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When We Exaggerate Our Size, Everyone Loses

What? It's a squash. Perv.Since the dawn of marketing/communication/PR/advertising we’ve had an issue with “exaggerating” things. We claim our magazine has a circulation of a million, but that includes each magazine being passed around 4 times. We boast that our billboard is seen by the 3 million cars that drive by a week, when the study claims that every person looks at it, and each car counted has 11 passengers inside.

Inflating numbers isn’t new, the problem I have is when we take the same methods and apply them to social media, and for this post specifically Twitter.

Social has given us a fresh start in the word-of-mouth world. The ability to see consumers in real-time talk about our brands can be the main cause of many awkward boardroom fist-bumps. However, we’ve learned along the way that most numbers being used to prove something is “working” is no better than the magazine circulation claims of the 80’s.

Follower counts have been proven to be next-to-worthless (thanks Newt) and influence score systems are always under the microscope. So we scramble around to find another metric set and have come up with a term that was made popular after the Internet explosion: Impressions. We then throw in the old school “Reach” -around that can help measure how effective our Tweets and Twitter chats are. Ya! We have our new metric set! Vanilla Ice fist bumps for all!!

Not so fast Rico Sauve.

Let’s take a look at an example of a report tracking a specific Twitter chat hashtag:

I’m not going to name the chat this was used for, because it’s irrelevant. Nor am I going to name the service that does it (unless they end up telling me they want me to) because I want you to focus on the numbers themselves.

So we have a chat that had 139 people involved on Twitter and generated 758 total tweets. Slammin! Good number of people on a specific topic talking together. That’s where the issue begins.

Then it states the hashtag/chat had a 2,100,000 person reach and almost 18 million impressions.

The reach number is calculated by the number of followers of all 139 people involved in the chat. The impressions are calculated by the number of followers a person has for each tweet they send.

So if I was in a chat, and I have 120,000 followers that would be included in the “reach”. And if I tweeted a total of ten times with that hashtag, I would contribute 1.2 million impressions (120k followers X 10 tweets).

I see people boasting these types of numbers all the time, but not just the Twitter brag, they’re sending this to sponsors and executives to say “SEE?!?! Look how awesome we did!”

There are so many bad moves with this, I don’t know where to start. But I shall try:

1. The majority of people with Twitter accounts aren’t active. Twitter claims that there are 140 million active Twitter accounts while also celebrating their 500 million user milestone. That’s about a quarter of all users.

2. Most of your followers aren’t on Twitter 24/7, let alone on there refreshing the homepage feed. I think half of the people, from experience, are refreshing their replies page hoping Bieber replied to there “ZOMG I lUv U!” tweet.

3. This brings us to a huge chunk of the impression stat: @ replies. Have a peek at the breakdown:

43% of the “Impression” metric is accounted for through @Message’s, or replies. This is when somebody in the tweet replies to someone else and uses the chat hashtag. There is a huge issue with including this. In the main feed, the one that people look at to see conversations they’re not involved in, @messages between two people are not shown to you unless you follow both people. So they don’t even appear on your screen. Ugh.

4. From my non-scientific research (which entails me looking at the screen and rubbing my beard in a professor-style way) and through sending over 85,000 tweets over 4 years and seeing the click-throughs, video and picture views of most of those and other accounts, this is more accurate: 10/10/10 rule.

10% of your follower count is online at any given time

10% of those will have a chance to see your tweet

10% will actually view it/click something

So for me, 1,200 people will see any given tweet of mine that is not a reply. Scientific? No. But I’m sure as shinola it beats “Impression” and “Reach” as a more accurate measure.

What is the answer? I think we have to stop being so fascinated by “size” for one. The above Twitter chat had a good number of people talking and they should be proud of that. Instead we go the sensational route and say 18 million impressions. Hell, 18 million people aren’t even on Twitter during that time frame. The problem is there will be no “result” that matches that. An impression online is something that can be used in the digital ad business that can prove an ad has been served on a website. Imagine an ad network selling ads by “potential impressions”. Then we’d have to call them a “newspaper” (Heyoo! Here all week, try the squash).

We have an uphill battle as it is in the boardroom convincing people to use social or at the very least listen to it. We better not claim a size we aren’t ready to back up.

Thoughts? Comments? Leave them below! It will make you really popular, this blog gets a ton of impressions.

PS – If you live in the Southern Ontario area, John Morgan and I are doing a public event on Friday April 20th! I rarely rock a public event, so get on over! There are only a few tickets left that you get you John’s new book and my new paperback.

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  • Peter Marcus

    It’s like when consultants exaggerate their business acumen, the clients lose. Oh, but you already know that…

  • http://www.radiusedge.co.uk/ Radius

    Great post again Scott

  • http://www.radiusedge.co.uk/ Radius

    great post again Scott

  • http://www.postitartcreators.com/ Andreas Kopp

    That is what I have always thought. Who is actually active on twitter. They are either super nerds or have to promote something. Another point what you have not taken into account is that there are also people that read their twitter on other devices where some of the content is pulled into automatically without an impression. I flip through my twitter with my flipboard app for example. 

  • TechPlanIT

    Excellent article as I own a company that sells advertising and would rather honesty with our numbers and quality of the ad helps a heck of a lot more than inflating  numbers.  With regards to social media I dont really have any goals as far as numbers  or influence are concerned. If I can have at least one conversation or answer a question with someone regarding business I have success

  • Truth

    This article is lol… certain people don’t pay for twitter followers but rather use bots to get them. one day you’ll be exposed, but it’s better than being a professor i suppose.

  • http://www.facebook.com/richard.ellicott Richard Ellicott

    since the beginning of time there have been people who say “if everyone was more honest the world would be a better place”

    … however things do not work that way.. especially not in marketing where it’s in your interest.. say one person is upset about it (you) but 10 people are none the wiser…. that’s marketting

    • http://www.twitter.com/unmarketing unmarketing

      And that made no sense

  • Steve

    “Reach” -around. 😉

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