As authors-turned-marketers, writers need to know how to appeal to the hearts and minds of consumers, and the media. Often, writers must tug at emotionally sensitive points in order for their voices to be heard or their messages to resonate. But for writers to know what will stir people to buy they will need to know what really moves people to act. Which facts, assumptions, and biases do others operate under that authors would benefit to know about?
In a recent New York Times best seller, Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are, Seth Stephens-Davidowitz attempts to show us who we are by examining Google searches, Facebook posts, and Twitter messages. It’s an interesting attempt, much like Freakonomics and The Day America Told the Truth, tried to reveal bigger truths beyond what our instincts, polls, or statistics state.
The truth is we don’t know what the truth is. We know people lie to pollsters. That they have faulty memories. That they perceive differently from what they see, that they act contrary to stated beliefs, and that they do not do what they say. So how is one to properly understand the world he or she lives in, especially if we need to play on these behaviors and views in order to sell a book to them?
The author of Everybody Lies is a former Google data scientist with a PhD. from Harvard, a lecturer at The Wharton School, and a contributing op-ed writer for The New York Times whose research has appeared in the Journal of Public Economics. We’ll assume he’s qualified to write this book, but I may be using the wrong data to make this assumption. If I learned anything from this book it is to question everything.
The book brilliantly shows how data can contradict how things really appear to be. But it also shows how data can be misinterpreted. It fails to discuss faulty problems in how data is gathered and it doesn’t take into account the people who don’t search for things online or post on Facebook. It doesn't explore how their views, patterns, or actions are not considered when putting the data together. His book raises as many questions as it provides answers.
Here are some interesting conclusions the author draws from the data:
When it comes to what men search for when it comes to their body, the number one topic is penis size. The top concern for women about their body is vaginal odor.
In an examination of Facebook posts, we learn the choice of words varies greatly amongst the sexes. For men, the most common words used are fuck, fucking, bullshit, and shit. For women, it is shopping, love, soooo, and cute. Men seem to focus their posts on Xbox, government, fighting, football and economy while women write about baby, mom, family, boyfriend and things regarding relationships.
Here’s an odd obsession: according to the book, “Men make as many searches looking for ways to perform oral sex on themselves as they do for how to give a woman an orgasm.”
He tells us that search rates for “how to roll a joint” peak between 1 and 2 a.m. and that search rates for “weather,” “prayer,” and “news” peak before 5:30 a.m.
When it comes to stereotypes we learn that the search terms most associated with blacks is rude and racist, for Jews it’s evil and racist, for Muslims it’s evil and terrorists, for Mexicans it’s racist and stupid, for Asians it’s ugly and racist, for gays it’s evil and wrong, and for Christians it’s stupid and crazy.
Sadly, we also learn that “Americans are Googling the word “nigger” with the same frequency as “migraine” and “economist.” Further, “searches for “nigger jokes” are 17 x more common than searches for “kike jokes,” “spic jokes,” “chink jokes” and “fag jokes” combined.
But these stunning findings could be faulty. For instance, when they total up searches, they don’t examine the number of people searching for something – just the frequency over a period of time. Further, the terms people search under are not completely reflective of what’s being searched for. Look at the term “kike jokes.” What about “Jew jokes”? For “spic” jokes, what about “Hispanic jokes,” “Mexican jokes,” “wetback jokes” and other related terms? Lastly, who is doing the searching would be of interest – does it break down based on certain demographics?
One of the things covered in the book is the correlation of searches and actions. Case in point. Every month, 3.5 million Google searches in the U.S. relate to suicide, such as “suicidal,” “commit suicide” and “how to suicide.” But, only about 3,000 suicides occur each month. Now, not every search done is by someone considering suicide, and not every person who killed himself even searched the term online, but it shows that what appears to be an obsession by many is acted on by so few.
But if you look at the fact that in 2014 there were about 6,000 searches for the exact phrase “how to kill your girlfriend,” in that year 400 women were murdered by their boyfriends. But one can’t know for sure how many of those who searched about killing actually did it. But should the police feel obligated to act when such searches are conducted, if they could be alerted to them?
To this, he writes: “We have to be very cautious using search data to predict crimes at an individual level. The data clearly tells us that there are many, many horrifying searches that rarely lead to horrible actions. And there has been, as of yet, no proof that the government can predict a particular horrible action, with high probability just from examining these searches. So we have to be really cautious about allowing the government to intervene at the individual level based on search data.”
So what do we learn?
People follow patterns.
People say they want or do something, but don’t consistently act in accordance with those desires or stated actions.
We learn that people deceive others and themselves, that they share embarrassing information to Google about sexless marriages, mental health issues, insecurities, and animosity toward black people. The author concludes, on a positive note, the following:
“By analyzing anonymous and aggregate data, we may all understand that we’re not the only ones who find marriage, and life, difficult. The second benefit of digital truth serum is that it alerts us to people who are suffering…The final – and I think, most powerful-value in this digital truth serum is indeed its ability to lead us from problems to solutions. With more understanding, we might find ways to reduce the world’s supply of nasty attitudes.”
The future of data science is bright but complicated. Who has access to which data – and how that data is interpreted – will lead to significant changes in policy and commerce. A combination of data can dramatically improve our understanding of the world or commit us down the wrong road.
The author predicts a revolution based on the revelations of Big Data but cautions us to still rely on other methods to figure out what’s true vs. lie, and what needs to be done with this knowledge. Otherwise we just govern based on the numbers.
He wisely says: “Never compare your Google searches to everyone else’s social media posts.”
Authors, to find a way to appeal to the media and consumers, you may need to be more in touch with what the data really tells us about how people feel, think, view, and dream – and how they actually act. Our current assumptions, polls, and statistical studies may not have the complete picture.
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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog ©2019. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent. This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/09/the-best-book-marketing-blogs and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by WinningWriters.com as a "best resource.” He recently hosted a panel on book publicity for Book Expo America.
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