As someone who’s done a few studies during his academic years, one of my favorite concepts is that of the “useless study.”
Would you believe it, there’s a new study out (hat tip to TechDirt) that did some research on online influences. Turns out that our entire social media profession is useless, says the study, because “self-described social media users put far more trust in friends and family online than in popular bloggers, or strangers with 10,000 MySpace ‘friends.'” So much for our profession, right, social media people?
Of more than 1,100 adults polled in December, nearly 80% said they were very or somewhat more likely to consider buying products recommended by real-world friends and family, while only 23% reported being very or somewhat likely to consider a product pushed by “well-known bloggers.”
“This shows that popularity doesn’t always equate to credibility,” said Robert Hutton, executive vice president and general manager at Pollara (the research group of the study). “Marketers might have to reconsider who the real influencers are out there.”
Yeah…no, it really doesn’t mean that, because you just conducted a stupid study.
How did the study operationalize “popularity,” “credibility” and “influence”? They didn’t. They just asked people, “hey, do you listen to blogs more, or your friends?” and then published the results as if they were valid.
What did the study group consider as a “blog”? Were they thinking about the most popular blogs, like DailyKos, Huffington Post, and so on? These are blogs where there’s not much interaction between a blogger and the audience. They’re popular — but how do we define credibility and influence based on their popularity? They’re extremely distinct and different concepts, and completely mutually exclusive. The loudest person may be heard, but they don’t have to have the most influence.
What about blogs like DownloadSquad or Lifehacker? These are blogs that “recommend” things. Therefore, they have more influence. I read these blogs to learn about the “latest and greatest,” and influence what I download and purchase. Or what about sites like HeatEatReview, that tells me what frozen foods are delicious and what I should stay away from? Or CoolMomPicks, that acts as a pretty spectacular guide for moms?
Another variable: what if I consider the blogger my friend? I’ve met plenty of people through blogs that I’d consider my friends, but I’ve never met them in person. So, are they a blogger, or are they my friend? Because I listen to those people. If they say, “oh man, you’ve gotta check this out” or “I love this product,” I’m bound to listen. “Blogger” and “friend” aren’t mutually exclusive, either.
And, really, what is this study? Who doesn’t trust something more than their “friends?” I trust my friends’ musical recommendations more than I trust the Rolling Stone reviews, so should Rolling Stone shut down? If my friend says, “hey, you’ve gotta try this new cleaning product,” but Consumer Reports says it’s useless, and I trust my friend, should Consumer Reports just cease publication?
Really, I wouldn’t even call this a study. I’d call it a question. Study implies that you actually use research methodology.
So, my take? Ignore this thing. Please.
UPDATE: It’s been pointed out to me by my friend (girlfriend, to be exact) that you shouldn’t trust my opinion on this. I’m just a blogger, you know.[tags]Stupid study, study, studies, influences, social media[/tags]