Drilldown in Social Media Data

by Patricia McGinnis 0

Last summer, as Facebook passed the 500 million user mark, wesaw a reported decline in volume for Facebook use in June, in boththe 18-25 and 26-34 age groups. We speculated what that might mean,and had occasion to suggest to some clients that they should be abit cautious in handling Facebook volume data. Clearly, the grossgrowth trend wholly overtakes most other trends for specificsegments within the data, and yet, specific segments are what mostbusinesses seek to reach.

Businesses may forget that more than half of Facebook’s members areoutside the U.S., and many are mobile users, rather thanfull-screen PD-based users. Many also forget how unpredictable sucha data stream can be. Did those young users leave Facebook in June?Or did they have fewer opportunities to be active online when theyleft school for summer jobs? Is there seasonality in Facebookactivity data, in aggregate or by user segments? The truth is, wedon’t know yet, but we’re learning all the time.

A recent study by Entrustet, reported in Fast Company, sheds newlight on the complexity of Facebook data. Statistically speaking,Entrustet predicts that 1.78 million Facebook users may die in2011, of which about 480,000 would be from the U.S. (they combinedFacebook self-reported data with demographic data from the U.S.Center for Disease Control). Increasingly, businesses should focuson the difference between “user accounts” and “active” users, thosewhich Facebook reports have been online within the most recent30-day period.

Entrustet’s data also gives us another clue about those absentyounger users. It seems that approximately 150% of 20-24 year-oldsin the U.S. have Facebook accounts: in fact, several Facebookaccounts. While the problem is most extreme in that age group, itexists to some extent in other segments. Hmmm… do you remember evercreating a second account when you couldn’t remember ahastily-invented ID and password? I certainly have done it…..

Facebook (and other social networks such as LinkedIn) are plaguedby duplicate accounts as well as accounts which have been abandoneddue to death or illness or lack of continuing interest. Due togrowing privacy concerns, increasing numbers of Facebook users arenot providing, or are obscuring, birthday and age data, which makesage group segmentation increasingly suspect. Distortions in socialnetwork user data are inevitable. Users should get segmentationsthat make sense to them; get time series for trend analysis;compare numbers to real-world benchmarks such as population data,and more generally, handle such data with great care.

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