Social Media: What Would Mark Twain Have to Say?

As Social Media Week soldiers on in Hong Kong this week, Michael Taylor ponders on what seems to be on everyone’s mind at the events he is attending: that sticky issue of friends, followers, and stats.

From hits to page views to unique visitors to robots – what are we to make of all this recently launched – and very confusing – jargon?

“There are three kinds of lies,” wrote US author Mark Twain in his autobiography. “Lies, damned lies and statistics.”

If Twain were alive today, I cannot help but wonder what he would make of social media and the various statistics that surround it.

“How much traffic do you get?” seems to be the first question everybody wants to ask when they find out that I have a blog. And my honest answer is, “I really don’t know!”

I say that because I get very different stats from my host, my server, and the various and sundry third party service providers that I’ve experimented with since launching the Accidental Travel Writer in late 2009. They all claim to track your traffic, and they all paint very different pictures.


I’m a relative newcomer to Social Media. I had not even heard of Facebook until  started getting these emailed requests to become someone’s friend on what was quickly becoming the most popular social networking site out there.

So about a year and a half ago, succumbing to social pressure, I made my Social Media debut by opening a Facebook account. And I set about uploading things that quickly disappeared under an avalanche of stuff uploaded by other people.

Those All Important Stats

It was a little embarrassing at first. Everyone has to start somewhere, but when you can count your friends on Facebook on the fingers of one hand and some of those very same friends have literally hundreds of friends on Facebook, well, it is not very ego enhancing.

I started getting suspicious when I received a notification that two of my friends had become friends. The weird part is they had nothing in common – not even a common language!

Then I learned that for a fee, an Australian company could provide you with all the friends you wanted – dozens, hundreds, even thousands – all for a small fee.

On Facebook, it is how many friends you have got. On Twitter, it is how many followers you have got.

When it comes to blogs, however, it starts getting a bit more confusing. “I am so excited,” a close friend and fellow blogger wrote me in an email. She had recently signed up for statistics with her host, and they indicated that her blog was getting thousands of hits every month. Once again I started feeling a bit envious. I was only getting around 1,200 at that point.

Reality Check

Following a few email exchanges, I decided to research what, exactly, constituted a hit. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I, too, was getting far more “hits” than I had realized – literally thousands of them! It is just that the word “hit” didn’t mean what I – and many other people – thought that it meant.

A hit is not synonymous with a visit or a page view. It is an action that brings up a single element on a page – a headline, a picture, the date, the masthead. That means between 15 and 25 “hits” could be nothing more than a single “visit” by a single person (or robot) on a single page on your website.


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