There was a lot of buzz on the Internet recently about a report and infographic from Manta.com stating that 60 percent of small business owners are not realizing a return on their social media marketing efforts.
The results of this survey were reported on
- NBC News
- USA Today
- The Austin Business Journal
- Small Business Trends
… and dozens, perhaps hundreds, of blogs.
It took a little digging, but here is an example of why we need to take this kind of information with a grain of salt. The Manta research was not a national survey. It was not a representative survey. It is not a statistical extrapolation of the current state of social media.
This was a survey of 1,200 of Manta’s own customers. And yet it is being reported as a national trend by the mainstream news media?
None of the news channels disclosed that this was a survey of the company’s site members. In fact, most didn’t even link to the survey. They just linked to the original USA Today article.
This survey is a mildly interesting data point, but if I were reporting on this press release from Manta, I would have wanted to know:
- How was the question asked?
- What was the response rate?
- Is that sample size representative and sufficient to forecast a national trend?
I have to give credit to whoever is doing PR for Manta. This is a relatively obscure small business site that is attracting massive press through their surveys and infographics. In a world of paralyzing information density, they figured out a way to cut through the clutter and attain incredible exposure. Here is what I take away from this case study:
- Apparently anybody can dupe the national news media by creating provocative survey results and an attractive infographic.
- If you can just dupe one national news outlet, you’re likely to dupe them all because nobody digs for the truth or even cares about the truth. They want to break a story fast with diminishing resources devoted to checking facts. So, they just copy the other guy.
- Bad news sells better than good news. Ironically, the spin on the original press release from Manta was positive, focusing on the 40 percent of companies who were realizing measurable gains from social media. But the press turned it upside down because negative news attracts more readers than positive news.
So after all this, what is the truth? Are businesses getting any benefit from social media marketing?
In a survey published just two months prior to the Manta research, The McKinsey Global Institute polled 4,200 executives and found that 72 percent of their businesses used some form of social media marketing and 90 percent of those businesses reported receiving business benefits from those efforts. The report has a detailed appendix explaining the robustness of its methodology that is more than 30 pages long.
Who do you believe?