Thursday, February 21, 2013

Re: 'Dumb Ways To Die and social media bullshit'

An article on Mumbrella on the topic of the 'Dumb Ways To Die' Metro Trains campaign continues to attract opinion and commentary.

The author, Karalee Evans - a digital strategy type and former state government employee with regard to infrastructure and public transport in particular - has ruffled some feathers with her view.

'Metro Trains’ seemingly unchallenged claim that a viral video...led to a 20 percent reduction in risky behavior” is social media bullshit.'

'If Metro...really are claiming that Dumb Ways to Die led to a 20 percent reduction in risky behaviour; e.g. a significant behavioural change in a period of two months, then we really need to see the empirical evidence.'

Some of the criticism has been both harsh, and lacking in insight.

However I'm compelled to say that she's right and wrong at the same time.

Akin to assigning single channel ROI, the notion that a public responding to viewing of single video was directly, measurably responsible for the 20% figure is nonsense.

But calling for empirical evidence is equally foolhardy as the effect is impossible to measure in data points.

However, if the 20% reduction in reported dangerous incidents is a plausible number then the fact that the video exists; and the reduction occurred during the time of it's existence, then there is a likely-hood that there was indeed some effect.

The 'Dumb Ways To Die' video's effectiveness, is manifest in the way it acts as a kind of 'social object'.

Simple social object theory decrees said objects ' the centerpiece in a dialogue between two or more people. People don’t just talk — they tend to talk “around” objects.'

So Karalee's hypothesis that the video has had little or no effect on behaviour change locally (ie in it's target geo area) because '[in the viral effect] most of these stories, and the links and subsequent viewers, were from outside of Australia let alone the target, Melbourne' is immaterial.

As a 'social object' the real communication effect has happened in the spaces in-between people. For the communication to work there is no necessity for all individuals or groups to have actually viewed the video itself, however the idea (of which the video is the container)is the 'viral' element.

(As is the case with all so-called 'viral' content, by the way.
The media is simply the container of the idea.)

But here's the thing.

The 20% reduction in incidents claim is as much part of the idea as any other element.

How empirically accurate the number is, is not the point.

Everything communicates.

The 20% number acts as 'social proof' that the behaviour has begun to change.

Because in any conditions of uncertainty (ie all the bloody time) we take cues on how to behave from what we see or percieve to be the norm (what others are doing) then the mere description of a shift in behaviour acts as a spur to the continuation of that behaviour.

'Dumb Ways To Die' is as much a piece of brand advertising as it is social media.

The nature of brand advertising is not about the personal, it works as an signal to a mass audience (we) that an idea exists.

The components of the idea were attractive and easy enough to absorb and spread that it caught on.

In the same way that not everything that counts can be counted - and not everything that can be counted counts, looking for the empirical evidence will prove fruitless, it doesn't exist.

(We've talked about the 'Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy'in these pages before - the common foible of social media gurus/experts)

But looking at the bigger picture - incidents before and incidents after - gives more of a clue, and then cummunicating the success (social proof) helps to build the momentum.

Word of the day. Osmosis.

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