Social media signal-to-noise ratio

I don’t generally turn to the sports pages of the Toronto Star for technology insight, but it does pop up in odd places on occasion.

Case in point is Monday’s sports media column by Raju Mudhar, whom I used to see frequently on the technology beat. I can’t pin down exactly how long ago it was, but the grey that appears to be in his head-and-shoulders shot wasn’t there. But I digress.

Part of Monday’s column was devoted to TSN shifting coverage from the finish of a tight NCAA basketball championship to the women’s world curling championship last Thursday, “triggering outrage from basketball fans on Twitter.”

TSN’s logic was that the basketball game in question was “bonus” coverage (the feature game was on TSN 2), it was available on CBS, and Canada’s curling team faced a crucial match.

“Despite the NCAA game being available on CBS, and TSN pointing to it, the outrage from basketball viewers was vicious,” Mudhar wrote. “Muddying this was that while it is clear most curling fans aren’t as social media savvy as hoops fans, traditionally the ice sports get really good ratings here.”

TSN stuck with the entire March Madness game on Saturday, and even if it had been the plan all along (the conflicting curling match didn’t feature Canada), the decision had a whiff of flip-flop, of caving to social media pressure, to it.

Mudhar may be making presumptions about the social media savvy of curling fans, but let’s face it: Shaquille O’ Neal tweets, Russ Howard doesn’t. One March Madness-hash-tagged tweet was retweeted almost 600 times; the hash tag #curling draws about a dozen tweets an hour. If indeed TSN flip-flopped to appease NCAA fans based solely on social media reaction, it was a mistake.

TSN’s decision was likely based on more factors than that, but it does serve to illustrate the importance of understanding social media signal-to-noise ratio. If the bulk of your customer base isn’t social-media-oriented, it’s possible to sacrifice their wishes for the demographic that makes the most noise, whether that’s good for the majority or not.

This is the importance of knowing your customers before you try to get to know them better through social media.


Thursday is D-Day for Thorsten Heins. His first delivery of quarterly results for BlackBerry maker Research in Motion Ltd. will be under a microscope, especially given last week’s news that the Apple Inc.’s iPhone had surpassed RIM devices in quarterly sales volume for the first time.

Not a whole lot appears to have changed under Heins’s watch. Other than delivering as promised on a new operating system for RIM’s PlayBook tablet, there are no signal victories here. Rebel investors have been quiet of late, apparently mollified by changes at the executive level, or perhaps recognizing that the constant bickering that drove down RIM’s share price was a shot to their own foot.

I don’t anticipate a wild rush for the exits by shareholders. For one thing, many of them will be pot-committed by now; bailing with the stock so undervalued would be too much of a haircut. For another, co-founders Jim Ballsillie and Mike Lazaridis are still the largest shareholders in the company.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Dave Webb
Dave Webb
Dave Webb is a freelance editor and writer. A veteran journalist of more than 20 years' experience (15 of them in technology), he has held senior editorial positions with a number of technology publications. He was honoured with an Andersen Consulting Award for Excellence in Business Journalism in 2000, and several Canadian Online Publishing Awards as part of the ComputerWorld Canada team.

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