Social Media use in the West Midlands: some stats, some caution

A while back I wondered out loud if there was much research about social media use in regions or localities:


It got quite a bit of retweeting by both local goverment workers I know and by social media consultants, so it had a decent enough reach. Despite that I didn’t get a reply other than a couple saying they’d be interested themselves in the data if I found any. Of course that isn’t to say none exists, just people I know didnt have any to hand.

The reason I tweeted was twofold. Firstly I’d been looking at Dan Slee’s presentation that he gave at a national government IT event. Dan quotes quite a few stats around social media use as part of the rationale for using Social Media as part of his professional practice within a local authority. He makes this assertion:



I’m unsure of the source for the figures for facebook but presumably it’s extrapolated from the earlier quoted figure of 26 million facebook users nationally (now at 29.7m). The population of Walsall is 253,499 (2001 census). So whilst a third of the UK population uses Facebook, 88% of people in Walsall seem to use it.

That didn’t seem right.

My second reason for asking for local social media research was because I knew some was about to be completed for the West Midlands. An internal piece of research by Centro was looking at how to plan future media campaigns and how much note they should take of recent digital developments. So the research was to look at the correlation between public transport use and digital technology take-up.

My wife was key in putting the report together and she’s let me have a copy of it (PDF). Before we look at some findings let’s have some caveats although the survey is pretty confident so to speak. 2061 interviews were conducted across the West Midlands, a sample of this size has a margin of error of +/- 2.2% at a 95% confidence level. The data was weighted to each district (of which Walsall was one) so that the same number proportion were surveyed in Walsall as they were in Birmingham. Gender split was even, class split was even (to give it the lingo: ABC1s, well-off folk and C2DEs, poor folk).

  • Caveat 1: when you get to the districts the numbers are fairly low. In Walsall the sample was 207.
  • Caveat 2: Although the survey was to a quota (it tried to ask the same amount of young people as old people), that quota was for the region as a whole. So it may be that in the districts there’s a slight unevenness across age, gender and class.
  • Caveat 3: under 16s weren’t interviewed, they never are in these things.

Oh and you have to see past all the stuff about buses. In summary, young people and old people use buses and in general they are C2DEs. But onward. Here are some findings for the West Midlands Metropolitan County only about Social Media use:

  • Of those surveyed, 41% used Facebook weekly or more often, 21% used YouTube and 6% Twitter, 2% MySpace.
  • Younger respondents were the most regular users of social networking sites especially Facebook (83%, weekly).
  • Few respondents over the age of 44 used social network sites, this was particularly the case for the over 65’s (6%)
  • Men slightly outpaced women in all forms of use of the internet, while ABC1 use was more regular than C2DE
  • Females (42%, weekly) were slightly more regular Facebook users than males (39%, weekly) while male respondents were more likely than females to use Twitter (7%) and YouTube (25%).

But what about Walsall? That 88% figure? Well the ONS tell us that only 77% of West Midlands folk are internet users (Q1 2011 data .xls file, the stat is buried in table 2) compared to a national average of 82.2%. The Centro district info (caveats above) tells us that for Walsall the figure drops to 66% (poor old Sandwell is a mere 62%). Of that 66% (167,309 people), 54% use Facebook more than once a week. The upshot is, 36% of the entire population of Walsall, about 91,000 people, access Facebook more than once a week.

That’s a lot of people. It’s not 222,00 people, it’s less than half of that, but it’s still a lot. Further, they are predominantly young people. Indeed, across the West Midlands 83% of young people who access the internet use Facebook more than once a week.

So here’s my point. The figures stack up. They’re convincing in their own right and suggest that there’s a generation that is at ease with this technology across a range of devices. For Centro it actually creates a dilemma. Bus users are old and young – both ends of the digital divide. What to do? More cool digital stuff to keep the kids happy and attract more ABC1s out of their cars? What about the OAPs, of whom only 27% have internet access?

Centro’s marketing is now fairly informed. The headline figures used by Walsall seem uninformed – they’re over-extrapolated. And I worry about that. I worry that in local government there’s a tendency to want to create solutions ahead of doing the research. Research can be dull (I’m surprised you’re still reading), but it allows for targeted interventions. I wonder how much the sometimes very  cool social media activities produced within local gov (some listed here) amount to anything more than marketing exercises. Typical of me of course but I’d like to seem a more cautionary, better informed approach. Less of the quick wins, less of the gimmicks and more solutions that target the citizens you need to reach.

I was going to talk about twitter but it’s pretty much a minority activity  (of the 207 people surveyed in Walsall only 23 used and it’s very much for young, male, ABC1s). Also tweetathons and their benefits or otherwise are discussed elsewhere.

Thanks to Mrs H for access to the stats and for making sure I made clear the confidence level of the research but also its caveats – she rocks.

11 thoughts on “Social Media use in the West Midlands: some stats, some caution

  1. I’ve just had a look and it says here that a Facebook ad targeted at Walsall has an estimated reach of 59,340. Expanding that to include cities within 16km gives a reach of 262,180.

  2. Chris is barking up the right tree, Dave.


    The Facebook stat is a few months old and from Facebook itself. Feel free to retrace the steps:

    1) Go to Facebook.
    2) Click you want an ad.
    3) Type hghghg in the text.
    4) Type in the web address. Or some such.
    5) Tell Facebook that you’d like to advertise within 16 km of Walsall (the narrowest range possible).

    That includes bits of Brum, Staffs, Wolves and Walsall. Possibly a bit of Sandwell too.

    6) Bingo. Your stats. You can interrogate them further into age groups, interests etc.

    All this gets explained during the presentation together with a health warning that not every social media profile is active.

    Would it be fair to say that unless you were in the room you don’t know *all* the context to the info given in the slides?

    ; )

  3. You use facebook, who are trying to sell you ad space, as a research method? That seems a bit odd and not particularly informed. As Chris says, the Walsall figure they give is 60k anyway.

    The report I’m citing goes to great lengths to talk about its methodology and also cites other sources that back up its figures (Ofcom, who also use survey data). Your slide isn’t contextualised, nor does it cite sources yet you’re happy to post it up. It was the referencing of your post by others that made me want to write this post. Your slide says ‘Walsall Media Lanscape’ and then says 222,000 for facebook. Before we know it that’ll become fact to those who weren’t in the room.

    My point is that authorities should do some research of their own, or at least look harder for what has already been done. The 90k figure for Facebook users is pretty powerful and is independently sourced – that makes it far more convincing than using Facebook’s ad system.

  4. I was at the conference where Dan used these figures, and he was very clear as to how that number was obtained and that it was Walsall and surrounding area. and I think you have to take the slide within the context of how it was delivered

    when you go look at the stats the Express & Star figures appear to be for a Walsall region a radius of about 10k – so yes the Facebook region is larger, but the closest comparable figure available.

    You have to make the assumption Facebook aren’t lying about the figures – not least because it would be breaking the law, and the Express and Star figure is from their advertising pages – so it’s is it fair to say they are misleading potential advertisers too?

    Having said all of that. lets put a large margin of error not only on the social media stats but also the papers’ own. It doesn’t actual change the thrust of the message Dan was giving – the paper is no longer the exclusive media channel for the area.

  5. Newspaper circulation figures are independently audited by the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

    I don’t think there’s much disagreement on the substantive point. The newspaper might have a better reach to older and poorer citizens for some of whom it remains the dominant media channel. Worth a study perhaps.

  6. Oh, dear.

    Not at all the response I was expecting…

    As Kevin points out, the rationale and methodology for arriving at the figure were given in the presentation. My contact details were at the end of the deck of slides too. I’m a bit surprised you didn’t check at the source before making an assumption and blogging it with such conviction.

    Facebook’s stats. Sorry you don’t think they’re particularly informed. Kevin makes a good point about the accuracy of Facebook’s figures to advertisers. It’s not just critical to their reputation. They’re under a legal obligation to provide accurate data to advertisers. Remember the problems the Evening Mail got into when it emerged there was an issue with their circulation figures?

    Good spot from Chris that there’s now a within Walsall functionality with Facebook’s stats search as well as a 16km radius. That wasn’t the case several months ago when the stat was researched. The 16km radius search is still useful to give context and can be wider. Our leisure people would argue that they are trying to draw people from a far wider area to things like the New Art Gallery and other events.

    Here’s a screen shot of the latest snapshot:

    I understand from Twitter this morning that there’s concern over a second seperate assumption in your blog but I’ll leave that to them to raise.

    Leaving these two issues aside, BCU do a fantastic job in the field of social media

    And I agree. I don’t think there’s much disagreement on the substantive point.

    The newspaper might have a better reach to older and poorer citizens for some of whom it remains the dominant media channel.

    I’d also add that there needs to be more research done into social media and print media stats nationally. Not just in the West Midlands but across the country.

  7. Dan
    It really doesn’t matter that I wasn’t in the room. Nor does it matter that I didn’t ask you beforehand – it’s your job to point me to your sources when you blog about it.

    Here’s all that’s happened here: a public servant puts up some stats, I doubt the claims, I then draw attention to some new research – the new research provides quite a lot of detail about the nature of Social Media use in our region. It could usefully be used in conjunction with the Facebook data perhaps but should also make reference to Ofcom’s research which is pretty robust. The important thing is that this region’s social media use is different to other regions. Why? Because we have more or less poor people than other regions, more or less old people than other regions (note that Facebook discounts anyone over 65 in its ad criteria). My argument is that a deeper understanding is needed in order to do more significant things with social media in your region.

    I can see there’s a desire to Fisk my piece and I’m happy to deal with anyone who thinks I’m making assumptions.

    As a representative of my university I’m saying robust research matters – I’m pretty comfortable with that.

  8. I’m pretty sceptical about asking people through interviews what they do online, in my experience it can be unreliable. Older people, for example, usually say they are not ‘online’ but in fact they often access information from the internet through others – friends or family.

    Surveys that ask people how they want to contact public services often conclude that they prefer the telephone, and claim this is because people want to ‘speak to a person’. However, analysis of contact data shows the web to be way, way out in front in terms of volume of usage.

  9. Good point Vicky – proxy use is worth asking about (after all we we used to go next door to use the phone before we had a phone of our own).

    Ofcom’s research reveals something on this (they use interviews and have a 95% confidence level in their research). In the 65%+ age group 3% used the internet in someone else’s house. A link to the contact data cited would be really useful – then we’d get some triangulation between the various sources.

    (data linked to from the round-up of last year’s digital participation event – slide 12 of the embedded Ofcom presentation – where we had a useful discussion on how to accurately measure this stuff)

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