IAN GREENLEIGH

Author | Marketer | Speaker

I help companies turn data, ideas and relationships into reach and influence. 

5 causes just as likely as the one @danzarrella seemingly picked out of a hat

368 - Cell Texture I’m not going to explain the scientific method to someone that describes himself as “The Social Media Scientist.” In fact, I have enormous respect for Dan Zarrella and Hubspot, and I know he understands it. So why he writes an article like Twitter Accounts with a Profile Picture Have 10 Times More Followers Than Those Without beats the hell out of me.

Bottom line is, you can’t notice a correlation between two things and then assert one is the cause of the other without eliminating other possibilities.

Here is where he asserts causation: Effect of Profile Picture on Followers [emphasis mine].

Oh, and here, too: “…if you want to get followers on Twitter, it's a good idea to upload a picture of yourself.”

And here are 5 likely alternative explanations for the correlation Dan noticed.

  1. Number of tweets. Maybe those without pictures tend to tweet less, and it is the latter variable that is causing their lack of followers.
  2. Spammy content. Maybe those without pictures tend to tweet spam more often, and it is the latter variable that is causing their lack of followers.
  3. Age: Maybe those without pictures tend to be newer accounts, and it is the latter variable that is causing their lack of followers.
  4. Location: Maybe those without pictures tend to live in locations where Twitter use is less common, and it is the latter variable that is causing their lack of followers.
  5. Lack of effort: Maybe those without pictures tend to put less effort into acquiring followers, and it is this latter variable that is causing their lack of followers.

I could go on and on. But that’s where you come in! Extra points for funny hypotheses left in comments.

As I’ve said before, Dan noticed something interesting here just by sharing the correlation he found. That alone was worthy of a blog post and perhaps a larger conversation. I don’t understand why he had to then jump to a conclusion and taint the larger effort. I really don’t. Based on our conversation (click “show conversation” after jump), he doesn’t seem to think there’s a problem with what he did. Cognitive dissonance? Who knows?

Remember, I’m writing this because I’m a fan, and posts like this might help influencers like Dan get better—and by extension, our study of the social media universe can improve. But I won’t say posts like this will do much of anything. That, after all, would be assuming causation :-).

© 2016 Ian Greenleigh