Learn Economics. Work for Amazon, eBay, [insert tech company name here]…

This working paper from the Harvard Business School by Susan Athey and Michael Luca was recently brought to my attention by Dr. Alba Collart. The authors discuss the increasing role of economists working for tech companies like Amazon, eBay, Google, Airbnb, etc. Fascinating stuff!

I’ll list what I thought were some of the highlights:

  • Not only is the number of economists employed in this sector growing rapidly, but economists are playing more central roles in company decision-making.
  • What are the skills these companies want that economists have? (1) identifying causal relationships, (2) designing incentives to improve business outcomes, (3) disentangling the complexities of market equilibria.
  • Economists take on a wide variety of roles, from data analysis to experiment design, to public policy work.

And economists at these companies are working on topics like:

  • How to increase online advertising revenue?
  • What types of email language lead not only to more people opening them but to increased sales?
  • How do changes in the app user interface affect consumer behavior?
  • How can bias in online reviews be minimized?

And economists work on the complex interactions of these ideas as well. One example given is how eBay at one point changed its user interface to make it easier to compare prices across products. Well, this affected consumer choice, which in turn affected prices charged by sellers, all of which, over the long run, affected whether consumers used eBay at all.

I should mention that the focus of the article is on PhD economists, and I know a great place to get started in the field of economics if you’re interested!

Optimize Your Facebook Business with Insights

It’s a familiar question. A new business launches its very own Facebook page and then begins to post content, but engagement is lackluster. Few people interact with the business page. What should a business owner do? The first question to ask is: Why the lackluster interaction? While many factors may contribute to lackluster interaction with fans, Facebook.com is trying to help small business owners optimize their business. One possible answer: Focus on engaging fans when they are online. Timing is everything in business and interaction with fans is no different. Lots of research exists that can direct a business owner to some rules of thumb when engaging fans on his or her page. But one of the new ways (thanks to a recent update by Facebook) is to simply observe the page data Facebook collects about fans. If you have the new Facebook Insights (and not everyone does just yet), here are the steps to follow to learn how to optimize your posts on your Facebook business page:

Step 1: Go to Insights for your page.

Step 2: Click on “Posts.”

Step 3: Click on “When Your Fans are Online” – this IS the view you want.

This view shows you two things: (1) The average number of your fans who saw any posts on Facebook by day of the week; and (2) The average number of your fans who saw any posts on Facebook in an hour.

An Example

The figure below shows an example from the Mississippi State University Extension Program that I deliver to communities here in Mississippi called Mississippi Bricks to Clicks. You will see two “Insights” from the view I have described above. First, you see that Wednesday (this past week) was the highest number of fans reached (116) and that the two top times were 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. View the info graphic about this, here.

So, use what Facebook gives you now. Next week, I’ll use this information when making my own posts on the Mississippi Bricks to Clicks page. Give it a try. And if you don’t understand, feel free to contact me at barnes@agecon.msstate.edu.

Dr. James Barnes