I love reports, studies, surveys. I like them because they can tell us something. This doesn’t normally happen in isolation – trends and tracking data really help us gain a more complete picture.
But I am no data whizz. I may have got my O-level maths early (I was the last year that did maths O-level, by the way) but that’s as far as it went when it came to numbers expertise. And when I revisited data in ‘stats for journalists’ courses I still found the numbers challenging.
However, I like numbers because they tell stories, or they help us tell stories (I particularly like website data). So, today in my Twitter stream a headline caught my eye: Over Half Of UK Companies Block Social Media at Work.
The headline was tweeted by @trainingpress (it was not their story but I picked it up from them) . . .
I thought it a believable headline but wanted to know how many respondents there were in the UK. I asked the person that tweeted it and they didn’t know. Then I asked the people responsible for the survey and they said that the number of respondents in the UK was 252 (and 151 of them were managers).
Then I looked at the story again to find there was nothing in it to support the headline assertion. In fact, the press release did not support that assertion either. A numbers salad really.
Here are the stats from the report . . . looks like just over a quarter of UK companies block social media . . .
There is nothing new in all of this, of course. People like Ben Goldacre do a great job exposing poor use of data. Just be sure you check the numbers that are attached to headlines. And write headlines that accurately reflect what the numbers are telling you.