I’ve been resisting it for years, but a couple of weeks ago I finally tiptoed into Twitterland. 

I’ve been resisting it for years, but a couple of weeks ago I finally tiptoed into Twitterland.  I’d previously fought shy, reasoning that access to a method of instant broadcast and a big mouth weren’t a happy combination, but I must admit I was instantly hooked. 

The speed with which a story can spread online is now exponential. For business it has its good side and its bad. I’ve had long debates with Facebook friends who seem to me to be enjoying the potential downfall of the Western world far too much, reasoning that in the connected community every person can share a little bit of the responsibility for talking us into or out of another recession.

The retail story that went viral this week was the unexpectedly positive Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures. The overwhelming response was that they had pulled them out of an orifice not mentioned in polite company. 

Personally, I’m ambivalent about them. I welcome a bit of good news to cancel out some of the gloom, yet I don’t want Government policy influenced by numbers that I think we can all agree are inaccurate.

I’ve long criticised the basis for most ONS analyses. Speaking as an ex-statistician who’s been on the receiving end of their interminable attentions for many years, I regard their survey technique as having questionable value, especially when results are so marginal. 

There’s an old meteorologist joke about the most accurate way to test the weather: stick your head out the window. If you get wet, it’s probably raining. Online discussion of the ONS release suggested that they were denying the gathering clouds, if not the impending downpour.

I’m not going to proffer Twitter as a superior litmus test to the mighty ONS, but I’d suggest that the mood of retailers, and consumer confidence is being amply demonstrated there. 

These days, it’s as much about managing perceptions as reporting statistics. Maybe the ONS needs a new approach or at least a better barometer. After all there’s little point in telling us the sun is shining when we can feel the drizzle running down our neck.

  • Ian Middleton, Managing director and co-founder, Argenteus