Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The problem with case studies

When I speak at social media events and conferences, my presentations are usually very well received and the audience typically finds great value in them. The main reason why (I think), is because I tell stories. My presentations always include a lot of case studies from companies that are successfully leveraging social media to grow their businesses.

But case studies alone aren't that significant, and many companies misuse them. Because too many companies want to hear successful case studies, then replicate what those companies did.

The key isn't copying another company, the key is to understand what worked, and why. Then take the lesson learned from that case study, and apply it to your own efforts.

Graco launched a blog and saw amazing results. But just because blogging has worked for Graco doesn't mean it will work for your company. The success didn't lie with the blog, it was in how Graco created and executed its blogging strategy.

Is your competitor seeing Twitter drive sales to its store? Awesome. Does that mean that you need to get on Twitter too, or that you need to understand how your competitor is leveraging social media to grow its business?

Social media case studies are incredibly valuable IF you can learn how and why social media worked in that particular instance, and apply that lesson to your own efforts. Otherwise you'll always be chasing the 'next big thing', and never quite catch it.


Georgia said...

Mack, I love how your posts emphasize the importance of adding value to your current strategy rather than focusing all your efforts on wow-ing people with big, new ideas or amazing results. I think that it's really easy for people to get caught up in the social media buzz. And as a result, they rush into the blogosphere/Twitter/Facebook and skip any steps requiring some creativity.

Great insight as usual!

Steve Averill said...

This is a great post and very timely as I was about to present my best case study for social media for a restaurant group. Well said.

Suzanne Vara said...

It is interesting that when people do see something that worked for someone else that they want to copy it as it will work for them. There were reasons why it worked for others (whether that be additional resources, target market, topic, etc) and that makes a difference.

People run to the good and copy but never look at the ones that failed to copy - opportunity to fix the failure and turn it into a success. I still think it goes to wanting instant success and that drives people to jump without thinking it through.

Massy said...

It's all about adding value.. not just the latest "shiny object" but real actionable value...

Unknown said...


Perfectly stated. It is also a shame that most presenters simply present a case study as the end but fail to examine the how of the case study. They don't point out the learning but simply recount what happened. A shame really because as you point out, what happened isn't the good stuff...the good stuff is why the company did what it did and a conversation/examination of the "What" including discussion about what else the company might have done to achieve similar or even better results.

Unknown said...

Great post - I agree. When working with my clients to leverage innovation in their business, we discuss many case studies. I work with the client to find the underlying idea that generated the result. Then, we decide whether that is appropriate for their business culture or how to adapt the lesson from the case study to fit their business. Sometimes, there is no fit, so we move to a different case study.
Every business culture is different - finding what works is key.

Gavin Heaton said...

Great post Mack! It is easy to get carried away with someone else's success ... But the real trick is turning the lens back onto your own business.

Brett Widmann said...

This is a helpful article. I like your emphasis on value vs. the wow factor. Thanks for sharing.