Why You Shouldn’t Believe Everything You Are Told.

A friend of mine bought me a Kindle. On impulse. She said she was tired of feeling forced to buy wedding presents or presents for her friends’ children. She said that as I hadn’t got married, no-one had bought me a microwave etc (her own words) and that she really felt like she wanted to get me a good present, for friendship’s sake. Hoorah for “Happy UnBirthday”, as featured in Disney’s version of “Alice in Wonderland”.

Through the Kindle post I found out that Dan Zarella was giving his book away for free for a limited period. I like anything that challenges popular advice (especially when it’s free!), so I downloaded Zarella’s Hierarchy of Contagiousness: The Science, Design and Engineering of Contagious Ideas, it looked interesting and I thought it might help me with my “social media strategy”.

Finding readers for this blog reminds me of finding audience members to fill those seats…

I’m glad I did. It’s a short read and therefore the advice to those of us who use technology to promote our work and ourselves, is brief. But it takes some popular myths and spins them on their head (such as at which times of day you’re more likely to get click-through rates). The data to support his advice is not vast, but at least he has taken the time to carry out some small experiments. My favourite one is the “Retweet” experiment, where he gave a group of people an article to read which showed it had been tweeted 776 times. He gave another group the same article with a different button, showing the post hadn’t been tweeted at all. I always thought that when a post shows a high number of tweets, it is more likely to be tweeted.

In this case, I was wrong. 18 people tweeted the article when it appeared to be “tweet-less” and only 8 people tweeted it when it showed a greater number of tweets. What’s most surprising to me is that over 4,000 people had read the article in each case, so the tweet number seems low to me. Not sure what the article was about, but it would have been good to be able to read it (as an appendix perhaps) and also to know whether 18 is a high tweeting number or not. (Apologies if I have made up any words relating to Twitter, I’ve been influenced by Lewis Carroll…)

So, I suppose, that while I did find the data presented interesting, I would have liked more depth. But that’s ok. The main point of the book (in a similar vein to Bad Science, or Flat Earth News by other authors) is: don’t believe everything you are told by “the experts”.

I really liked how in the last section of the book, Zarella encourages the reader to experiment for themselves and monitor what works and what doesn’t, similar advice to that which Dr Karl might give on his programme – when possible, experiment and see for yourself what’s true and what isn’t.

Zarella’s last sentence is my favourite. It’s specific about social media, but has a much broader application.

“The next time you hear a social media myth, question it. Ask for the proof and ask out loud.”

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