Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Why Twitter is making a hash of classical music
The myth that the views expressed on Twitter and other social media are representative of the whole market for classical music is spreading. There are two reasons why this myth is both wrong and dangerous: first because of the profile of the sample represented by social media users, and secondly because of the compressed nature of the content.
Social media users are a self-selecting sample. This means they are not part a group selected for research purposes as being statistically representative. Instead they are people who themselves choose to express their views - usually because they have some kind of agenda to pursue. It is well proven that self-selecting samples are highly unrepresentative. If you put a card in the box with a product and ask customers to give their views voluntarily, two small groups respond; those that are very satisfied and those that are very dissatisfied. The silent majority, who are the all important 'floating' customers, do not respond; hence the sample is unrepresentative. Which is why those infuriating market researchers phone you at home or stop you in the street instead of putting questionnaires in packaging. In fact the views of self-selected samples are not only invariably wrong, they also often dangerously wrong. This is because they comprise the vocal minority at either end of the opinion spectrum: which means their opinions are 180 degrees at variance with those of the silent majority who typically represent the bulk of the market.
Social media requires some form of content compression. The number of characters including spaces is capped in Twitter at 140 and in Facebook at 420. The dangers associated with capping communication content are well documented. PowerPoint is another communications tool that depends on content compression and there are clear parallels between the bullet points used in PowerPoint and Twitter messages. Presidential advisor, Yale statistician and computer scientist Edward Tufte, a specialist in the visual display of information, investigated the role that PowerPoint played in the Columbia space shuttle tragedy in 2003. In his analysis Tufte concluded that PowerPoint encourages "faux-analytical" thinking over the sober exchange of information. The Columbia Accident Investigation Board cited Tufte's conclusions and criticised a space agency culture in which, it said, "the endemic use of PowerPoint" replaced rigorous technical analysis. A 2003 Washington Post article concluded "The seductive availability of PowerPoint and the built-in drive to reduce all subjects to a series of short-handed bullet points eliminates nuances and enables, even encourages, the absence of serious thinking". Doesn't that sound depressingly familiar?
Classical music is obsessed with reaching new audiences, yet there is still a dearth of quantitative research data on what actually needs to be done to bring that new audience into the concert hall. This means the seductive availability of views expressed on Twitter, Facebook, and yes, blogs, is encouraging faux-analytical thinking which at the best is wrong, and at the worst may point audience development initiatives in totally the wrong direction. Social media certainly has its uses as a messaging and networking platform. But classical music must beware of the new commercial shamanism that is blurring the boundaries between communications and research to suit its own ends. It is time to realise that the only Twitter capable of making a lasting contribution to the future of classical music is the one seen seen in my header image. Now back to the music, and let's go in search of the composer.
Funnily enough, also on Facebook and Twitter. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk