First of all, I recommend everyone to read “Wrong: Why Experts Keep Failing Us”, a brilliant book by David H. Freedman. It showcases that painstakingly big portion of scientific research is completely faulty. The book did not address the subject of marketing research, but as the situation was quite bad with scientific research, I would say that nearly all of the marketing research is somewhat inferior. That does not mean it is not useful, but you should always take it with grain of salt.
I was reminded of this when there were lots of shares in social media about research on how Facebook is not the most important social network for teens. The news coverage it got made me sad and angry because of three things. First of all, that study was conducted to 802 teens (there are 20+ million teens in US). Second, it was focus group, not assessing the real behavior online. Third, it was mainly a study about privacy, which might also skew the answers to certain direction (like the previous study about social media effect on teen purchasing patterns). If you look at cold facts, not feelings coming out from the focus groups, the truth is different:
Numbers trump feelings
The so-called popular network Twitter has 24% penetration in teen audience, while Facebook has 94%. That gives a clear signal about reality: Facebook is “only” over 3.5 times bigger than the “most-liked” social network. You rather have actual reach than likes. When you are crafting your next campaign for teens, I would still concentrate on Facebook to get that actual reach. Instagram (owned by Facebook, which is good to remember) or Twitter might be good for more engagement, but by the time of writing, something new is probably surpassing them as the social network of choice for teens.
Do not replace your common sense with research
Main takeaway from the research was that teens do not find Facebook cool anymore. That is hardly surprising and you do not really need research to get that insight. Why would teens even find it cool? Their parents are using Facebook, for god´s sake. There will be always a demand for that “new thing” amongst teens (whether SnapChat or twerking). That “new thing” enables teens to differentiate from adults and hopefully shock parents as well. When Twitter becomes popular enough, teens will “abandon” it as well. That “abandonment” does not mean that Twitter would be irrelevant. On the contrary, that might mean it is just big enough to make business sense for the target audience.
This rant is not really about the teens fleeing away from Facebook (which they actually do, to some extent). It is about that I am totally sick and tired of sloppily executed research and lazy misinterpretation of that research. You run into these bullshit stats taken out of their context everyday, whether you are reading blogs, industry press or just browsing the latest deck from the research agency. When these stats get passed on in social media without any deeper thought, I sincerely hope that people are just too lazy to check details of the research. Other alternative is that marketing people are just too stupid. Hopefully not.
Especially we, as planners, should take a stand and always dig deeper to the research and be the devil´s advocate when it comes to research. Find the occasional nuggets and gems between the lines and rip the other pieces of the research apart.