Apparently the Facebook group “1,000,000 Strong for Stephen T Colbert” is the fastest-growing Facebook ever (if you believe the hype, and I’m gullible so yes, I do.) This is only slightly more impressive than the SEO Chicks Facebook group reaching 69 members in close to 6 months. However, we have not (yet) threatened to crush the state of Georgia so that’s most likely why we’re not seeing such a massive spike.
The Colbert group and all the other groups that involve a drumming up of support for his Presidential bid are doing an amazing job of basically conducting a massive free focus group session. This is an absolutely brilliant use of social media. It’s funny and innovative enough that it gets the attention of interested people, which automatically makes it at least as valid a study as one run by those pesky teenagers who accost you at the mall when you unknowingly come around a corner without having your weapon drawn.
Focus groups, especially properly run ones, can cost quite a bit of money. They can also easily fail to give you any usable information. There are a variety of reasons for this, ranging from the simple “god I want to get out of here so I can get another Cinnabon” to the more complex “my lithium supply is low and I need more now.” Sometimes people simply want to tell you whatever they can in order to be relieved of their duty. I’ve pretended to be a Satanist before, simply to get some Jehovah’s Witnesses to leave me the hell alone. Word of warning here: that simply eggs them on so just pull out a gun or something.
If you’ve ever been desperate for money and the plasma donation center was closed due to a health department crackdown, you may have agreed to be a part of a focus group. Sitting in a room with other jury-duty-avoiding citizens may not seem nearly as bad when you’re asked to do it…until you sit there and watch an inane video for 45 minutes and then have to answer questions about it when you spent the whole time wondering what you were going to wear tomorrow and how come your dog still stinks like ass even though he’s been bathed 5 times in the past week. A Facebook group, unless it’s been really poorly planned, doesn’t usually come with all of this baggage. At minimum, you don’t have to actually sit near anyone else who may or may not have indulged in the same ritual daily shower that you did this morning.
It’s not just the lack of a need for physical presence that makes something like a Facebook group a great way to gauge an opinion on something, either. Did I mention the whole free factor? There’s no cost for a well-ventilated room anywhere, no equipment to buy and maintain, and no budget for Cheezits and apple juice. In something as volatile as online marketing, spending tons of money on something that takes lots of time as well is not a really great idea. By the time you’ve spent a fortune to discover that yes, this idea is good but this one sucks, you may have missed your chance anyway. Why not do a quick Facebook test and save yourself a lot of trouble?
Obviously this is not an idea that everyone could use. In the spirit of simply giving you something to think about, I’m also oversimplifying things. I personally don’t have much need of testing anything other than “are my nun jokes really that offensive?” or “who likes Gary Numan?” Still, at times, even though I utterly despise politics, that sector leads the way in many aspects of our culture. With the Colbert group’s attempt to determine how much support he could indeed potentially get if he ran for President in the U.S., they’ve opened up the possibility of finding a great new way to identify popular opinion without clipboards and bored yet earnest teenagers. This could be seriously invaluable information in many industries.