[00:00:00] Matt Bailey: Hey, thank you for joining me. In this series, I’m explaining the seven digital media skills that will never go out of style. I’m doing this series as there are so many job postings that focus on the applicant knowing tactics. However, when looking at the purpose of the tactics, the skills are what enable people to adopt, refine, and adapt those tactics according to the need. Knowing how to do this requires skills that are beyond the tactical application and are based in strategic maturity. The first digital marketing skill that’ll never go out of style is digital and media literacy, or as I like to call it, media maturity.
[00:00:50] Bumper Intro-Outro: Welcome to Endless Coffee Cup, a regular discussion of marketing news, culture, and media for our complex digital lifestyle. Join Matt Bailey as he engages in conversation to find insights beyond the latest headlines and deeper understanding for those involved in marketing. Grab a cup of coffee, have a seat, and thanks for joining.
[00:01:19] Matt Bailey: At the core of media maturity is critical thinking. The ability to quickly judge and synthesize information that is presented in the media without being swayed by sensationalism. This skill equips a person to objectively critique the information presented by evaluating the author, the publication, the content, the style, and presentation. With this skill, readers are not easily swayed by emotional or sensational appeals. They can read through the hype, but also view it critically and assess the claims that are made rather than accepting them on face value.
For example, I saw a recent article that made the rounds in a few newsletters. The headline made a jaw-dropping claim that 82% of shoppers use social media to make a purchase. The headline was also accompanied by two graphs that, on further examination, did nothing to support the claim. But you see, most people won’t take that step. The headline gets parroted, and it becomes a sound bite within an organization that chases the trends and gets repeated in other articles and blog posts.
Now conversely, media literacy, media maturity examines the claims made in the headlines. In this case, it was simply following our rabbit hole of citations and it was easy to find that the research quoted was conducted by a social influencer management company. Now immediately a critical reader will spot a potential bias in the source. And as always, we consider the source. But as typical in our content hungry yet content saturated age, the headline is simply being repeated by multiple news and information sites without comment or critique.
Now digging into the article, the headline wasn’t so much contradicted but diminished by the first paragraph and the accompanying data chart. You see, the question asked in the survey was, “Have you ever discovered a product on social media and purchased it directly on your phone?” To which 82% of respondents said yes. So, the question was, “Have you ever?” A simple past tense. But the headline was presented in present progressive tense, that people are actively participating, not, “Have you ever?”
While reading the article, it was apparent that the writer was not critically evaluating the study but cheerleading the results when they use words like “whopping” to describe 29% of the respondents and then applying it to the general population of the United States. Whenever an author use sensationalized adjectives, those typically aren’t of critical evaluations of the information. In addition, there were numerous non sequiturs used to apply the survey data into new conclusions, such as the headline itself.
Critical thinking is based in logic and many articles or writers will use logical fallacies, sometimes knowing, sometimes unknowingly, to make their case. A non sequitur is when two unrelated statements are made, but then associated to support a conclusion, meaning that the conclusion does not logically follow from the statements. Here’s an example. Statement one, my dog is a Greyhound. Statement two, my dog is fast. Conclusion? Therefore, all dogs are fast. That’s a non sequitur. It’s an illogical conclusion. The logical term for this is a syllogistic fallacy. That’s just fun to say.
Another crutch used in sensationalized media content is overusing percentages. Percentages are abstract without a concrete anchor. And you’ll typically see this in articles about ROI and sales. When there’s no real numbers or financial data provided and only percentages are used, that’s a big red flag that the real financial numbers probably aren’t impressive.
The next critical evaluation of this article focused on the survey data itself. The article nor the actual study released by the company included any survey statistics. What we were able to find is that there were 1,000 respondents to the survey, but no data was provided about the survey respondents. No socioeconomic status, age ranges, age breakdown, location, employment, gender, race, any of that. The only thing that we could gather from the data shown is that there was an age range of the respondents between 18 and 54.
And this is where media maturity is essential. Why cut off at 54? That should jump out to you because more than one third of the U.S. population is over the age of 50. And so, this survey only includes a, a small portion of that. And yet, one third of the population is excluded on a survey on social commerce. This is the fallacy of composition and division. It assumes that one part applies to the whole and by citing statistics of younger generations, it attempts to apply the conclusions now in a blanket generalization, which is a problem.
You see, by completely ignoring the shopping habits of older adults, and by the way, spending power, did you know that in the U.S. people over the age of 42 own 90% of the spending power? You see, you can’t ignore shopping habits. And these studies and articles don’t communicate the entire picture of the eCommerce landscape. This is the fallacy of exclusion and suppressed evidence.
The article goes on to make an incredibly bold claim. In fact, many of them about social commerce. Now, I want to get it out of the way right now. I am not against social commerce, alright? I am not beating up social commerce. I think it’s a great way for brands to reach consumers. I have bought things from social media.
What I want to beat up and what I am against is the unexamined claims made by companies that have an interest in taking your marketing budget through their honeyed words and sweet-sounding data. Social commerce has been promised as the next big thing for more than a decade now. I mean, just in preparing this talk, I found numerous articles all the way back to 2012 proclaiming that marketers need to be ready for the social commerce trend. So, why hasn’t this next big thing materialized yet in the way that it has been prophesied?
[00:10:00] Well, let’s look into it. The article concludes with the statement that Accenture predicts that social commerce could triple by 2025. Wow. That’s a bold claim. Well, following the link to that Accenture article, and then we see another headline that reads, “Social Commerce to Triple to 1.2 Trillion by 2025.” So, what this tells us in three short years, social commerce will triple. Now, how will that happen? The only way that that can happen is if we include the entire planet.
Now, let’s take a step back before we get into this. And while 1.2 trillion may sound like a big number, remember they’re saying it could triple to 1.2 trillion by 2025. In context, that is global social commerce, not just the U.S. In context, Shopify expects the e-commerce market to be around 5.55 trillion just this year, 2022. eMarketer reports that worldwide retail sales are over 23 trillion.
So, let’s look at that in context. We’re not at the, we’re not at 1.2 trillion by 2025 yet. We’re at a third of that with social commerce. But even by saying it could triple to 1.2 trillion when we look globally at what’s happening, it’s still a small part of the pie. Now, granted, that’s a lot of money in that pie, okay? But here’s how we get there. We get there by including China. And you see, this is where you can’t have all of these predictions about social commerce without including China in order to get to these massive numbers.
You see, China by itself is responsible for more than 56% of global eCommerce. eMarketer estimates that China will be the first country in history to transact more than half of its retail sales digitally. And I’ll include some of these links in the show notes. You, you just can’t have a social commerce conversation and include these big numbers without including China. They are the leaders in social commerce. However, the Chinese social media ecosystem is so dramatically different than that in the U.S.
In China, there’s a single app called WeChat, and this accounts for more than 30% of China’s GDP. It’s the primary app for payments, delivery, food, travel, shopping, library books, bicycles, taxis. When I was in China, WeChat was the only app I needed to do everything. To look at menus, pay for my food, uh, order a cab. It was the app.
But even then, social commerce in China, which is a decade or more estimated ahead of the U.S, it is only 11% of the total retail eCommerce in the country. And so, even then, by taking China’s numbers, it’s taking two unlike things and trying to say they’re like. By including China, India, and Brazil in these calculations, this engages in the logical fallacies of incomplete comparison, comparing two things that are not related.
It also appeals to argumentum ad populum. I love that, saying that, as well. That’s appealing to the people, and it presumes that something must be true because it’s believed by many others to be true.
Well, this is a comprehensive example that I’ve provided. It points to the need for the average marketer, as well as managers and directors, to be able to critically evaluate claims made in industry media. You see, most articles are simply echoing the press release or the study, and a small few, if any, are examining the claims and testing the results. It’s the responsibility of the reader to insulate themselves from the hype and drill down into the content and find the real story.
It reminds me of one of the past podcasts where we examined many of the SEO tool providers who made claims of reverse engineering Google’s algorithms. Of course, they had a product to sell that enabled people to use this to manage their SEO. However, on closer examination, none of the studies put forward were of any statistical significance and most suffered from confirmation bias, cherry picked sampling data, and even outright misleading conclusions.
You see, my background is in journalism, and I have found marketing media to be a very unique creature. As the emphasis on creating content has increased over the years, there’s also been less critical evaluation of that content. It’s much like the 5 -Minute Crafts that really show stupid methods of doing simple things. Marketing media has become swamped with cheerleading content that simply recites the findings of a study commissioned by the same company that will benefit from those findings.
Modern marketers will distinguish themselves by their ability to think critically and spot logical fallacies in marketing media. By doing this, they will continue to be evidence-based and data-informed in their strategy and they will avoid the pitfalls of chasing trends based on the constant barrage of breathlessly sensationalized headlines.
And this includes a wider knowledge of the market beyond tactical applications, such as a knowledge of global trends, populations, spending power, and growth claims. This is why I have put digital and media literacy at the top of my seven digital marketing skills that are never go out of style. If you want a mature marketing department or organization, then this is the core skill of those marketers that will get you there.
Well, dear listener, I hope you enjoyed that and be sure to download the next episode where I’ll cover the second of my seven skills that won’t go out of style, writing. In the meantime, let me know what you think of my list. I’d love to hear your feedback through LinkedIn, through comments on the page, or on Slack. Thanks again, and I look forward to seeing you next time on the Endless Coffee Cup.