The exception doesn’t prove the rule. An exception proves that the rule is an imperfect analogy that you can’t count on. It’s not quite as catchy, but it is pretty much the entire foundation of modern science. Finding exceptions to rules is the only way we have to confidently separate the good ideas from the bad ones.
Here are ten factors that are easy enough to measure, but terribly dangerous to rely upon to tell you any more than exactly what they tell you.
1) Number of twitter followers
The number of followers you have on Twitter is a good indication of the amount of time you’ve spent on Twitter, but it’s not a good measure of your ability to influence people. If it was, Gustavo Dudamel (24,472 followers) would sell a lot more records than Anna Netrebko (1,932 followers).
2) Number of blog subscribers
Blogs acquire subscribers over time in much the same way as stones of the not-rolling variety gather moss. Those people aren’t necessarily reading your blog.
According to Google Reader, Alex Ross has 10x as many subscribers as I do. If subscriber count was proportional to readership, I’d see a huge spike in traffic every time he links to me. In fact, the links generate about as much traffic for me as I do for him, when I return the favour.
3) Number of retweets
My April 1 post was entitled “Social Media Marketing,” and lots of wannabe social media experts shared it on their Twitter feeds. For a while, the Twitter shares outnumbered the total page views, which means that not only were all these people’s followers not reading it, but they were sharing it without having read it themselves. Some of them will probably do the same with this post. Morons.
4) Wikio ranking
Your Wikio ranking is based on little more concrete than the number of times your stuff was shared on Twitter which, we’ve just established, isn’t a good measure of anything in particular.
1997 called, and they’d like their buzzword back. “Hits” means whatever you want it to. Be more specific. Items requested from the web server? Page views? Unique Users? Mention “hits” to me in a meeting, and I’ll be double-checking all your other “facts” on the assumption that you either don’t know what you’re talking about, or, worse, that you’re hoping I don’t.
6) Views on YouTube
Susan Boyle scored 100,000,000 YouTube views and sold 700,000 albums. This gives us Boyle’s Constant – 14,285 – the number of times your stuff has to be seen on YouTube before somebody will buy it.
It’s a neat theory, but a lot of people don’t even do that well. If they did, the smart money would be on a platinum first week for Rebecca Black. You don’t know who that is? Count yourself lucky. Whatever you do, don’t click here.
7) Conversion rate
Define it clearly and then compare it to something concrete, not an arbitrary baseline. A conversion ratio depends upon so many factors that about the only useful thing you can do with it is look at how it changes over time.
I don’t care how many people you sent to my shop. I care how many people bought something. All the others were just slowly driving up my bandwidth bill.
You’re going to have to clarify what you mean here, because counting the number of times a picture was downloaded from a webserver will not tell you how many people saw it.
10) Anything with “Top” in it
Why do the charts on iTunes say “Top Songs” and “Top Albums”? Simple. It’s because “Albums ranked according to a secret formula based on today’s sales and an exponentially decaying portion of historical sales” is not very catchy. It is, though, more informative. Pretty much anywhere that “Top” is used to indicate the best of something, it’s a sneaky bit of reductionism, waiting to pollute your decision-making process.
“These stats might not be perfect,” says the consultant, “but they’re the best indicators we have, so we should keep using them.”
That’s almost always total crap.
If you’re trying to find your way from Portugal to Jamaica, a map of the Pacific isn’t going to help you. It’s how Columbus found the West Indies, but he spent the rest of his life believing he’d made it to Asia, so this analogy isn’t on your side.
We’re terrified of admitting that we have no idea what we’re doing, but it’s quite liberating. Be suspicious of anybody that tells you otherwise. There’s a good chance they’re wrong, and they don’t even know it.