Social Media Stats are Useless

I do social media all day.

Which means that all of the myriad social networking support groups and blogs and websites and feeds that I follow each come out with their annual statistics on the size and scope of social media and what trends are coming and who’s swinging the most wood after raising Series C funds. And there’s usually a drop-shadow-less infographic that tells me some tip about how to make my pins more pin-tastic and that 65.4% of all B2B partnerships thrive due solely to LinkedIn conversations.

And I read them all. Because it’s my job.

And I’ve yet to glean ANYTHING useful out of them.

1,440,000,000 people on Facebook. 77,600,000 Instagram users in the US. 4,000,000,000+ views on YouTube every day.

Lovely. Wonderful. But what does that do for my organization? Nothing.

The problem comes down to the maturation of social media. When the field was young and needed to prove itself, it sold eyeballs. How many people can see your posts!? Follower counts were like gold. Every time the “Facebook nation” rose up the ranking list of most populous countries, we forwarded those stats to our executives and pleaded to stop being kept from the promised land.

But now, when I post to Facebook, when I want to talk to the 3,876 people who have taken a half a second to click that happy thumbs up icon on our Page, when I have something that could potentially save their lives, their health, their humor, and/or their sanity, I’m lucky if 387 people ever see that post.

Sad Clown Mark Holthusen Photography. Photography by Mark Holthusen

Maybe I’m not as funny as I think I am. Maybe not.

Today, though, I’m not concerned with how many people could see my posts. Telling me there are 15,000,000 pairs of eyeballs out there waiting for my posts doesn’t do anything for me. Because I know 15,000,000 pairs of eyeballs aren’t waiting for me.

What’s waiting for me are the twenty people in my city that are thinking about quitting smoking today. Or the 4,000 people that would be interested in free yoga on the Parkway. Or the 150 that need to be reminded not to leave their kids in the car because it’s 95 degrees out.

We need new metrics on engagement and interaction. We need new advice for today’s social media. So I call on you, Social Media Expert/Maven/Ace/Superhero Person/Group/Blog (honestly, I tried so many combinations there, but they’re all already taken by real people)! Instead of selling us on how to get 10 zillion views using your One Simple Trick! on social media, help us learn how to find the right people and get the right people to ENGAGE with our social media.

Until you guys start doing that, I’m swearing you off. I’ll make my own damn social media best practices that work for my audience.


Do It Slow

Nina Simone is more than one of my favorite musicians; she was an absolute treasure, one of America’s finest exports. One of her most famous songs was famously performed at Carnegie Hall and it happened to be one of her more political songs: Mississippi Goddam.

Written in response to the Medgar Evers murder, Ms. Simone railed against the black establishment and their admonitions that equality takes time, to “do it slow.”

But that’s just the trouble
“do it slow”
“do it slow”
Mass participation
“do it slow”
“do it slow”
Do things gradually
“do it slow”
But bring more tragedy
“do it slow”
Why don’t you see it
Why don’t you feel it
I don’t know
I don’t know

Her frustrations are real, and I believe, completely justifiable. Medgar Evers was one of the rising stars of the equality movement, and a real American hero to boot. To accept his murder was to accept that black folks were little more than cannon fodder in the larger battle.

Now what the heck does this have to do with public health? Only everything. Because of a media article on one of the studies in the April edition of the International Journal of Obesity, the one on environmental affects on obesity. (I’m not writing the name of the study because it’s completely unreadable to real human beings.) The folks at The Salt, an NPR program on food and eating, covered that part of the study that focused on how food was stored in the house by talking to the lead author and soliciting comment from other public health researchers.

The upshot was that there is a real correlation between how food is stored in the home, and how fat the people who live there are. If you’re obese, it’s more likely that you’ve got food, like snacks, sitting out. It’s likely that that food is placed in the obese person’s favorite spot, like by the couch, or in the bedroom. The authors theorize that unhealthy snacks placed by a mindless place (like in front of a TV), makes them more likely to be consumed mindlessly, leading to or contributing to the person’s obesity. Skinnier folks tend to have food stowed away, and have less of it on hand.

Seems pretty simple, no? And not really a bad piece of advice, to boot:

If you’re looking to lose weight, don’t leave unhealthy food sitting out, where it’s easier to snack on.

But! Very August Public Health Thinkers tell us, “do it slow!”

James Hill, a physiological psychologist at the University of Colorado, says, “All [Emery’s study] does is point out a few things that seem to be different among people who are overweight and people who aren’t.” The NPR article attributes the idea that leaving a bag of chips by your favorite armchair doesn’t necessarily mean that habit will lead to obesity, just as being obese might not lead you to have chips by your side, to Dr. Hill.

Hill says that we shouldn’t be doling out advice based on these correlations, saying it “would be a mistake.”

Because heaven knows we wouldn’t want people to put the damn chips away!

Dr. Hill (whom I hold no enmity against; I’m sure he’s done tons of good work), and his Very August Public Health Thinker pals, ascribe to the idea that we shouldn’t be advocating for people to make changes to their lives until we know for sure that making a very specific change will provoke some specific, measurable change. Evidence-based, we call it.

Go slow! Until we have evidence!

Did Ms. Simone, when railing against the leaders in the fight for equality, counsel for us to wait until we have evidence that things would work out? Or did she simply point at the dead bodies and yell, “Shame! Despicable!”

Well I can do that, too. I can point at JAMA, AJPH, RWJF and the Trust for America’s Health, the US Surgeon General. I can point at the bodies. The millions of dead Americans and yell, “Shame! Despicable!” How dare we wait to tell people to put the chips away; wait while we search for funding for a study to prove that a bag of chips on your nightstand isn’t a particularly good idea.

This isn’t to say there isn’t a place for evidence-based recommendations. The cottage industry of academic research (and it is an industry) is safe. But this? Why isn’t this a full-throated recommendation? Why do we equivocate and delay and hem and haw and call for more study? Why do we wait while the cannon fodder of this war on obesity continue to be mowed down?

There is a place for common sense in public health. There is a place for good enough. There is a place to err on the side of the public. There is a place for public health on the mountaintop, shouting. To be unequivocal. To be an advocate. To be political. To be argumentative.

To not go slow. To stop the flow of bodies.