A few days back, Jamie took a slice out of his left pinkie. Obviously, Qs, As and Zs will be problematic for a while, but otherwise he’s okay.

Now, being the one working most of the metrics here, I took it upon myself to graph this limb lossage on the whiteboard. In all of 2008 we had zero loss of limbs. But we’re barely in the third week of 2009 and our loss of limbs has climbed to 1%. If this rate of limb lossage continues, we might expect 26% by year’s end. By the close of 2010 we can fully expect the only thing left of the staff to be the tip of Jamie’s other pinkie. Possibly a knuckle. A disturbing trend, indeed.

Of course, the argument is fallacious.
One slip of the kitchen knife does not a trend make.

While monitoring social media for a brand, you need to recognize the difference between an anomaly and a trend.

While a company ought to be listening to the din of the crowd for mention of their name, they ought not act on every critique, condemnation or suggestion. It’s just not possible. Ask five bloggers for an opinion and you’re likely to get six replies, and guaranteed at least two or more of those opinions will be in direct conflict with one another. When the #motrinmom posts flared on twitter, was it the beginning of a trend that would eventually lead to lower sales, or just a very visible anomaly ? At what point did a lone blog post regarding a billboard ad snowball into national coverage of a company’s unwillingness to communicate?

Most anomalies are outlier positions and easy to identify as such. The one person who wants a puce colored jacket or that thinks mustard would be an exceptional flavor for a soda. They form a long tail that will always wonder why THEIR idea is never acted upon but will still begrudgingly wear the brown jacket and drink cola. Where social media muddies the waters is that parts of the tail are able to find one another and connect, giving the illusion of a burgeoning trend. When a facebook group emerges for folks wanting mustard flavored soda, and that group attracts a hundred members overnight, it can certainly give the appearance of a trend in the making.

Time is the ultimate judge of what is a blip and what is the norm. The speed of social media doesn’t allow too much time to let an event play through to the end. You can’t afford to sit back and see what’s next. So look to what’s happening now. Who is voicing this opinion and what’s the velocity of its spread? When an idea turns up twice in the morning, ten times last hour and two dozen times in the last five minutes, you know that something is underway. And should a top fashion blogger pick up on the puce color jacket notion, they may sway all the other outliers who’ve settled on brown to set their sites on puce.

You may not have the option to wait something through, but you can always look backwards. What’s come before? Are there the same hundred people always calling out for mustard flavored soda, or are there thousands and these are the hundred who are voicing their opinion today. When you average out the blips for mustard against peanut butter, gravy or any other crazy suggestion that’s come in for soda flavors, do the mustard posts stand above the average? Are they growing?

Make sure you are reading the intentions correctly. When you google ‘I want mustard soda’ and get a ba-jillion results returned, is this what people actually are asking for or was ‘mustard soda’ the name of a popular character in some Swedish comic book that’s been turned into a hit Japanese animation? Are people joining a facebook group calling for mustard flavor soda because they’d love to drink it or are they joining for the laughs they get when friends react to the odd group they joined?

And finally, always consider that the anomaly may be a trend … just not the trend you expected. There may never be enough voices calling for a mustard flavor drink or puce colored jacket to make a viable business opportunity, but they may be an indicator that people are trending away from a status quo and will leave en mass once the first viable alternative arrives.

1 Comment

  1. Bruce

    Is it just me, or are the only REALLY interesting corporate social media case studies failures?

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