When I took a brief class on statistics back in college, the first words my professor said were, “Never forget that anyone can manipulate numbers to make them mean whatever they want.” Today, with the mass adoption of Twitter and Fakebook, err – I mean Facebook, never before have numbers meant so much and yet also meant so little. Social media has created the desire to be followed, liked, and shared. The larger a following you can amass, the more you can impress your friends, attract new opportunities, and terrify your competitors. We live in an age where online popularity has the ridiculous ability to control major business decisions or determine someone’s career. Yet, there’s never been a time when big numbers can be inflated so easily and deceptively. For example:
1. According the New York Times, you can buy fake followers on Twitter for around $18 per 1,000. I’ve seen shady businesses on Ebay offer fake Facebook followers for a similar price.
2. My own experience with the popular ShareThis WordPress plug-in for bloggers revealed that anyone can easily run up the share counter that’s displayed without actually sharing the information from a blog post with anyone.
3. Facebook claims to offer an effective advertising medium, yet their average click-through rate is .0005 (5 in 10,000) In addition, a Reuters/Ipsos poll revealed that 4 out of 5 Facebook users have never bought a product or service as a result of advertising or comments on the social network site. In addition, researchers at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute found that less than 1% of fans of the 200 biggest brands on Facebook actually engaged.
4. According to ConstantContact, the average open rate for email newsletters is around 19%. So, someone who claims to have 5,000 newsletter subscribers is probably reaching around 1,000 people.
5. I’ve seen bloggers (I don’t mean to bash, so they’ll remain nameless) promote an artificial number on their blog that combines all of their different social media followers and subscribers into one big number, which is designed to make you think their platform is larger than it really is.
When the human ego gets together with social media, there seems to be no limit to the level of nonsense that people will create. Numbers that are supposed to mean so much can actually mean very little. Be careful how much stock you put into building your own numbers and assessing someone else’s numbers online. We’d all be better off if we focused on the only numbers that really matter, which is how many units sold, how many customers added, and how many dollars deposited into the bank.