The Flaw In Gallup’s Survey On Social Media Impact On Purchase Decisions

The Flaw In Gallup’s Survey On Social Media Impact On Purchase Decisions

In the research equivalent to asking “did you eat the cookie?” Gallup makes a tenuous connection to real social media outcomes. The WSJ is happy to play along.

Why is it that businesses are still actively trying to disprove social media as a channel to reach consumers?

That’s the question I had to ask myself as I perused my digital copy of The Wall Street Journal, this morning.  Gallup, a noted consumer research firm, is releasing a survey today that says it speaks to the “real” impact of social media on consumer behavior.

Normally I am very enthusiastic about any hard data on consumer behavior – social media impacted or otherwise. There’s only one problem with this data: it’s self reported. In case you’re not a stat geek, self-reporting is the research equivalent of asking a little kid with chocolate smeared all over their face if they ate the cookie.

The gist of the research is that Gallup showed that consumer buying behaviors aren’t impacted by whether or not they follow or like particular brands.  The WSJ article then goes on to detail several major brands including Ritz-Carlton and how they are abandoning what was thought of as traditional social media marketing strategies.

In fairness, the Gallup survey is actually pretty solid. It doesn’t purport to represent heuristic research methods nor does it say that social media is a waste of money.  The WSJ does that job all on its own.

Here’s where my beef is: the headline of the WSJ article is Social Media Fail to Live Up to Early Marketing Hype. A closer examination of the article yields that someone originally titled the article by its sub-head: Companies Refine Strategies to Stress Quality Over Quantity of Fans. How do I know this? Check out the URL…http://online.wsj.com/articles/companies-alter-social-media-strategies-1403499658.

What this discrepancy tells me is that an editor found more utility in trying to convince readers that social media is “failing” than the real story which is that your customers don’t care about the number of fans you have. (Side note…we needed a national, census-adjusted survey to tell us this?)

The WSJ is not dumb. The editors know what they are doing and they know what their readers want. In this case, they know their readers are inherently skeptical of social media so they give them what they want in order to lure them into reading the article. This kind of bait and switch is all well-and-good but it actually obscures the actual story, which is quality over quantity.

Like I said, I’m all for research. However, we shouldn’t confuse self-reporting with actual impact on consumer behavior, which has been documented copiously in peer-reviewed journals.

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