“alternate facts” & group think biases among marketers

In 1951 a psychologist named Solomon Asch designed what became known as the “line length” test. Asch’s study used 3 lines of varying lengths and asked audiences to determine which line was the longest. Visually, in the absence of no other people, the answer was obvious. However, when “dummy” participants were thrown into the mix, purposely giving the wrong answers, even the “most obvious answer” was chosen less. And by less, Asch found that 75% of the participants conformed to the group at least once – despite the fact that the longest line was obvious.

I had taken this passage from a book called Invisible Influence by Jonah Berger. The concept rocked my thinking. If humans, in the midst of social influence, couldn’t tell something as simple as the length of a line? I was almost fearful to think about other things we have come to accept as a result of social influence.

When I started work on “Project X” I wanted to assure that I found reputable sources to back up the knowledge that I was starting to put on paper. As a piece of the project, I set out to examine the most up to date audience statistics and demographics for each of the major social media networks: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Snapchat.

Knowing I read reputable social media articles from sources like Forbes, I thought that it would be easy to find sources that backed my knowledge. I found that to be completely false. In fact, this small portion of research that I did, expecting to back my own opinions, completed shifted the way I think about social media platforms. Here’s a short example. These were my thoughts on the major platforms prior to research:

  • Facebook has seen a generational shift. In fact, most marketers “know” (feel) that Facebook usage has now shifted slightly older. It’s now retirees who are on, and using Facebook more than anyone else. Millennials? They are ignoring Facebook. They may have an account, but Facebook is no longer the platform to grab the attention of millennials – Instagram is.
  • Instagram? Every brand should be on Instagram. It’s the hottest and most upcoming social platform and it’s growing the quickest. If your audience isn’t on Instagram yet, they will be.
  • Snapchat? Is dying. Instagram stories have Snapchat beat and Snapchat just can’t compete.

It embarrassed me how little I knew once I started looking for statistics. Things I had though and hear to be true – statistically weren’t.

  • Facebook has seen more users in the older age demographic as of recent, but the difference in age demos is marginal. Facebook actually is one of the only platforms to reach everyone equally. Yes, Millennials are still on and using Facebook. And its only minutes less than Gen X and Baby Boomers. We see, hear and think that there is this crazy shift in demographics – there’s not.
  • Instagram? 90% of the user base is still under the age of 35. Instagram’s growth is not out of this core demographic.
  • Snapchat? Is still, in 2017, the most important platform for US teens, even above Instagram. And whereas users spend an average of 15mins on Instagram a day, teens are spending an average of 30-40 minutes. Double the time spent on Instagram. Until these statistics change, Snapchat still has a future.

I had fallen victim to my own personal biases about the way I personally use social media, I had fallen victim to the way my friends and coworkers think about social media, I had fallen victim to the way that some social media marketers think about social media.

My “backup” source was stating “I read in an article once”, I’ve heard from many sources, “my friends and I don’t do this so…”, “Influencers aren’t doing this so….” – none in which claim 63% of Americans aren’t doing this, SO. Which is more accurate and less biased?

How could this have happened?

In the social and digital age – we lack the time and patience to read books. We want our knowledge to come to us in bite-size pieces of content – through Facebook, Instagram, stories, soundbites, podcasts – but we remove the ability to create length, we remove the ability to create full context and therefore, we don’t often think critically about whether the opinions we are learning are true, or for what context they are true. We take them as fact because someone of influence, whether it be a friend or a major, well known outlet, has stated that they were true, as if they were facts. We don’t see the full picture.

Think back to the line test – if someone told you what the shortest line was, would you believe them? Would you say – it’s so simple for someone to determine the length of a line – how could they be wrong? There’s no way they lack that much common sense. So you don’t question it. You could never see the other lines you have to choose from – and still not question the decision of your peer. But what if you saw the other lines? What if, all of the sudden, you saw the lines side by side and realized – how inaccurate the second hand information was?

I felt slightly upset I didn’t do the research sooner. I was kicking myself for not keeping up with my education – but so many people fall into the same trap. It took me 2 days and 6 hours in a coffee shop on a Sunday to compile all the statistics on each social platform. Three days that most people don’t have to dedicate to the learning unless you make a commitment to it.

But the result? It improved my ability to consult, improved my confidence in what I was recommending, and therefore my vocal tone and ability to sell my services, and also… improved my ability to spot when bias could be present in an argument. Only a few short weeks later, my boss and I were discussing 2017-2018 predictions for influencer marketing – hung up on what to say about Snapchat. While he predicted it’s “total demise” – I felt extremely uncomfortable making that bold statement. After all – in the year that I have been handling all business leads for HireInfluence, we may have had 2-3 out of 150 requesting a marketing campaign for Gen Z – the very audience in which Snapchat holds the most attention. We haven’t prioritized the use of Snapchat, because we haven’t had to prioritize Gen Z in a marketing campaign – and other platforms can more efficiently reach a 25+ age demographic.

I wanted to hear my boss’s thoughts – and I recognized his biases when his argument to me was based on the habits of his teenage daughter and friends. I didn’t argue – I felt for him because I was there. I did the same thing! I even agreed with his daughter – the only thing cool about Snapchat right now it’s the awesome filters! But…. I had to recognize that myself, my friends, his daughter, her friends – they are just a few users. We can’t let the opinions of just a few, we can’t even let our OWN opinions, prohibit us from understanding the studies and facts.

Make it a point to prioritize learning in 2018 – and take the time to schedule in the opportunity to learn in full-context, not small soundbites.

PS. I’ve added a 100% free resource for download – a cheat sheet that briefly overviews the most current statistics on each social platform. You can download the resource here.