Hyperinflation returns

Settling down in front of the fire this evening, I was intrigued to note a strange statistic in the good old Express & Star. In a column I’d previously not been troubled by the existence of, ‘A week in local politics’ written by staffer Dan Wainwright, there amongst the old rope pretending to be incisive reportage, was a PR puff for Walsall Council’s efforts on Twatter. I reproduce the item below, but the gist seems to be that Walsall is celebrating sending it’s millionth message via the social network. This came as something of a surprise to me, and I’m sure many other denizens of the Walsall Twatter community who are well aware of, and respectful toward, press officer Dan Slee’s commitment to involvement with the new social media. The shock arose due to the fact that as of tonight, Saturday the 19th of December 2009, Walsall Council’s twitter page says they’ve sent only 1,977 tweets. The confusion arises due to the method of enumeration involved – that of multiplying their follower number by that of their number of tweets. This does indeed result in an impressive figure, but I have to say, it’s complete bollocks and I’ve never seen such statistics used before.

I know the figure can’t have been generated by Dan Slee himself, as such aggrandisement would be completely out of character and he would be well aware of the piss taking, derision and general merriment such a statement would incur. Since a lack of numeracy – particularly with matters of a pecuniary nature – seems to be a hallmark of the council, one can only assume that the same person responsible for costing the new ring road scheme  filled in on PR duties while Dan had nipped out for a quick doughnut.

Interesting, too, to note that Mike ‘Blofeld’ Bird seems to be advocating a new policy of council staff listening to the great unwashed. In my humble experience, generally, they already do. The ones that don’t listen to the public seem to reside in the cabinet and follow Mike’s example. Just ask any resident of Willenhall…

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15 Comments

  • danslee

    Phew. Where to start with that one on a Saturday night….

    Basically, my release came from working out how many messages we had sent out multiplied by followers.

    The maths is this:

    If you have 50 followers and you send out 60 tweets a month (that’s about two a day) you end up with an overall figure of 3,000 seperate tweets dropping into people’s Twitter stream.

    As we are verging on 1,000 followers every tweet is potentially read up to 1,000 times.

    There is no industry standard for measuring the impact of social media at the moment. There are innumerable websites that offer different solutions. I think we are all waiting for someone like Google to come up with an answer.

    Newspapers also use a formula.

    From memory they calculate readers as 3.1 per copy (paid) and around 1.1 for a free newspaper. It’s a way of working out how many people potentially could be reading your product. Our pocket calculator analytics also comes up with a potential figure.

    And, no, I’m not that keen on doughnuts. Flapjack is more my thing.

    Best,

    Dan Slee (GCSE grade ‘C’)
    Walsall Council Press Office.

     
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  • The Plastic Hippo

    Yer man Dan Wainwright has a point regarding Twitter as “pointless, self-promoting babble.” Why else would this pointless, self-promoting council embrace it with such boyish enthusiasm? I agree that yer other man Dan Slee is doing a good, honest job in trying to engage the twitteratti and the boy has done well. God knows it`s a tough call to have to front a failing council on tinternet forums.

    But Dan and Dan, and I cannot rid myself of the image of Charles Hawtrey in Carry on at your Convenience, are there to report what their masters want to hear. Working for the dark side, they have to regurgitate any morsel of water vole dropped into their gullets by their corporate nesting pair. I do not envy them in this environment.

    The statistics, however, are preposterous. To extrapolate 2,000 tweets into a million is illusion worthy of Tommy Cooper. A trick has been missed; a bus full of displaced school children passed my house the other day as I was reading a council tweet and tonight, the old lady from down the road was taken away by ambulance suffering from hypothermia. It is possible that these people could have seen my computer screen as they passed. I demand that they be included in the tweet total along with my cat, dog, hamsters and the occupants of an overflying aircraft.

    If social media or, indeed, democracy is to work in this town, we need honesty, candour and a lot less bullshit.

     
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    • Hypoyhermia? That wasn’t dear old Enid, was it?

      Enquiring minds need to know.

      Best wishes

      Bob

       
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  • Hi Dan.

    Sorry, whilst I’m in awe of the logic of your calculation, I’m very much afraid that it’s nothing but spin.

    The idea that the same tweet becomes multiple when it appears in the stream of others is, I fear, mendacious. When it comes down to it, the Walsall twitter presence has hatched about 2,000 unique messages. If I use a megaphone in a football stadium to the crowd, it’s a broadcast medium, just like twitter is. I might reach thousands of people, or in the case of some teams in the potteries, possibly tens. The fact that multiple people heard what I said doesn’t remotely equate to me saying the same thing several times. I said it once. Lots of people heard it.

    What’s saddening me about this hyperbole is that Walsall Council’s PR department rightly expects rigorous standards of accuracy in the local press and blog scene. If a local blogger or member of the press had massaged figures in that manner you’d be onto it like a shot. The fact is that you’ve tweeted about 2,000 messages and your readership is high. By all means, talk about those readers and addressing the subject from that angle would make much better sense than performing specious smoke and mirrors around how many messages you’ve sent.

    The fact that you had to resort to explaining the maths – both here and in your press release should be telling you that this is a bad idea. Comparing it to newspaper readership just hammers the final nail into the coffin of a moribund mathematical misconception.

    The saddest part of all this stuff – which I’m sure to you seems like nerdish, niggling nit-picking – is that what you’re doing with Walsall’s twitter presence stands up wonderfully well on it’s own, without the silicone implant to the vital statistics. We’ve come to expect high standards from it, and it’s a vital point of contact with the community, executed with passion and dedication. People follow it because it’s useful, informative and fun. That speaks for itself and should be a matter of pride, not falsely enhanced with an unnatural figure.

    Best wishes

    Bob

     
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  • You can actually do proper maths on this stuff — standards, however arbitrary (much like the “value” placed on publicity being bollocks) are emerging.

    The million figure is total spin tho’, each tweet despite being available to all the followers isn’t seen by them all necessarily, as you only see what the latest ones are when you log in to your client or the website. Many people following any account almost never look at Twitter (it has the same 30odd% drop off as most services) — couple that with people that just weren’t looking when any particular tweet was sent. Services like http://tweetreach.com/ can provide actual figures for views.

    Not only that but the 1000 followers haven’t been following the account from the start, they’ve built up as it has proved useful, so the multiplication of a tweet’s potential reach isn’t accurate. See how the followers have increased http://twittercounter.com/walsallcouncil/all — that’s proof of it being popular, but also show the figure to be rubbish.

    You could do the real maths here but I doubt it would be useful — the real value of anyone engaging over Twitter is the communication, not the broadcast anyway.

    The vocab is typical PR/paper dumbing down tech so much as to make things unintelligible — you can see how many Tweets the account has sent (almost 2000), if they mean reach they have to say it.

     
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  • jaynehowarth

    You can say whatever you want when stats are involved, it doesn’t make it right, though.

    I can’t agree with the way the figures have been worked out – whether or not it is a standard formula.

     
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  • stymaster

    Dan, can I assure you, that despite being a follower of you on twitter, I read less than 10% of the tweets, simply because only a percentage are interesting to me. Suggesting that 100% of followers read 100% of tweets is ridiculous. Working on that kind of calculation, even if I only had only 5 analogue channels, I’ve watched 120 hours of TV in the last 24 hours. Come to that, my blog has just over 1000 posts, and there’s millions of potential readers on the web. That means I have eleventy trillion people reading :-).

    Keep up the good work, but keep it realistic…

     
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  • danslee

    Sadly, my job isn’t nearly as West Wing as people may imagine. My last few releases have been about gritting, for example, and I do utterly refute the suggestion that the million Twitter release is somehow spin or in accurate.

    Here is a link to it if you haven’t read it http://bit.ly/5Nisc9 that explains how we arrived at the overall figure. I’ll also explain how we do it month on month.

    It’s probably more constructive to debate how to measure social media impact as that is the route of this.

    The challenge is this.

    It’s important for an organisation to get some handle on the impact of social media. Otherwise why do it?

    So, how do organisations measure social media impact?

    Nothing has quite emerged that is industry wide so things are in an infancy.

    Do we just look at the number of individual tweets sent and leave it at that?

    For me, that only tells half the picture. If that was the yardstick Britney Spears is one of the most effective communicators on the internet.

    The Express & Star produces more than 300 newspapers a year. Are the number of people who read it a factor in measuring impact? Absolutely.

    We’ve sent around 2,000 individual tweets out as @walsallcouncil.

    I argue strongly that we need to factor in the number of followers too. Otherwise you are suggesting that my mate Rich with 20 followers has the same impact as Stephen Fry with a million plus.

    Do I think the formula we use is the be all and and all? No.

    Is it a rough guide? Yes.

    Am I interested in what other people are doing to measure impact? Yes, absolutely.

    Here is how we looked at the October figures, as an example. At the start of the month we had 704 followers. At the end we had 812. That gives an average follwer figure for the month as 758.

    If we send 293 individual tweets out that month to those 758 it means there could be 222,094 individual tweets flying around that could be read. That’s the maths.

    I do thank you for the kind and constructive comments about our use of Twitter.

    I’d be interested in seeing what ideas the blogosphere come up for measuring Twitter impact.

    I am also happy to listen and I am happy to talk the issue through.

    I’m on 01922 653501.

    Best,

    Dan Slee
    Walsall Council Press Office

     
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    • Hi Dan

      Dinkey has said much of what I feel about this, but I’d like to point out a couple of things.

      I understand how you came to the figure, and about your press release; I don’t think you can have read my response to your first comment above, because I linked to it in that text. The fact is, you spun – yes, spun – a figure of a million ‘messages’. You haven’t sent a million, and I still contend along with the majority of other twitter users that one tweet read by three people is still one tweet. That statement – still plainly absurd – looks out of place in the otherwise great record of both you and the authority on twatter. That’s just sad.

      I couldn’t give a tinkers how you measure your media impact, so long as you don’t inflict such arrant nonsense on the public. I’m very well aware of the different approaches to the weighing of smoke that go with new media evangelism; the fact is, we’re all largely ranting into the darkness. You’d do far better actually quantifying inquiries answered rather than coming up with speculative figures based on your follower base – many of whom will be zombies, dead accounts and the general dross of the system we all suffer from in our daily twitter use.

      One of the problems that has traditionally afflicted Walsall Council – and still does, apparently – is that those within the authority seem quite unable to appreciate that many of their clientele might actually be bright enough to see through a lot of the guff that is fed to the press. To those readers out there who wrangle data for a living, your assertions of accuracy when using a formula based on several assumed variables is a cause for concern, if not outright hilarity. Few statisticians would ever use the term in relation to such an equation. I would also tenure that you didn’t feel comfortable about the figure, either, as you already prepared a release with how you arrived at it. If you have to explain the maths behind a statement immediately, don’t make it. It’s wrong.

      There’s a valid point here, and you’d do well to heed it. You’re doing great things, but if you really need to shout about it, try recording people you’ve actually answered, or any of the other suggestions from Dinkey or Stymaster.

      I’d suggest on this one that you put down the shovel and think about it for a while. Read this statement back to yourself:

      ‘If we send 293 individual tweets out that month to those 758 it means there could be 222,094 individual tweets flying around that could be read. That’s the maths.’

      I would guarantee that you’ll read that statement at a point in the future and cringe about it.

      Nice try with the phone number, but you’ll have to get up a tad earlier than that.

      Best wishes, and do have a good Christmas

      Bob

       
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  • How about counting response tweets, or logging webstats every time you link to Walsall MBC’s site? If you always use a bit.ly URL shortener in Twatter, then count the refferer logs for bit.ly on your site. Hell, with a bit of clever scripting you could knock up some sort of redirector on the site that gave you the hits directly.

    That will give a good picture of who is *reading* it. You couldn’t count hits at twatter, as I’d imagine a few people, like me, use RSS to read it rather than checking the page.

    I don’t doubt it’s very effective and acts as a good point-of-presence. It was what finally persuaded me to join up to Twatter (never did get those plans from yourself or Mike Bird though), so it must be useful.

     
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  • dinkey

    Hi Bob

    It’s been a while since I dropped into the northern wastes and I can’t quite believe what I’m reading – but it is very funny – thank you for another entertaining post.

    Whilst I was never particularly good at sums at school I don’t ever remember being taught how to count and multiply with imaginary numbers.

    You see, nobody seems to have pointed out that only a few Twitter followers are real people who pay Council tax in the borough or who voted for the mob in the Council House.

    From a cursory glance at their subscriber base, I would hazard a guess that more than two thirds of the Council’s Twitter followers live out of the borough – so just who is the Council talking to? Many followers simply seem to be other local authorities, business partners (or wannabe business partners) or chums of the PR team – who seem to be on a mission to tell all the other local authorities how wonderful they are with this social media stuff. I’m a good example, as I think you know I’m a Londoner yet subscribe to a few Walsall feeds simply out of interest to keep in touch with a part of the country where I spent several happy years – and I still occasionally visit if I get stuck around junction 10.

    Given this observation about the Council Twitter subscriber base, and the anomalies of the completely stupid maths spin by your other commentators, I’m afraid to say that the Walsall Council PR Emperor has GOT NO CLOTHES ON and during this cold snap it is certainly no time to be stark bollock naked.

    Whilst I’ve got to admire the gusto with which the Walsall Civic Centre have embraced the web two thing, there seems to be an increasingly misleading and patronising tone coming from the Council PR team’s website postings, with ‘joyous’ tweets and announcements of meaningless achievements. This latest play with Twitter numbers is a perfect example of how detached the PR team seems to be from the reality of day-to-day life in the borough. (Sorry Dan Slee, your two posts whilst meticulously reasoned but somewhat desperate).

    Good PR needs to be grounded somewhere in reality if it is to succeed but this sort of thing really doesn’t add up and makes Walsall look really stupid (but don’t worry we have Boris, and some).

    This PR spin must be measured against a local authority which has a really murky reputation for ruthlessly and consistently stifling dissent within its ranks when whistleblowers allege corruption with Council contracts, for bungling u-turns on important decisions, losing huge amounts of cash, and a current regime which seems hell-bent on favouring the wealthy parts of the borough and cutting services to the poorer.

    Don’t you think that it is about time your chaps got wise to all this and put an end to the vacuous spin coming out of the Civic Centre – surely a bit more substance is required?

    dinkey

    PS What if the PR team was made responsible for counting the votes at the next election? It could be a record turnout if they simply multiplied the number of voters by the number of candidates – now there’s a good bit of PR!

     
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  • Hello Stymaaster,

    Yes, good call with bit.ly. We’ve used it for a while. However, as I’m adding at work, via a phone and from home at funny hours it doesn’t let me have one single log in so I can’t see all the stats in one place.

    However, I have had another look at it in the light of your post. There are some extra tricks that were not there when we started in April.

    We did count bit.ly clicks for three months in the summer but as you had to do this tweet by tweet it became too much. It did tell us that people respond very well to Tweeted pictures.

    It’s good stuff but it doesn’t crack the problem of people who look at a tweet and don’t follow through to the link and how to measure those.

    Hmmm. I’ll DM you about these plans.

    Thanks,

    Dan Slee,

    Walsall Council Press Office

     
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  • Martin J

    I think this is all getting a bit pedantic; Brownhills Bob, you are obviously down with t’internet as is Dan Slee.
    It’s easy to see how many people have clicked on this site because you have a nifty counter and I expect Dan collects stats on hits on the council website.
    Just as the Express & Star have a formula to give a figure for readership so do the local commercial radio stations for listeners and TV for viewers; Twatter isn’t any different, apart from being newer.
    People ‘need’ to know how effective their medium is so they work a formula which shows them in a good light; they use this formula until someone spots exactly how fraudulent it is then they use another.
    Governments have been playing this game with employment and inflation figures for decades.
    Eventually, everyone settles on a formula they’re all happy with or, like me, they get bored and realise they couldn’t give a rat’s arse.

     
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