Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Twitter, Facebook and Those Ugly IBM Statistics

Last week, IBM looked at the effect of social networks at online retailers on Black Friday and found … nothing.

Or next to nothing: IBM said social sites generated a mere .34 percent of all online sales. Referral traffic to retailers from social sites was also just about zero: IBM said Facebook only accounted for .68 percent of visits to retail sites, while Twitter had a giant goose egg.

Can’t be, right? Those are huge platforms. Surely IBM got its numbers wrong, via some sort of technical or statistical oversight.

If so, you’d think that Facebook or Twitter might want to publicly dispute those stats, since they poke a hole in their “buy our ads, use our services, and sell more stuff” pitch.

But so far neither company has said anything in public about IBM’s Black Friday numbers. Just to be sure, I checked with PR reps for both companies this week: Nada.

Instead of debating the numbers themselves, people who are sympathetic to Twitter and Facebook are making a different point: IBM is measuring the wrong thing.

Here’s the latest version of that argument, via social media analytics start-up DataSift, which says that the IBM study is “wrong,” because Twitter and Facebook “rocked Black Friday.”

But DataSift’s post doesn’t actually argue with IBM’s numbers. It just presents other numbers that show lots of people talking about stores and shopping.

It really is hard to believe that all that chatter didn’t result in more people clicking through to the stores themselves. So, perhaps future studies will figure out a more refined way of tracking that traffic, and Facebook and Twitter will have more favorable statistics to work with. Meantime, the IBM numbers are an ugly bit of coal both companies would like to ignore.

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There was a worry before I started this that I was going to burn every bridge I had. But I realize now that there are some bridges that are worth burning.

— Valleywag editor Sam Biddle