Generalizations are Broad Guidelines, not Gospel

Let’s get something straight: generalizations are not gospel. I’ve seen too many blog posts and articles lately which use broad generalizations to show how to be successful with social media, particularly Facebook.

For example, analyzing when your brand’s Facebook page community is most active (time of day, day of week) is incredibly valuable. This can help you time your own activities to catch the most people at the exact right time. But writing posts at noon because you read a blog post that says that’s when people are most active is lazy.

Studies like that look at Facebook brand pages across industries and categories. Their core consumers are likely vastly different, and each page likely has very different fan bases. Averaging these numbers doesn’t tell you anything for your own brand. It tells you the average time of day people across 30 different Facebook pages are most active.

Depending on the methodology of the study, these numbers can also be incredibly skewed by communities with large volumes. If you’re just starting out, do you really want to use what works best for Starbucks? Please, don’t say yes. They have a much larger (and likely more diverse) audience. Emulating their success won’t happen by copying their every move.

Many of these analyses can be fairly easily performed for individual brands, but instead many marketers seem to prefer using generalized studies. And it seems lazy. Take the time to research and develop customized results. You’ll be glad you did in the long run.

I have done quite a few of these Facebook analyses myself, and I can tell you that no two communities have ever been exactly the same. No two communities have even had similar results.  Just recently I found one client to have a very active community around lunch, while another was most popular around 4 p.m. If I’d used one of those studies, I’d likely be telling both clients the same answer, and I’d be wrong 50% of the time.

Read generalized studies as a guideline for your own research, not gospel. Read them to learn about methodology and technique. Find new metrics and measures to help build your own success. Don’t read them as a free pass or end-all solution.

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  • Bravo Rebecca…well said and a great post.  I feel exactly the same way as I perouse the postings, articles, webinars, etc. that offer broad brushed approaches to social media platforms and fail to take into account the nuances of the different markets that clients serve.

    One of the main markets I operate in has an incredibly finicky client base that is so all over the map with their social media habits and preferences that it is sometimes impossible to develop a meaningful or targeted strategy that makes sense and can be considered effective.  I sometimes sit in a Webinar or conference and think, “this is great info but holy crap, there is no way that it will apply to me because of the specialization required to serve my market.”

    Thanks for restoring sanity to my day today by reaffirming my belief that it’s possible to map out a best practice, but every one should include a clause that says “results may vary depending on the market you serve — make sure to do your homework and execute a strategy that takes into account a customized approach.”

    • I’m always so happy to see you here, John. 🙂

      Been on vacation, so pardon my delayed response! I think you and I are on the exact same wavelength about this. I love those webinars and articles and conferences because it gives me new ideas! I learn about new ways others are using social media data to find insights, and I try to apply it to my own clients. But, like you said, I would never take it as a cookie cutter solution and use someone else’s data/results as an effective strategy for my own client.

  • You make great points here Rebecca. I think many are still very anxious about their social media campaigns and management and too quickly try to go to easy solutions or generalized research, as you are pointing out. The nice thing is that we CAN follow our own numbers and absolutely should be. I would almost say that is half of social media manager’s role. There are great ideas out there with a lot of applicability to many different businesses, but in the end, you need to be paying attention to your own customers, and there are so many tools that make that actually fairly easy. 

    • I think you said it well with your last sentence. There are great ideas, but you have to keep your own customers in mind. Using broad brush strokes will not be the best for everyone (or really anyone).

      Thanks for reading! 🙂