How Do You Find Data On “the Others”?

What you are looking at above are 70 sugar cookies I decorated to look like social media buttons according to the most recent data from the Pew Internet and American Life Project.  The occasion was for the introductory session of a series of digital media “bootcamps” a coworker and I have launched our colleagues.  I thought cookies would be a great way to visualize the social space and put those at ease who were intimidated by digital media.

After all, who’s afraid of cookies?!

But then I noticed something we should all be afraid of: The 16 orange cookies marked “O” for “other.”*

Why The Others MatterI recently hosted a webinar on how public health professionals can – and need to – find out how their audiences are using digital media before beginning a campaign.  Knowing that my audience, like myself, works on social marketing and health communication campaigns with tight budgets, most of the data sources I recommended were free. I focused a fair amount on Pew’s Center for Internet and American Life, and the amazing research they publish on an almost weekly basis.Before I go any further, I would like to take a moment to give Pew and their researchers a round of applause.

But there’s a hitch with Pew, just as with almost all of the other white papers and journal articles I’ve read: Their social media research focuses primarily on the big four sites (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace).

I noted in my presentation that those may not be the best ways to reach your audience using social media, and that there are other platforms that may be more effective for reaching your target audience.  I recommended they look outside the beaten path for their audience online, but in terms of finding reliable and consistent data on the others, I couldn’t give them one.

Who are the others? BeboBlogHerCafeMomCouchSurfingDailyStrength,
DeliciousDiggFlickr,GatherGoogle+GowallaMeetUpMyYearbookNingPatientsLikeMe,
PinBoardReddit,SparkPeopleTumblrYelp and many, many more.

Those represent a lot of different ways to get public health messages in front of a variety of different audiences.

Self-Serving Data Sources

Two months ago I went off in search of data on a site that falls into the category of “the others.”  What I found were white papers and infographics from social media marketing agencies that contradicted each other.  In essence, I could have made the case for using or excluding the site in social media plans, and supported either conclusion with data that had been released in the last six months.

That’s a big problem.  In fact, it’s probably one of the biggest problems facing the industry right now.

Recently I was privy to a final report on a campaign that was not successful.  The few data sources that were cited, had been cherry picked.  But, without any other reliable source of data, pay or free, they had created a strategy and then back-filled the research to support it.  We can’t use the lack of consistent data on “the others” to support a strategy we simply like, not one that we know will be effective.

What Do We Do Now?

With PewNielsen and Forrester focusing primarily on the big four (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and MySpace) we’re left with a major information gap.  Where do we find information like this?  How do we sift through the existing research and consolidate resources?

I want to hear from you!  What research sources do you use to find data on “the others”?

*Full disclosure, 7 of the 16 “other” should be MySpace, however, the MySpace logo is highly difficult to carve out of rolled fondant at 10pm on a Wednesday.

References & Resources

Pew Internet & American Life Project, Social Networking Sites & Our Lives, June 16, 2011

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