When used properly, statistics can be very informative. However, some statistics are meaningless, and some are dishonest. Interpreting statistics requires some technical knowledge, and most people do not have the basic training to know how to read statistics and to take them with a grain of salt. Statistics are particularly misleading with regard to the early days of any phenomenon because percentages are distorted by the small base: moving from 1 to 8 readers/users/etc. is an 800% increase. Of course, eight out of six billion is a drop in the bucket…unless those are the eight most important people on Earth for your purposes, like the G8 heads of state and government. Maybe the hotline between the White House and the Kremlin will be replaced by direct Twitter conversations.
The various measurements put forward to evaluate ROI for communications illustrate how badly statistics can be used. Too often such statistics are an activity report, not an analysis of impact. At the end of the day, impact is what matters. Or worse, they measure totally irrelevant things.
A heated debate has just taken place over at Six Pixels of Separation about HubSpot‘s report “State of the Twittersphere 2009“. To me the quoted statistics in this article don’t tell me whether Twitter is useful for me or not, because they say nothing about impact. The definitions of the segments is tautological since everyone is defined by their relationship with Twitter rather than their relationship to me (or you or a brand…).
Full disclosure: I am one of those people mentioned who signed up for an account and has yet to figure out how to use it (and was put off by the fact that it won’t accept my mobile phone number for remote posting). I’ll get around to it, just like I did for LinkedIn/Viadeo, Facebook, Skype, etc. But in each case, I had to find the compelling reason or the lull in my schedule to invest in the initial learning curve.
Twitter got my attention last week when I was reading the International Herald Tribune (which I usually only have time for when I am in an airplane or airport lounge). Entitled “Washington Taps Into a Potent New Force in Diplomacy“, the article explains that the White House asked Twitter to delay some routine maintenance to ensure continued service to protesters in Iran who have been using Twitter to coordinate their activities. All of the articles on events in Iran — and there were quite a few — mentioned the role Twitter was playing.
“Wow,” I thought. “That’s impact! That’s useful. That makes sense to me.” (More disclosure: my degrees are in political science.) So I finally understand the usefulness of Twitter. This turn of events is likely to encourage me to finally domesticate Twitter myself, even though I am not planning any major social/political movements any time soon.