Quality drives engagement, not the other way around

It's amazing how science can shed light on so many subjects while blurring at the same time our perspective on them. Many doors are open, that's true, but no one tells us that maybe the best perspective of the whole picture would be attained if we looked through the window.

This applies to the thousands of studies we can find on human behavior, curious coincidences and, of course, digital marketing as well. I've written about this before, what makes us mix causality and correlation. I call it the causality fallacy.

A recent case in point was published on The Daily Dot's provocative article, "Remember Last.fm? It drives more album sales than Facebook". Here's the part that really made me look:

Musicmetric said that simply being a fan or having buzz won't move albums. Fortune magazine points out that even though Rihanna had the most fans of any artist in 2012, her release, Unapologetic, which was panned by critics, failed to crack the top 10 for album sales on Billboard. In fact, only three artists—Adele, Justin Bieber, and Taylor Swift—were on the top 10 lists for both album sales and social media fanbases.

Interesting, no doubt about it. An eye opener? Perhaps. I hope so. But not because it's about Last.fm, or because Facebook as it turns out isn't that big a sales driver for the music industry. What really made me question the conclusions of this report were the way they were justified.

As social media professionals we spend a huge amount of time justifying our craft, regarding how it will make the difference for a given business, but sometimes we forget that it's a two-way street. Which means having a terrific social media presence (or role) will not necessarily mean good business, no more than having a good business will be a good basis for doing social media right. Each end must support the other if they are both to succeed.

Having a strong social media role (which in this report is measured purely by the number of fans, mind you) does not necessarily mean you get to win where it truly counts, i.e. album sales. Because there's an important variable at stake here: how good those albums really are. Musical tastes aside, maybe it's not just about selling more albums because you have lots of followers; it's also about having lots of followers because of the quality of those albums (or products, or services).