February 27, 2017

Harvard Flunks Social Media

The most recent issue of the Harvard Business Review has an article called, god help us, "What’s The Value Of A Like?"

It's about a study that four professors and associate professors did on how "liking" a brand on Facebook affects behavior.

This article seems at least 3 years out of date since I think it's now pretty clear even to unreconstructed social media maniacs that "likes" have no value.

Apparently the article was spawned by a horseshit study done by comScore and Facebook...
"...A recent influential study by comScore and Facebook found that compared with the general population, people who liked Starbucks’s Facebook page or who had a Facebook friend who liked the page spent 8% more and transacted 11% more frequently over the course of a month."
The Harvard Business Review article correctly pointed out the flaw in this nonsense...
"...that study and others like it contain a fatal logical flaw: those who already have positive feelings toward a brand are more likely to follow it in the first place, and that’s why they spend more than nonfollowers."
Or as I wrote seven years ago...
"People not trained in research or logic often have trouble understanding the difference between correlation and causality...  it is clear that a Facebook fan is worth more than an average user. But it is not clear that this has anything to do with being a Facebook fan. It may just be that Facebook fans are typical brand loyalists and that all brand loyalists are more valuable, whether they are Facebook fans or not."
Without getting too deep into the HBR article, it reaches some not-very-surprising conclusions, and one spurious one. First the obvious ones:
  • "The results were clear: Social media doesn’t work the way many marketers think it does. The mere act of endorsing a brand does not affect a customer’s behavior or lead to increased purchasing, nor does it spur purchasing by friends."
  • ."..it would stand to reason that a social media user who endorses a brand on Facebook would be more likely to buy it. Yet that’s not what we found. Across 16 studies, we found no evidence that following a brand on social media changes people’s purchasing behavior."
  • "...liking a brand on Facebook had no enhancing effect on the purchasing habits of friends.
  • "...merely liking a page did not change behavior."
We've only been saying this for about 100 years.

Then the professors go off the rails...
"The good news is that there is a way to convert likes into meaningful behavior, and it’s straight out of the 20th-century marketing playbook: advertising."
This is tricky because they're right about advertising, but wrong about the "convert(ing) likes into meaningful behavior" crap.

Here's what they did. They took a group of people and invited half of them to like a certain brand on Facebook. Then they studied the behavior of the "liking" group and compared it to the control group that wasn't invited to like the brand.

What did they find? "...we found no difference in behavior."

So far, so good.

Then they fed ads to the "liking" group. What did they find? This group reported 8% more of the desired behavior.

Their conclusion: "...our research suggests that marketing on social media will be ineffective if it uses only pull tactics. The modern social media marketing playbook should combine new and traditional approaches."

Bullshit. That's a lot of jargon-y claptrap to mask what the the study really demonstrated  -- that advertising was effective at changing behavior and "likes" weren't.

There was only one variable that created effectiveness - advertising.

All the "combine new and traditional approaches" and "modern social media marketing" hogwash is just obfuscation designed to soften the real results of their study -- that the value of a "like" was zero and the only variable they could find that made a difference was advertising.

Sadly, there was another flaw in the study that renders it useless. They didn't actually find any behavioral change. All they found was reported behavioral change.

In other words, it was self-reported baloney. And it was the lowest form of self-reported baloney -- the online kind. There isn't a reputable institution in the world who would accept this horseshit as valid science.

The only place that self-reported nonsense is acceptable as factual and publishable is in the silly world of marketing. Oh, yeah...and apparently, Harvard.

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