Lies, damned lies and social media statistics

The other day I read an interesting article by KISSmetrics: “How to Master Social Customer Acquisition”. Amongst the social media statistics was one I found particularly interesting – that 77% of B2C companies have successfully used Facebook for customer acquisition . So I dug a little deeper to look at the quoted research.

The source that KISSmetrics referenced was an article by Huffington Post, the grandly titled “100 Fascinating Social Media Statistics and Figures From 2012” (20 of which relate to Facebook).

Tucked in the list was the specific statistic I was hunting down, in a reference to an article by Business2Community about “Facebook Marketing Statistics You Need To Know”.

This link led me to an article by HubSpot: “12 Revealing Marketing Stats About Facebook for Business”. This is a taster selection of social media statistics from an ebook by HubSpot collating “47 Handy Facebook Stats and Charts” (the largest ever number of Facebook stats in my journey so far).

This time I had to register to download the full research, so I did, thinking that my ruthless ‘source hunt’ would be over, and I would finally get to drink directly from the font of knowledge.

Instead, however, in the ebook I found the statistic in question (“77% of B2C companies have acquired customers from Facebook”) being quoted and attributed to “The State of Inbound Marketing 2012” report, again by HubSpot. After parting with more of my precious personal data, I had finally downloaded *the* source.

So, how did this figure come about? HubSpot surveyed “972 professionals who were familiar with their business’ marketing strategy”, 72% of which were in B2B. The size and industry were widely varied, but there was no cross-tabulation to reveal which industries/size acquired more customers from Facebook (I assume this was due to the small number of participant segments that would not allow for statistically significant results).

The question was phrased as “Have you ever acquired a customer from the following social media / blog channels?” (presumingly presenting a list of social media, including Facebook).

So, is the reported figure a lie? Not really…

But is it a “fact” that we should trust? Is it, in other words, misleading? Everyone is free to chose their answer but I would need a very huge pinch of salt to make anything out of this figure. I assume there will be many marketers that read this statistic and use it as leverage to make or force a decision to create a Facebook page for the companies they work for. How would they respond if the ‘facts’ were presented like this:

“77% of the 272 B2C marketers we talked to claimed they have acquired at least one customer from Facebook”

I have nothing against Hubspot and the companies mentioned here. It is common practice in every industry to popularise findings of studies in the firm of statistics. And it is also common to repost, re-tweet and regurgitate these statistics until the original knowledge generated is not relevant anymore.

Next time I’m looking for useful social media statistics I may take Dilbert’s advice and simple make the numbers up!


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