Saturday, July 18, 2009

Bad Reporting on Silicon Republic

I have about two dozen Google Alerts that I run, and get results from everyday. Mostly client brand terms and company names, but I also run some generic alerts on industry terms. I was interested to see Zesty's recent Social Media survey referenced in the teaser for a Silicon Republic article. Nice I thought, good coverage for Niall and Lauren, I better take a look at this.

So I click through to have a read.

I was less then over enthusiastic about the article's title 'Workers waste two hours a day on social networks', and could immediately see that the author, John Kennedy, was already on track to produce a sensationalist piece of nonsense.

The article references 300 people as having participated in the survey and goes on to throw around statistics from this that it attributes to "the Irish public". The number of people who participated in the survey was 182 (though not all participants responded to all questions). As someone who has studied statistics for over 5 years through various parts of my education, I will tell you straight off that this is not a statistical sound representation of the 'Irish Public'. Neither is it a sound cross-section of the 'Irish Public'. How was the survey promoted? Who are the target audience / regular visitors to Zesty's site? Both extremely important questions that are not even considered in the article. This is a PR site that was promoted through Social Media channels. Reason stands that the participants will be Social Media users.

For those who care; to give statistically sound inferences on the entire 'Irish Public', with a confidence level of 99%, with a confidence interval of 1, it would be necessary to survey 16,575 people (based on a July 2008 Irish population figure of 4,156,119).

I would also like to point out that the survey does not delve into the reasons why people who participated in the survey were using Social Media. I took the survey and can tell you now that I definitely skewed the results. I work in Digital Marketing, I currently have several live campaigns all active in Social Media channels. I therefore spend a huge amount of time every day on Social Media channels. However, in this case, my employer should be worried if I'm not on them, not if I am.

I would like to make this very clear - I don't have a problem with the survey at all and I think it's great that Zesty took the time to do it, and freely shared the results. Fair play! Zesty themselves describe the survey as an "overview of how Irish people use social media" and nothing more. They indicate that the major stand out for them was "just how much time people were spending online", but again this is no huge revelation and is merely a reinforcement of the widely recognised fact that media consumption habits are changing (have changed) and digital is the fastest growing media.

My problem is with the completely sensational article that John Kennedy has written, and the "conclusions" that he has drawn. Very, very disappointing that Silicon Republic would happily publish this.


Lauren Fisher said...


Thanks for your post on this, you cover important points that we'll definitely take on board. We plan to carry out the survey on an ongoing basis so we can accurately monitor changing trends in the use of social media in Ireland. Any feedback is much appreciated and we hope to make the survey bigger and better each time!
We were careful to promote the survey offline as well as online, to give fairer results. We realise that the survey could have been bigger and hope to achieve this next time...

Christian Hughes said...

Hey Lauren,

I think the survey is a great idea and I happily promoted the link on myself through various channels. I'd also willing help with future surveys.

I was just frustrated by Silicon Republic's use of your survey - especially with the sensationalist headline that was completely unjustified.

I was also surprised by Niall's quote within the article and would hope that was not his actual view of the Social Media sphere. All in all, I think the article was damaging to the power and potential that Social Media offers to both individuals and businesses.

To be honest it also bugged me that the author implied the survey stats onto the entire 'Irish Public'. Like I said - bad reporting on their part, on a good survey.

Nick McGivney said...

I'd have to call myself a positively disposed reader overall of SR, although not a fan exactly, but it does show that as print publication is in a state of flux, and new media outlets are starting to have prominence in this area, they could certainly take one or two standard journalistic principles and apply them rigorously. Print journos love to moan about bloggers being answerable to no one ethically, factually or often even legally. And you know what? They have a valid point. So if Silicon Republic is going to position itself as a voice of record (and I haven't questioned why it wouldn't, until your observant post) then it had better start applying sound principles. I think it's fair criticism, I'm glad you make it and I hope that the editor takes it on the chin and deals with it properly.

Err Indoors said...

Did anyone contact John directly to find out the reasoning behind the conclusions that were drawn?

Christian Hughes said...

Hey Nikki, I'll be honest - I've tried to contact SR before about small inaccuracies and no one's ever come back to me so I just didn't bother this time. I also wouldn't usually contact publications about their journalists or editing. I would take it that there is someone in-house to check that what is written is factually correct.