CBR12 BINGO: How-To
I work in Marketing, and these days it’s all about data. How are you going to measure it? What does success look like? These are the mundane questions I have to answer every day, so reading this book was a bit like work. But, it fits a BINGO square, so I benefitted in the end.
Also, enough interesting nuggets are included to make it mildly interesting.
The main takeaway is that asking people to complete surveys is pretty pointless, because people lie all the time, even when the results are anonymous. Perhaps participants don’t trust the anonymity, or perhaps they are just lying to themselves, but what people say on surveys often doesn’t jibe with reality. What doesn’t lie though, are people’s internet searches. If you want to know what’s on people’s minds, all you need to do is get data from Google and you’re set.
A powerful and extremely depressing example of this is presented in the introduction, where author Seth Stephens-Davidowitz analyzes feelings about race in America. When Barack Obama was elected in 2008, polls conducted both pre- and post-election widely suggested that race was not a factor in voters’ decisions. Some even suggested we were living in a post-racial age (a naive assumption, to be sure). If you look at Google Trends data from that election night, roughly one in every hundred Google searches that included the word “Obama” also included the words “KKK” or “n*****.” (Just a head’s up, I’m blocking out the term; Stephens-Davidowitz does not in his book.) Additionally, searches and sign-ups for white nationalist sites were ten times higher than normal that evening; in some states, the number of searches for “n***** president” outnumbered “first black president.”
Perhaps you’re less easily shocked than I am, but the point is, these results defy the survey results in which almost everybody claimed that race was not a factor in their decision. You might also think, “well, I know we have some pretty racist areas in the deep South that are probably skewing those results.” Nope. Based on Stephens-Davidowitz’s research, the real racial divide in America is less about North v. South and more about East v. West. Upstate New York, western Pennsylvania, and eastern Ohio had some of the highest racist search rates. Locations with a high percentage of Democrats were just as likely to reveal racist searches than places with high percentage of Republicans. If you look at a map of racist search data from the 2008 election, it looks remarkably similar to the map of Trump support in 2016. Given the current political and social climate, I’m curious about whether Stephens-Davidowitz will do an update on his racism hypothesis. Are some of the people who are currently marching for social justice and posting BLM on their Facebook pages secretly searching for racist jokes online? I sincerely hope not, but it would be an interesting study.
Speaking of Facebook, it’s no surprise that people lie on social media, right? I’ve often hypothesized based on anecdotal evidence that the people who gush the most about their marriages online might be the ones that are most in trouble, and search data might bear this out. On social media, the top terms that people use to describe their husbands are “the best,” “my best friend,” ” amazing,” “the greatest,” and “so cute.” Not terribly surprising, yet you might still be a little taken aback by the top Google searches related to “my husband.” These include “gay,” “a jerk,” “amazing,” (YAY!) “annoying,” and “mean.” I’m glad there’s at least one positive in there, but i’m a bit flummoxed about why you would even type “My husband is amazing” into Google. Looking for props? Who knows?
As I said, the info in this book is kind of interesting, but unless you are a marketing professional, what is the point of gathering all this data? Want to feel smug about your BFF’s seemingly perfect life? Want to giggle about porn searches or the fact that people could not possibly be having as much sex as they claim? Entertaining, but how do we make data relevant in light of the challenges we are currently facing? Fortunately, there are ways that data truly can help make the world a better place. Stephens-Davidowitz writes that a “benefit of digital truth serum is that it alerts us to people who are suffering. The Human Rights Campaign has asked me to work with them in helping educate men in certain states about the possibility of coming out of the closet. They are looking to use the anonymous and aggregate Google search data to help them decide where best to target their resources. Similarly, child protective service agencies have contacted me to learn in what parts of the country there may be far more child abuse than they are recording.” So there you have it, data can help target areas where people are suffering and bring help to those areas. To be clear, this is all aggregate data and not focused on an individual’s private searches.
One criticism I have of the author is that, at times, his tone seems like that of an adolescent boy, which some readers may find off-putting. He admits to writing an article for the NY Times about vaginal odors in “an ironic tone,” only to realize later from message boards that this could be a source of anxiety for young girls. Duh. Had he thought about, I don’t know, doing a Google search on vaginal odors before copping an attitude in a major newspaper?
Another small complaint I have is his hypothesis that most people don’t finish books, because if you look at how people quote from source material, the majority of quotes are from the early chapters. I’m going to come clean here, that my quotes and examples are all from the first half of his book. That’s not because I didn’t finish; it’s because I tag interesting points and I either a) get tired of tagging at some point and figure I have enough content to reference in my review or b) most of the interesting points are in the first half.
For the record, I read your whole damn book, Stephen.