What you don’t know (but should) about public opinion polls

We really need to stop promoting and emphasizing these polls. They can do more harm than good but creating assumptions that shouldn’t be created on such small amounts of information.

A fake pie chart form a poll

“Poll” by Sean MacEntee, via Flickr Creative Commons is licensed under CC BY 2.0Y 2.0

You see them in the news quite often, opinion polls on politics, the environment, etc. And people place great emphasis on these results. The problem is, we shouldn’t.

Sample size issues

What you don’t know is, the majority of these polls sample a very small amount of people.  For example, according to the U.S. Census Bureau 2012 population statistics, there are over 42 million people in the United States between the ages of 20 and 29.  And yet, if you look at polls published regularly by the news media, their sample size is typically less than 300 people within a similar age range.

  • On December 15, 2013, USA Today (in cooperation with Pew Research) published the results of a poll: Obama struggles with Millenials. The poll only surveyed 229 millenials.
  • The article above cited a December 2013 Wall Street Journal/NBC poll as supporting evidence. That poll surveyed only 100 millenials.

So, less than 300 people are supposed to accurately represent the opinion of 42 million individuals.

The examples above do openly say their sample size and their margins of error, but my point is, we shouldn’t be placing such huge emphasis on polls with such a small sample size.

Collection methods

The other thing that always makes me very nervous about opinion polls is their collection methods. No collection method is perfect, all of them have flaws:

  • Phone polls: Typically people polling only call home phones. There is a huge population of cell-phone only homes that are left out.
  • Story-linked web polls: If someone clicks on a story and then takes a poll related to the story, they would be considered to have “high interest” in the story, which means the poll leaves out others who are “low interest.”
  • Web polls: You have to be on the web to take them. I know that’s considered very common, but there are still populations within the U.S. who are not regularly online.
  • Interception polls (such as stopping people at a mall): These polls typically end up targeting a segment of the population that has an interest in similar activities (otherwise they wouldn’t be in the same place). Some examples of this gone wrong are asking people only at a rock concert how they feel about rock music or asking consumers when they are shopping how the consumer confidence is.

Interest level

A third key factor about polls is that someone is not typically going to take the time to take them if they aren’t interested in the topic. This immediately skews your results to those in the “high interest” or “strong opinion” categories.

Think about your own habits. What if you were in the middle of something and you got a call asking you to take a poll on a subject you could care less about. Would you take it? Probably not. But if it’s something you are very passionate about, you probably will.

In sum, we really need to stop promoting and emphasizing these polls. They can do more harm than good but creating assumptions that shouldn’t be created on such small amounts of information.

For more on this, visit:

The Polarization of America, a Communication Perspective, Part 2: We No Longer Believe Evidence and Facts

 

 

Don’t allow photography in your store? It might be costing you sales

“I’m sorry ma’am, we don’t allow photos,” called a clerk to me while I was visiting a local artist shop in Chicago. I smiled and put my camera phone away. This isn’t the first time that I’ve been stopped from taking photographs in stores and it won’t be the last. It happens most often to me with shops with unique, local artisan items, and I can understand why. They don’t want people taking photos so they can copy their ideas. But what they don’t realize is, they might be saving themselves from copycats, but they are also losing sales.

What the clerk above didn’t realize in the above example is that I was trying to make a sale for him; I was taking a photo because the sculpture would have fit perfectly in my friend’s home and I was sending him a photograph to see if he would like me to pick it up for him. In fact, most of the time I take a photograph in a store, it’s to ask someone else if they’d like me to purchase the item for them.

Two reasons people take photos in stores:

Taking photos allows them to buy things for others

It used to be that people would call friends or family when they saw something that the other might like and then the friend or family member would make the trip to see it. The younger generations found a way to skip the trip (unless it’s necessary), by taking photographs and offering to purchase and transport items for them.

Taking photos helps them to share your products

The other way the younger generations are using photographs is to show their friends and family cool new projects and/or let their friends know about cool promotions. Check out this Facebook post by one of my friends below. Do you think Starbucks is upset that she took and posted this photo?

Starbucks sandwich sign free drink

So, if you have a “no photos” policy, I’m not saying you have to get rid of it. But weigh that decision carefully. Is it worth missed sales to protect your items? What is the likelihood of copycats?

Think about how viral content is shared to ensure your message stays intact


Kellogg Community College math professor, Marcus Anderson, created the YouTube video “Bad Email Reply – What not to say to your professor…” above and it recently went viral. I personally saw it on my Facebook newsfeed and on my Feedly.

The problem is, only PART of his message went viral. The video was shared, but not his comments below it explaining that the email was a fake example and that he hadn’t violated student privacy by sharing it. This lead to a lot of people becoming very upset at him.  On his YouTube page for the video, he explains:

“Most importantly, that email was not a word-for-word copy of a student’s email. This is a mash up of many poor emails, some common email mistakes and some of my own embellishment compiled into one email. Let me repeat: I would never post an email of a student to the Internet nor would I suggest anyone else ever doing that. Therefore, cartmanrulez99 is not real person.”

Again, because this information was in the comments section and not in the actual video, when the video is embedded (like it is above) and shared, the complete message is lost. For example, here is the description from Laughing Squid for the video:

Marcus Anderson, a math professor at Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, Michigan, recently created a video where he critiques an email sent to him from one of his students. The student, whose email address starts off with “cartmanrulez99″, writes to the professor as if he is a best friend for life, drops a winky face, uses shortcuts when spelling out words (u, lol, and thx), requests handouts for each of the four classes missed, and then goes ahead and asks for the actual class book.”

What can we learn from this

The big takeaway for all of us is to really think about how our messages could be shared and take any steps necessary to make sure that the message we want to communicate stays intact. In this case, the message that it wasn’t a real student should have been included in the video.

This also serves as a great reminder to check the source of the information you receive. Until I clicked-through to the YouTube and read his comments, I also was under the impression that it was a real student email.

Questions to ask before posting to social media

 

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with social media, but after taking a 40-day Lent hiatus from Facebook, I came back with a new perspective. During that time, I had time to reflect on how I was using the tool and what I wanted to do differently. From that came the 5 question test.

A .jpg of 5 rules for "before I post to social media

 

1. Who will benefit from this post?

If you can’t think of a single person on your friends list that will legitimately gain a benefit from your post, don’t post it.

Benefits could include:

  • Making someone laugh.
  • Inspiring someone.
  • Encouraging thought and positive and meaningful dialogue.
  • Giving a far-away family member or friend joy by giving them a glimpse of what is going on in your life.
  • Giving someone support.

 

2. Is this post attention-seeking on my part?

This is a big one and is heavily related to the other question, “Who will benefit from this post?”.  If you can’t think of a single person your post will benefit, other than you, it’s probably an attention-seeking post.

 

Attention-seeking posts can take several forms:

  • Seeking-out praise/encouragement.  Example: “Here’s my project, isn’t it awesome?”
  • Self-pitying. Examples: “Feeling sad today :-(“ or “I can’t believe I’m sick again” or “Why does this always happen to me?”
  • Photos. Photos deserve their own attention under this category. Posting a nice photo of you as your profile pic is great, changing it often to seek praise on new photos is not. Similarly, selfies, photos with friends, etc. that serve no purpose other than to seek comments, favorites, or likes are attention-seeking.

 

3, Will anyone be harmed by this post?

Our posts can cause harm, whether we mean them to or not. For this one, you have to think beyond your immediate friends and think of friends of friends, who might see your post when it is liked, shared, or commented on.  You also have to think about self-harm.

 

Ways your posts could harm include:

  • Posting pictures and making someone feel bad that they weren’t included in something.
  • Posting negative or hatred posts, such as unfounded criticisms of political figures. This one not only spreads negativity (which harms others) but also harms you by harming your relationships with your friends.
  • Posting disturbing images or text.
  • Posting information that someone else might not want shared, such as announcing a friend’s pregnancy before they get a chance to or travel plans (more on this below).

 

4, Did I ask everyone’s permission to tag them?

Some may argue with me on this one, but I think it’s important. Some people don’t like to be tagged. A good rule of thumb is to ask the person, “ May I tag/mention you?” prior to tagging them.

 

Examples of how this could go awry:

  • Law enforcement experts, time and time again, have said not to post to social media if you are away on a trip. When I’m traveling, I will never post anything prior or during the trip that indicates that I’m away from home. I realize others may not feel as strongly about this as I do, but some do, so you should always ask.
  • Although they shouldn’t do this, a friend may have turned-down other plans with a white lie or called-in sick to work to spend time with you. It could be disastrous if you tag them in a photo or with details of something you are doing with them.

 

5, Am I avoiding a conversation that needs to happen?

Often, I see or hear about people posting things to social media that can be categorized as passive-aggressive and an avoidance of a conversation that needs to happen.  If you find yourself tempted to do this, stop, and have the conversation instead.

 

Examples:

  • Having just went through a bad break-up, you have the urge to post updates about how happy you are or post a higher-than-usual amount of photos with people of the opposite sex in order to make your ex jealous.
  • “Oh! Those flowers you got are so pretty! I wish someone would give me flowers.”
  • “I wish certain people would learn how to not talk crap behind other people’s backs!!!”

 

What would you personally add to this list? Is there anything you would take out? 

Social media isn’t free advertising

I regularly run into small business owners that want to do social media because it’s free advertising. In some ways, the statement that social media is free advertising is free is true, but, in reality, it isn’t.

 

Effectively using social media for your business requires strategy

Effectively using social media for your business requires careful planning and strategy. Often, people create a Facebook page or a Twitter account for their business without putting much thought into it. Although you may gain some “likes” or “followers” that way, it’s not the most effective way to build your brand and sell your product or service on there. In order for your social media strategy to turn into a brand-building/selling advertising tool for you, you’ve got to create an effective strategy behind it

 

There are a  lot of great books and online articles on how to do this, the top one I recommend is The New Rules of Marketing & PR

 

Time=Money

I’ve yet to see an effective social media strategy that doesn’t require careful planning and writing/designing posts and monitoring and responding/interacting in a timely manner. It is a conversation, after all, and how would you feel if you walked up to a customer service counter and had to wait there a week for a response?

 

Effectively planning, designing, writing, monitoring and interacting on social media takes more time than most people think and that’s where you find the “cost” of social media. Places like Facebook and Twitter may be free marketing and advertising tools, but time=money and, to utilize these tools right, you’re going to spend a lot of time working on them.

 

My advice

My advice to be effective but not have social media eat up all your time is to start with one platform, research and develop an effective strategy, and implement it.  After that is running well and you have a good feel for the amount of time it takes to maintain and continually improve it, move on to one or two more platforms.

Marketing music via the Internet, an ongoing evolution

My friend and I spent our Friday evening this past week at a Straight No Chaser concert in Houston, TX.  Their performance opened with a video of how to enjoy the concert. During that video, they made a point, at least twice, to encourage people to take photos and videos of the performance and post them online (tagging, hashtagging, etc. them of course).  Then, during the performance, they took photos of the crowd and asked us to go on their Facebook page and tag ourselves They explained that they had a limited marketing budget and social media was an effective way to get their message out.

Considering that the popularity of Straight No Chaser began when one of their members posted a video of them on YouTube and it went viral (see video above), it’s not shocking that this group has embraced social media and the online world as they have, but it is quite unusual.  Over the years, I’ve watched with great interest as the music world struggles to find the perfect balance with the online world. As it stands now, most musicians seem to tolerate online videos and photos of their concerts and some will even ask you to tweet your experience using a hashtag. But Straight No Chaser has taken it a step further by asking fans to actively post videos of their performances online.

Do I think it’s a good idea? Yes. People go to the concerts for the experience and to hear the music live. No video is going to overcome that thirst for the experience.  But is it good for all musicians? I’d say yes, but would love to hear your thoughts.

On another note, I chose NOT to take photos and videos during the concert because I wanted to just sit back and enjoy the experience. For more on my thoughts about this, read: Put down the camera and enjoy the moment.

Put down the camera and enjoy the moment

A male pointing his camera at an object that we can't see
From flickr ginnerobot

Not too long ago, I read an article by Clifford Pugh on Culture Map titled, How Instagram is ruining New York fashion week: Shows are meant to be savored, not shot and it got me thinking. I like fashion, but what intrigued me more was what he had to say about how our incessant need to photograph every little thing and how doing so was robbing us of those moments that we should be enjoying.

This may not be true for everyone, but it is for me: The more photography, videography and visual imagery becomes part of my job, the more obsessed I’ve become with obtaining the “perfect shot.” I will wander around looking for the perfect lighting, the perfect person to represent what I need, etc. and then take hundreds of photos in a single hour. Obviously, if it’s for my work, that’s what I do, but this obsession has crept into my personal life as well.

So, last week, while I was on vacation, I tried to put down the camera. Sometimes I succeeded, sometimes I didn’t. And, admittedly, my obsession and her talent led one of my friends to take one of the best portrait shots I’ve seen in a very long time. But, there were a few times during the week that I was able to stop myself, put down the camera, and just soak the image in.

Reading Clifford’s article reminded me that sometimes the true beauty of something cannot be captured in a photograph, it can only be captured in a memory.