How Versus How Many

One of my pet peeves when it comes to social media (and believe me I have a lot of them) is the deliberate confusion between opinions and facts. This usually takes the form of: ‘I know that many agree’ or ‘I speak for many when I say..’ when the reality is that the writer spoke to some bloke in the pub who shrugged and said something like: ‘Yeah, seems like a good idea.’

This is the sort of rubbish that gives genuine research a bad name, and whilst you may think a few idiots sounding off on Twitter really doesn’t matter much, lies and misinformation are so often amplified. Just repeating them gives them credibility. Frequency works.

Look at the current controversy over Fox News in the US, with even Rupert Murdoch admitting some of his presenters endorsed what they knew were lies concerning the result of the 2020 US election. Why did they say things on-air that they knew and admitted privately were untrue? To placate their core audience.

We’ve arrived at a strange moment when a news network chooses to replay the biased opinions of elements of its audience back at it, as exposing that audience to a balanced view might risk some of them deserting the channel.

Some people will only accept their own truths.

Fox is certainly not unique. Lies and misinformation gain credence because they’re on the telly. The medium enhances the message.

On the other hand, paying insufficient attention to what people believe and do is an important counter to relying purely on the data (or indeed the AI source material).

We need to get out more, to look about us more.

Take our current obsession with the extreme targeting of ads. Many have bought into the narrative that every ad can and must be personalised for it to work optimally.

I think this is hogwash. First, as Paul Feldwick’s excellent book points out, brands become famous in part through messaging that is shared, through the sort of short-handing that emerges from, or creates a common experience.

Next, personalisation is not quite as brilliant as we might like to believe. Look around you.

I get mailers all the time addressed to ‘The Occupier’; letters that start ‘Dear Sir or Madam’; online notifications to do something I am clearly not going to do (like claim my prize at my local Walmart).

Last week I bought a pair of shoes online. So why am I still receiving messages to buy another pair of the exact same shoes?

Yes, I’ve heard of retargeting; and spam; and lists, but really…is that the best you can do? You can’t even get my gender and country of residence right.

We should pay more attention to our own behaviours and the behaviours of those around us and marry those insights with those emerging from data.

For example, I know perfectly well that social media platforms reach a lot of people. I also know that online ads on social media drive me nuts. They get in my way, they stop me doing stuff, they are intrusive in the worst possible way. Yes, I’m ‘reached’ but I resent it.

I also know that I am not alone in thinking this (I met this bloke in a pub …). Proper, grown-up research by a proper grown-up research company, Kantar supports my own feeling. Check out their Dimension studies if you doubt me.

Attention studies from Lumen, and Amplified Intelligence show that people simply don’t engage with social media ads. They spend the minimum time they can with them. Surely if they liked them, got something from them they would spend longer engaging with the content?

Yes, yes, but think of the numbers. I would say certainly think of the numbers, then apply some common sense, based on your own life-experiences to temper what the data tells you.

In golf it’s often said that it’s not the how it’s the how many. This expression is used to describe someone hitting bad shot after bad shot and yet somehow getting the ball in the hole in a respectable number.

Media has become like golf. We only care about the how many, not the how.

Anyone who plays golf will know you can fluke it once or twice but eventually you need the skill of the how to set alongside the bald facts in the how many.


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