From Instinct to Intelligence: A Scientific Approach to Social Media


Whenever I read or hear executives commenting about social media, my first reaction is to revert to my college and graduate school studies in biochemistry: I look for the one thing every assertion requires and every hypothesis, no matter how elegantly stated or brilliantly illustrated, demands: Evidence.

I seek to uncover the facts because, in a time when social media is a catchall for almost anything and everything, it is critical to dissect this term—it is essential to better define this category—so we can measure the efficacy of one tactic versus another, and calculate the impact of one platform versus another; because, as more Fortune 500 companies solicit the advice of marketing and branding experts, the leaders of these corporations should not only know what to say, they must know when and where to say it.

Take, for instance, the practice of blogging.

According to a report from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, fewer Fortune 500 companies have blogs (as of 2015) than in years prior; and the ones that enjoy the most success with this medium are those that routinely provide news about products and services; they engage their respective audiences with the sort of sustained dialogue that is indispensable to running a blog that has influence and credibility.

The same principle, reduced to 140-character-count missives, applies to Twitter.

The UMass study finds that 387 corporations, or 78% of the members of the Fortune 500, have official Twitter accounts that contain at least one tweet within the last 30 days. Thus, my scientific conclusion about the differences between Twitter and blogging: The former is an exercise in brevity—a single tweet is the equivalent of a short declarative sentence—while blogging involves almost constant content production of significant length and distinctive style.

In so many words, Twitter is an easier tool to master.

I see a similar degree of robust activity regarding Facebook (74% of Fortune 500 companies have a Facebook page) and YouTube (64% of the businesses within that corporate fraternity have a YouTube page). Though there is a slight decline in usage of both platforms because of changes within the makeup of the Fortune 500 and the debut of other social media tools, these resources still enable companies to easily post, upload and share content that is creative by design, interactive (in attracting "likes" and distribution throughout the Web) by intent, and unmistakable by sight and sound.

Less surprising, in my opinion, is the drop in use of Google+. Facebook is the dominant player in this arena because of numbers alone, making it more difficult for Google to convince individuals and companies that there is a need—that a great migration is already underway—toward this other social media outlet.

More importantly, the obvious remains the most predictable within the digital realm. That is, LinkedIn is the destination of choice for 93% of all Fortune 500 corporations.

A close second is Glassdoor, where 87% of these companies have active profiles.

The power of the UMass findings rests on the established legitimacy of the scientific method, which involves the unbiased collection of data, the independent and impartial review of accurate statistics, and confirmation of the nonpartisan methodology behind this endeavor.

This material warrants praise from—it has the attention of—several analysts because it is an educational document, not self-promotional blather.

My scientific recommendation to the leaders of these companies is, to modify a phrase from All the President's Men, an admonition delivered in the darkness of many a parking garage and said with the gravity befitting a clandestine encounter, quite simple: "Follow the numbers."

Do what works.