When mathematicians aren’t so anti-social…

Social network friend clusters

Social network friendship clusters

As someone who loves social media and has a sometimes not so secret love for maths (love is a strong word, maybe a heavy appreciation and respect is slightly more accurate), the data analysis side of our online behaviour is something that I find pretty exciting.

Anyone who’s ever studied maths will know Stephen Wolfram – he’s your go-to guy for any maths related crisis (oh yes, they exist). Over the past year, he has been running Personal Analytics for Facebook – a research project designed to give users the facts and stats on their personal accounts with some funky graphs and charts. Pretty cool. But the point to the project was to obtain (completely transparently) a mass of data that would allow for in-depth analysis and provide a snapshot of Facebook usage across the world.

The full report is pretty lengthy, but there is so much that we can use to 1) build a case for Facebook (and social media as a whole discipline) and 2) extrapolate the data to develop intelligent forecasts and ROI measures for our campaigns.

And across the ocean, another Facebook study has been conducted – one that alleges to map obesity rates to Facebook activity. Published in PloS One, this Harvard Medical School study concludes that our interests listed on our profiles determine our likelihood of being obese. The idea is that there is a relationship between the lifestyle habits we endorse online and our real-world health.

The research team explored the content users across the US were listing as their interests, what they posted to their timelines and the content they liked and shared. All of which apparently leads to a conclusions about the likelihood of obesity. As pretty well put by the study authors, the potential of this type of data understanding “could be harnessed for intelligently targeted health interventions, such as through online and mobile messaging”. A very, very interesting concept for someone in my line of work.

Looking at these pieces of data analysis lead me to what I deem to be a pretty important conclusion. Never underestimate the power of data.

We are often blindsided by the all singing all dancing social media campaigns we see and get ahead of ourselves when coming up with our approach. But the most intelligent and successful social media initiatives are those that are founded in data, research and well-considered strategy.

With the rights tools and know-how, we can understand our audiences in such great depth as to pre-empt what they will be looking for, where they will be looking for it, and how.

As Wolfram puts himself, “it feels like we’re starting to be able to train a serious “computational telescope” on the “social universe”. And it’s letting us discover all sorts of phenomena, that have the potential to help us understand much more about society and about ourselves.”

So to do social right, embrace your inner nerd and learn to love the numbers before jumping in. And if that’s just not possible, come to me and my team, we love data!

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