Beware the Shell Game, Part 2

Categories: News,The Right Blend Blog

Last week I started part of an installment of 3 blogs all focused on the old shell game con. Just to rehash…..you know the old game, you’ve probably seen it depicted in movies if you’ve never actually seen it in person. There’s typically 3 cups, sometimes 2, with a ball, nutshell, something under that gets moved around erratically hoping to catch you unaware in your betting of where the ball has ended up. I feel like in today’s world we are all just playing a big shell game. One of the definitions I found for the game actually calls it a “confidence trick used to perpetuate fraud. A short-con because it is quick and easy to pull off.” This seemed to fit overwhelmingly with what I have observed of late.

In this installment we’re gonna examine the shell game that the internet has become. It’s so hard these days to know what websites to trust, who is actually telling the truth and what “reliable” info sources are actually valid. And then you have to add in what people use these websites for, which in some instances is decision making that affects the lives of everyone around you.

In the past 4 years Liberty County/Hinesville has earned the following “honors” from a website called NerdWallet.

  • June 5, 2014 we were the #2 “City on the Rise” in Georgia. Rincon and Richmond Hill do not even rank on the list. This was determined by: population growth from 09-12, employment growth from 09-12 and income growth from 09-12. But they do not tell you anywhere in this “study” where they gather that data from.
  • June 13, 2014 we were announced as #2 again for “Cities on the Rise” this time it was due to employment growth, income growth and population growth. This time we were in the same list as Johns Creek, Warner Robins and Carrollton.
  • October 2013 we were announced as #9 in the “Best Places in Georgia for Job Seekers”. We were the only city, other than Athens, that was not in the metro Atlanta area. The determining factors were growth in the working age population, median household income and the unemployment rate.
  • June 2013 we were featured as a top metro for women in the workforce.

And in the opposite outlook we were named the drunkest city in Georgia in 2016 by 247wallst.com, which is a story the Savannah Morning News picked up and ran! Because if it bleeds, it leads and the shell game starts.

And we weren’t named in the list as a top city in Georgia for young families in 2015, which made my wheels start turning, and I started watching both hands of this trickster and doing some research.

The “study”, and I use that term very loosely, is not statistically accurate, especially without verifiable data sources and a true comparison. Websites like NerdWallet use these to drive people to their website so that they can get click thrus on the links that are going to pay. We always compare ourselves to places like Statesboro and Columbus but note that on this particular study those cities are 97 and 100 to our 41, Jesup beat them both at #90.

Some other things I noted about this particular “study” and the website that created it:

  • NerdWallet.com is a personal finance website which has branded itself as an entity that helps consumers make money decisions. They are a profitable business. They make their money by comparing things (like banks, credit cards, etc.) and offering lists of those comparisons to consumers. They use affiliate links and when a user clicks the link and signs up for a credit card the credit card company pays them anywhere from $30-$150 for a new customer. They do the same for the other comparisons that they offer like for banks, mortgage companies, etc. They have roughly 13,000 “fans” on Facebook to give you a frame of reference.
  • Digging a little deeper I think it’s important to note as well that Georgia ranks in the top 10 of all states with the most credit card debt, if I was NerdWallett.com I would definitely do as many “studies” as I could and push them to local governments, chambers, etc. to get them to publish my link to their friends, fans and followers (since I only have 13,000 of my own) so that those Georgians see all the valuable consumer research I have compiled for them to get their next credit card. This research was done by USA Today. The best way to do that is to tell a small(er) Georgia city that they did good or their citizenry that they did bad, viola you’ve created news.
  • And then even deeper still, major metro cities as listed on NerdWallet: Dallas, Atlanta, etc. they have so many “studies” that they have done on things as far down in consumer spending reports such as the best doctors for bleeding in the stomach, small intestine or colon in Dallas, where the smaller “cities” get these overviews of the basics. Savannah has one on “knee hip replacement surgery” and you can click right through to those affiliate hospitals.
  • In an apples to apples comparison these “studies” are not viable, the #2 choice on the Best Cities for Young Families list is Cusseta, Georgia, which is just outside of Fort Benning and has a population size of 12,842, of course their growth is going to be figured a lot different because any impact makes a huge impact. Cusseta also only has 4 schools, we have 10 (in Hinesville) that are “rated” by greatschools.org.
  • At the Fort Stewart Strategic Planning Workshop in 2015, which YOUR Chamber/CVB attend, we spent a great deal of time talking about greatschools.org because yes, people look at that site, but unfortunately it is privately maintained so the school system has no control over what goes up and no avenue to rebut, fix or explain anything on their own behalf, so when people put up negative stuff, which let’s face it is why these sites exist, there is nothing that can be done. The BOE has made a concentrated effort to get more parents to comment positively to help outweigh the negative but it has to be done on a constant basis, otherwise greatschools.org takes those negative things, even if they are months or years old, and moves them back up to the top, knowing that strife sells.
  • Again using Cusseta, our median home value was $28k higher, our median family income was $2k higher. They “had us” in family income growth and percentage of families with at least 1 child under 18. They are located next to Columbus and Fort Benning, they serve as a bedroom community for the base, which explains both of those numbers because look at the explosion of growth in Columbus in recent years. According the US Census Bureau the median household income for Cusseta is in fact $48,758, so less than this “study” indicates. Just me crunching numbers and checking Census stats I would have looked at things like the percentage of people who live below the poverty level (not just children), crime stats, the total square miles of the city, the male-to-female ratio, and the population being the number one thing I would look at, etc. because all of those things impact in huge ways. There is a 21,000+ difference in population size between Cusseta and Hinesville.
  • Greatschools.org is one of the only I saw where they actually tell you how they arrived at a number. I looked up the Cusseta schools on GreatSchools.org they have 4 schools, they are rated: 2, 6, 3 and 3. An average of that number would be 3.5 but according to NerdWallet their average is a 5. Our average was 6, how many more slots up the ladder would we have moved if they would have averaged the schools correctly? Our lowest school rating is a 4.
  • They calculated “family friendliness”, which was 30% of your overall score, as the percentage of married couples with at least one child under age 18. A community with 12,000 residents will rate higher per capita on that “range” than a community with 34,227. We are also an infantry base with very young, single soldiers. Further my question becomes how in the world can you rate family friendliness by the number of married couples in today’s world?

So the shell game in full force on just two supposedly “reputable” websites that claim they are qualified to rank cities/counties. I will say that in spite of their tactics that their items of emphasis (workforce, education and family oriented events) are all heavily referenced in other publications as the main ingredients to a successful community, however, it’s the shell game they play with a lack of reputable data sources that makes me confused and bamboozled. You have to admit though they have an excellent marketing tactic down, they just don’t try to confuse people with the facts when they can “create” them from nothing.

 

Written by Leah Poole, CEO, Liberty County Chamber of Commerce/Liberty County Convention & Visitors Bureau

The Right Blend Blog is written by three different authors employed by the Liberty County Chamber/CVB. As we are able, we rotate weeks and each write about our individual experiences, opinions and let our writing reflect our personalities and creativity. All content provided on The Right Blend blog is for informational purposes only. The owner of this blog makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this site or found by following any link on this site.