drum, Econsultancy, PRWeek, Holmes Report, PR Moment and Communicate.

35 corporate sites – almost all agencies with a few service providers included. Some, or all, of these could be in the list due to posts on their corporate blogs being shared, though it could also be content like news announcements or job opportunities.* 

Of the remaining 32 sites, 7 are multiple contributor sites – CIPR Conversation, the PRCA’s blog, Comms2point0 (Dan Slee, Darren Caveney), Behind the Spin, PR examples, PR Conversations (Judy Gombita, Heather Yaxley, Marcus Pirchner) and CharityComms. Paul’s post itself appears on both his own personal blog and the CIPR Conversation.

Leaving 25 sites that relate to a single individual “blogger”. In alphabetical order these are:

alexsingleton.com
allthingsic.com (Rachel Miller)
antonymayfield.com
benrmatthews.com
blog.magicbeanlab.com (Mat Morrison)
blog.sarahhallconsulting.co.uk
byrnebabybyrne.com (Colin Bryne)
chrisnorton.biz
commsbird.wordpress.com (Rachel Moss)
dannywhatmough.com
domburch.blogspot.co.uk
escherman.com (Andrew Smith)
greenbanana.wordpress.com (Heather Yaxley)
markborkowski.co.uk
markpack.org.uk
maxtb.com (Max Tatton-Brown)
nevillehobson.com
paulsutton.co
prstudies.com (Richard Bailey)
sarahpinchblog.wordpress.com
showmenumbers.com (Some random guy)
stimsonsarah.com
stuartbruce.biz
tomrouse.co.uk
wadds.co.uk (Stephen Waddington)

Conclusion

The data suggests there’s a relatively small cohort of UK PR bloggers that are garnering attention with personal blogs.

Meanwhile a large proportion of content being shared would appear to consist of corporate blogs or people contributing to media outlets and shared platforms.

—————————–

A few points to note:

1. The timeframe of this analysis (over the Christmas period) may mean that some blogs haven’t appeared because they didn’t post much, if at all, during the 60 days. I will re run the analysis in March to see if the picture is similar.

2. Posts will almost certainly be being shared through other means than Twitter, LinkedIn for example, but I would still find it surprising if interesting posts weren’t being shared to some extent on Twitter.

3. It’s possible there are blogs that are attracting significant attention from the UK PR community, just not from the group of influencers our data looks at. This seems unlikely as I’d be surprised if at least some of this group wouldn’t have picked up on such content.

4. The option to now publish within LinkedIn may be a substitute for personal blogs, as could Medium. Both of these sites appear high in the list so it could be worth looking at these in more detail.

5. I could have just missed someone relevant on the results. If anyone wants to look at the full list let me know.

* Corporate sites

I haven’t included sites that relate to agencies with global operations e.g. edelman.com, blog.ketchum.com where it’s likely that content is being created by UK based staff. The exception being where a dedicated .co.uk domain appeared in the list.

1000heads.com
10yetis.co.uk
battenhall.net
bellpottinger.com
berkeleypr.co.uk
blog.wildfirepr.com
bottlepr.co.uk
brands2life.com
ccgrouppr.com
citypress.co.uk
claremontcomms.com
commsaxis.com
gorkana.com
grayling.co.uk
hanovercomms.com
hkstrategies.co.uk
hopeandglorypr.com
hotwirepr.co.uk
houstonpr.co.uk
joshuapr.com
kaizo.co.uk
liberatemedia.com
mslgroup.co.uk
prezly.com
prohibitionpr.co.uk
publish.lewispr.com
realwire.com
richleighandco.com
tangerinepr.com
umpf.co.uk
weareliquid.com
wearesevenhills.com
wearesocial.net
webershandwick.co.uk
whitehouseconsulting.co.uk

Why Brandwatch bought Peer Index and the Future of Social Listening

LisstedFutureofSocialListeningIn the week before Christmas, Brandwatch, the social media monitoring company, acquired influencer platform (and Lissted* competitor) Peer Index for a reported figure of £10m in cash and shares.

In the words of Giles Palmer, Brandwatch’s CEO, it was because

“As we (Giles and Azeem, Peer Index’s CEO) talked, I became acutely aware that PeerIndex were years ahead of us in their understanding and technology for influencer analytics and mapping.”

But why the need for a social media monitoring company to invest so heavily** to address influencer analytics and community mapping?

The answer lies in the exponential rate at which online activity has been growing, and the challenge this has created to find the people, content and conversations that really matter to PR and Marketing objectives.

*I’m the founder and architect of Lissted for anyone who doesn’t already know me.
**£10m looks to represent around 10-15% of Brandwatch’s value based on filings relating to its most recent finance raising in May 2014.

A world of ‘pretty noise’

The key social media monitoring platforms (including Brandwatch) were conceived and designed in the mid-to-late Noughties when we had a fraction of the online conversations we have today. Even by the summer of 2008, Facebook had only reached 100 million users (versus 1.35bn now), Twitter had a measly 10 million (versus 284 million now) and Instagram didn’t even exist.

In this relatively quiet online world the platforms didn’t need to do much to address what I think of as the ‘laws of social listening‘. A few simple metrics – like number of Twitter followers – and keywords were often enough to find who, and what, mattered most.

As the scale of online conversation has grown in the last few years these platforms have invested in an arms race of engineering to try and keep pace with the demands of multiple sources, processing and storage. Meanwhile at their heart they mostly still treat ‘listening’ as a purely data driven exercise, continuing to use similar metrics of now questionable worth, combined with increasingly complex Boolean keyword strings, to desperately try and filter it.

This has resulted in what I call “pretty noise”. Beautifully designed front end applications with graphs, charts and word clouds that look wonderful, but often tell you very little of real value, or worse can be genuinely misleading.

Because real listening, and the insight that comes with it, requires an understanding of people and communities, not simply data mining.

Noise doesn’t equal influence

At the same time as social listening platforms have been struggling in a Canute-like fashion with this vast wave of conversation, we’ve also seen the rise of the ‘influencer’ – someone who is judged to have the potential to exert higher levels of influence over others.

Such people have always existed of course, but social media and the wider online world has increased the ways in which this potential can be earned, observed and utilised.

Again, a plethora of tools and platforms have been created to try and help users identify these influencers in relation to their brand, product or industry. The majority of them start with who produces online content around your chosen keywords, and then look at the reaction they generate before deciding who ranks highest.

Unfortunately, these tools generally suffer from the same weakness as the social listening platforms. The scale of conversation and online activity is so great that they often equate noise to influence.

And even when these tools are successful in identifying truly influential and relevant content creators, they’re still of limited use, as creating content isn’t the only way to be influential.

They may help me identify candidates for outreach purposes, but it certainly doesn’t follow that their answers will be relevant to other key Marketing and PR activities such as:

  • ranking higher in search;
  • organising an event with industry leading figures;
  • understanding how my competitors are behaving online;
  • reaching more relevant people with my own content; or
  • identifying who I should target with my advertising.

True, there may be some active content creators in a particular field who will indeed be relevant no matter what your objective. For instance – if you’re looking at a list of UK PR influencers that doesn’t have Stephen Waddington near (or at) the top (as I was the other day) then I would seriously question whatever approach they’re using.

But mostly, this combination of noise driven methodologies and varying objectives has created a situation where users are asking questions of these tools, and it’s often just dumb luck if they get back the answer they really need.

It’s all about Community

So how do we address these two problems?

  • Effectively listen to social media sources to find true insight in a real time world.
  • Identify the right people and organisations depending on our objective.

The solution lies with understanding communities and the contextual relevance they provide.

LisstedFutureofSocialListeningIt’s about identifying, observing and listening to enough of the key members of a community, particularly the ones who are authoritative and knowledgeable.

Lissted approaches this challenge in a very different way to Peer Index, but we do agree that if you can understand the makeup of communities relevant to you, everything else starts to fall into place. This is because the very people, content and conversations they are paying attention to are the ones that are likely to matter most.

We call this “Superhuman” social listening. A host of people who really know their stuff helping you to filter the online world and discover who, and what, really matters to your PR and Marketing objectives:

Reputation management: they’ll highlight important stories and conversations about your brand before most people get to hear about them.

Outreach: they’ll tell you who the content creators are that drive influential conversations, not just noisy ones.

Amplifying your content: they’ll tell you who the curators are that identify and share influential conversations.

Improving your search ranking: they’ll tell you the domains that they trust, which are therefore likely to be the very ones that Google will trust too.

Targeting your advertising: they’ll help you identify the people most like them and who share their interests.

Event organising: they’ll tell you who are the most recognised people in their field.

Real time marketing: they’ll help you identify what’s really getting relevant people engaged.

And so on……

The future

The critical element is the ability to identify these communities accurately. To find the right people to listen to. This is why we’ve spent the last two years developing Lissted’s real world approach to identifying relevant communities and why I believe Brandwatch have invested heavily with this acquisition to try and achieve this too.

I expect we’ll see a lot more activity around this challenge in 2015 and beyond as others in the social listening industry recognise the need to address the elephant of noise in the room.

Beta invites

We’re currently running a private beta of Lissted’s latest community analysis tool. If you’d like to get involved then drop me an email, adam@lissted.com.