The State of Social Media and Social Media Marketing


Earlier in the month, Esteban Contreras published a terrific “State of Social Media” report with a particular focus on social media advertising (h/t to SocialFish).

Facebook remains the big giant with 900 million monthly active users. YouTube is in the same class with 800 million, but these two dwarf everyone else (Zynga, which itself has 40% more users than its next closest competitor, only has 232 million MAUs). Facebook, in other words, “has established itself as THE social platform,” and – unexceptional earnings reports notwithstanding – it is likely to hold that turf for some time to come as it improves and expands functionality like scheduling, post-level metrics, mobile-only ads, and the like.

Spending on social network advertising is growing fast (projected at 43% growth in 2012), and even though the rate of growth is expected to decline (dropping to 18% in 2014), that still amounts to massive increases, hitting $5.5 billion in 2014. One implication for nonprofits and everyone else: it’s increasingly difficult to get noticed, especially on Facebook. Spending on local social ads, as a component of overall social ad spending, is also growing quickly. But despite the spending trends, it’s still unclear how effective social network ads are. LinkedIn is a notable exception.

More than half of adult cell phone owners go online using their phones: “Mobile is becoming the first screen.” This is a HUGE ongoing shift that nonprofits ignore at their peril.

Google+ is still pretty far back in the pack in terms of users (only 150 million MAUs), but it hit those numbers in just one year of operation, and it enjoys really high engagement levels: “I still think Google+ is the dark horse here …” This robust engagement includes 50% of Google users signing in at least once a day and spending an average of 60 minutes a day on Google.

Some other noteworthy trends:

  • YouTube is seeing a drop in users but claims it’s making up for it with increasing engagement.
  • YouTube is investing $100 million on its own premium channels.
  • Daily Twitter use continues to grow, especially among 18-24 year olds.
  • Use of location-based services on smartphones continues to grow quickly as well, up 55% from just a year ago. One in five use “geosocial” apps.
  • With Klout at the front of the parade, we’re now seeing a bundle of startups rushing to measure influence among social network users.
  • Trending tactics in social media marketing include: social curation, frictionless sharing, visual experimentation, storytelling, fan-centric content.
  • “Good experiences are key to earned social media advocacy.”

Action. Not Membership.

In a recent interview with Wired, author and social analyst Clay Shirky was asked what his big takeaways were from recent events in the social media world. Shirky notes that the idea of membership has gone away but groups have not. He goes on to note that only groups can take coordinated actions in the world and there is opportunity to reinvent group action:

The other one is that the idea of membership has gone away.  Facebook is not very good at dealing with named groups, they’re not very good at saying, “We’ve got this book club and I’m a member and you’re not.” But membership is one of the precursors to a lot of social action. My bet is that the group pattern — the named group that can do things like open a bank account or take some kind of coordinated action in the world — is an overlooked pattern that someone is going to reinvent. 

Shirky says the idea of membership has gone away. Indeed. But if someone is willing to wear your “members only” jacket that is an action worth tracking.

Membership is already being redefined and reinvented as action. You don’t need to be a member (or wear the right jacket) to take action. But organizations need to pay close attention to actions, what makes them happen, where, when and how they impact their goals.

Membership is a term of relevance to organizations, not individuals. It’s time to reinvent membership. Maybe call it something else. Maybe not. At it’s core, membership is a relationship. Any relationship is built upon action. In nonprofits, sometimes the organization acts but more often individuals act. Organizations need to pay much better attention to the actions people take, why they take them, and how actions occur.

Action Matters

Email, the web, social networks and more have all changed the nature of communications between organizations and individuals. We don’t rely on newsletters to find out what’s going on. We don’t need to belong to an environmental group to know what’s happening to our favorite forest. We can Google it all in a few seconds, subscribe to any number of email lists, look for it on Facebook. Access to information has changed the need for and purpose of the membership relationship.

A greater change, however, is that one no longer needs to be a member to take action on an issue. This has been the case for years, of course. I get emails from the Sierra Club or a friend shares a link on Facebook. I click. I fill out a form and send a letter. I’m involved without being a member. This has been going on since the dawn of email list building time (olden times…the late-1990s).

In recent years this has evolved further as tools for creating the large-scale collective actions needed to change policy are made available to anyone through commercial endeavors (Care2 and Change.org, for example), open source software, and social networks like Facebook, Tumblr, Reddit and many more.

MoveOn and Upworthy are, to varying degrees, current examples of organizations that blend together third party content with some of their own content, add in some calls to action, and bake in a highly optimized social network oven to maximize sharing and drive more people to take action. MoveOn will ask you for money to support its campaign work but neither worries about membership. Both want you to act and relentlessly track what makes that happen.

Stop counting and start tracking

If action is the heart of a relationship we, as organizations, are fortunate. Nonprofits exist to take action and move people to action. We have the ability to track many, if not every, part of an action as a piece of data. With that data we can better understand what motivated people to action (and what didn’t), who took action (and who didn’t), and correlate messages, issues, people, places and more with the success we need (and learn from the failures that we don’t need…but are at least enlightening).

In other words, stop worrying about the number of people on the list and focus on actions.

To do this, we need clear goals and better attention to data.

There is too much data to make any sense of it all. First, have clear goals. If we want to change policy X then name that goal. Understand exactly who needs to act and where to change it. If we need to help 1,000 homeless people in December then name that goal and pinpoint exactly how many people need to act to make it happen. Only then can you know what data you need to track and how to set up your messaging to make tracking possible.

Second, organizations much invest in their ability to track, interpret and use data. Today, most every way organizations interact with individuals can be tracked in metrics baked into email, web, and social media. There are limits to how far we can track users. There are privacy issues. There are problems with how well CRMs track, report and integrate with other data sets. Yet most obstacles are internal and can be resolved.

Too many organizations look at online communications and behavioral data with the jaded eye of the old-time coaches and managers in Moneyball. Data (proof) on the latest month of social media sharing is discarded with a “well, my issue matters most so let’s just keep talking about it.”

Today, we have powerful data about actions and the strength of relationships between organizations and individuals. We have a long way to go but only by tracking, segmenting, and testing can we improve. Organizations must step up their investment in data, make staff comfortable with it, use it. Strong data insights applied to clear goals will drive action, strengthen relationships and help organizations succeed in a world where membership is less important.

 

Facebook Launches Promoted Posts. Meh.

Increasingly, I come away from any conversation about Facebook and “how to use it” and “how to maximize ROI for our nonprofit” feeling a little dirty.

The Facebook IPO and ensuing investigation has a lot to do with this but the fact that all went down the way it allegedly did doesn’t seem surprising.

What’s a bigger problem is that nonprofit organizations (and many other businesses and campaigns) are putting significant resources into a platform which has little interest in their needs and a terribly cavalier attitude towards data. No this is not a privacy rant.

The launch of Facebook Promoted Posts will be met by some organizations and social media marketing wizards as a great opportunity. (For info on how promoted posts work check out this very good piece over at SocialFresh…no need to recreate the explanatory wheel here)

Basically, advertisers are paying to place and keep content in and/or near the top of your Facebook stream. Ads right there under photos of your cousin’s kids and your friend’s note about last night’s concert is an ad for feminine hygiene products (tailored to your age and gender…I’m hoping I don’t see that ad).

Hey, Facebook is a massive corporation that must maximize profit (heck, make a profit). Expect to see more of this. It’s just business.

Is this where nonprofit organizations should be focusing their relationship building time and money? The answer is probably well, yeah, at least some of it. That’s unfortunate. Be sure to find and reach people in meaningful ways in places and with systems that you can control.

* Image by socialfresh

Figured Out the Rest of Your 2012 Conference Plan Yet?

Trying to figure out your conference schedule for the rest of the year?

From Allyson Kapin on the Frogloop blog:

From Amy Schmittauer on the Convince and Convert blog:

You can also check out Kivi’s conference recommendations on her Nonprofit Communications Blog and the impressively thorough conference list on SocialBrite.

The Pitfalls of A/B Testing and Benchmarking

Improvement begins with measurement, but the ruler can also limit your audacity to try wildly new approaches (photo by Flicker user Thomas Favre-Bulle).
Google is famous for, among other things, crafting a deep, rich culture of A/B testing, the process of comparing the performance of two versions of a web site (or some other output) that differ in a single respect.

The benefit: changes to a web site or some other user interface are governed by real-world user behavior. If you can determine that your email newsletter signup button performs better with the label “Don’t Miss Out” instead of “Subscribe,” well, that’s an easy design change to make.

The practice of benchmarking – using industry standards or averages as a point of comparison for your own performance – has some strong similarities to A/B testing. It’s an analytic tool that helps frame and drive performance-based testing and iteration. The comparison of your organization’s performance to industry benchmarks (e.g., email open rates, average donation value on a fundraising drive) provides the basis for a feedback loop.

The two practices – A/B testing and benchmarking – share a hazard, however. Because a culture of A/B testing is driven by real-time empirical results, and because it generally depends on comparisons between two options that are identical in every respect but one (the discrete element that you are testing), it privileges modest, incremental changes at the expense of audacious leaps.

To use a now-classic business comparison: while Google lives and breathes A/B testing, and constantly refines its way to small performance improvements, the Steve Jobs-era Apple eschewed consumer testing, assuming (with considerable success) that the consumer doesn’t know what it wants and actually requires an audacious company like Apple to redefine product categories altogether.

Similarly, if your point of reference is a collection of industry standards, you are more likely to aim for and be satisfied with performance that meets those standards. The industry benchmarks, like the incremental change model that undergirds A/B testing, may actually constrain your creativity and ambitiousness, impeding your ability to think audaciously about accomplishing something fundamentally different than the other players in your ecosystem, or accomplishing your goals in a profoundly different way.

The implication isn’t that you should steer clear of A/B testing or benchmarking. Both are powerful tools that can help nonprofits focus, refine, and learn more quickly. But you should be aware of the hazards, and make sure even as you improve your iterative cycles you are also protecting your ability to think big and think different about the work your organization does.

And if you want to dive in, there are a ton of great resources on the web, including a series of posts on A/B testing by the 37Signals guys (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3), the “Ultimate Guide to A/B Testing” on SmashingMagazine, an A/B testing primer on A List Apart, Beth Kanter’s explanation of benchmarking, and the 2012 Nonprofit Social Network Report.

The Digital Nonprofit Toolkit

For most nonprofits, a suite of digital tools can be a critical asset for enabling your team to do amazing work (not to mention simply enabling yourself to kick ass). As consultants to nonprofits that have hands in some start-ups, we don’t have the same needs and use cases as many nonprofits. But we’ve spent years working in nonprofits and are collaborating with many on a daily basis.

Here’s what we are using these days:

File sharing: We use Dropbox a lot, although Google Docs can be a good alternative if you’ve got a shared account (and we suspect that the new Google Drive is going to give Dropbox a serious run).

Email: I mostly use MailChimp…it’s inexpensive, reasonably easy to use and integrates with a wide array of third-party apps. Creating and changing templates can be annoying at times but, hey, nobody said HTML email was as easy as making toast. Documentation is solid, the Chimp folks blog frequently and seem genuinely interested in nonprofit implementations.

I am increasingly a fan of SendGrid, as well. They’ve got awesome customer service, it’s much easier for a non-techie like me to design and modify the email templates, and they are slowly rolling out free and low-volume pricing options. If you do high volume email, especially if you want to build your own internal UI, then SendGrid seems like the obvious choice.

We realize that most mid-size to ginormous nonprofits (and many small groups) are going to be using tools from Blackbaud, Convio, Salsa or other companies that mush together email, advocacy and fundraising. If you’ve got the budget and you’d prefer the combined multi-function product instead of stand-alone elements, they can make a lot of sense.

Emailing large files: YouSendIt and Dropsend are both solid. They can be pretty useful when the other party isn’t using DropBox.

Document collaboration: For all its quirks, we haven’t found anything that beats Google Docs (which is now being folded into Google Drive).

Bookmarking, Notetaking, Writing: Ted has become a consistent and almost fanatical user of Evernote (and if Instagram can be worth a billion dollars then why not Evernote?). It covers the bases, it’s easy to use, and it’s very accessible on multiple devices. Our main complaint is that its formatted content doesn’t paste well into other tools.

Cloud storage: For simple storage, I’m a fan of Rackspace, and I especially love their “fanatical” customer support. We know others who like Amazon Cloud, as well.

Backups: I use a pair of external hard drives and Time Machine, but I might end up exploring something cloud-based (maybe as a supplement to my hard drive-swapping approach). Anyone out there really in love with a particular cloud backup solution?

Social media dashboards: Hootsuite has been the hands-down winner for me, although it’s really just a Twitter dashboard. I like the UI, it’s easy to use, and it does what I want. You can include other accounts, like Facebook, but it doesn’t work as well for those (which I think is generally true of dashboards like this). Ted is happy with Hootsuite as well but is less enthusiastic about it … he finds the interface to be clunky, and there are some annoying issues when trying to manage/admin client Twitter accounts (e.g., if the client is already using Hootsuite free version to manage their Twitter account you can’t get access to it via your own Hootsuite, which is just silly).

Time tracking/Invoicing: When you’re an independent consultant or small shop tracking your time is both a pain in the arse and one of the most critical parts of surviving. We’ve been very pleased with Harvest. Heck, most nonprofit enterprise time tracking systems could learn a lot from Harvest and similar systems.

Project management: Basecamp and Wrike are my two favorite project management tools. They take different approaches, the former built more on a “Getting Things Done” type of structure while Wrike is a little more traditional, but they both have good UIs and solid features. I’m just starting a project using Smartsheet (because it integrates with a very cool public input tool we are using called Crowdbrite), which I’ve not used before … I can report on it in a few months.

Blogging/web platform: WordPress, especially when it’s used with the Genesis framework. It has its quirks, and it can be tough for non-techies to build out a site with any real customization (although I can recommend great web designers if you need anyone), but every blog I use now is built on WordPress. It’s robust, the UI is solid once the site is built, and it looks really good. We’ve seen (and built) some great sites that are much more than blogs using WordPress. It can be done. But think hard about Drupal, especially if you’re building a broad content and/or community-rich site.

Music: Because who doesn’t need music sometimes while they work … I’m a fan of Spotify and Pandora, although our local classical station (KVOD) and the terrific Santa Monica indy station KCRW get a lot of my streaming as well. Ted is a big Rdio fan, which I haven’t tried yet (but should because it’s far better than Spotify, Ted claims). He also threw in a vote for KCRW and for Denver’s KUVO. We are both fans of Seattle’s KEXP for edgy alt-rock.

Link shortening: I mostly use Bitly. It’s simple, free, and has decent analytics. Hootsuite integrates ow.ly, though, which also works fine.

Password management: It took me a while to warm up to it, and because I have multiple Dropbox accounts the Dropbox-based syncing didn’t work (they have other sync options), but I’m now a solid fan of 1Password. I keep track of one master password and it keeps track of everything else. Very handy once you get over the hump of actually using it.

Online stores and e-commerce: The combo of Shopify and Stripe seems to work well for managing online stores and the related e-commerce transactions.

What did we miss? Other great options we should cover?

Photo courtesy actna.net (which has a pretty good article on digital tools that should be in a journalist’s toolbox).

Why Twitter is Bigger Than You Think

Photo by Flickr user stevegarfield.
Edison Research posted last week about their new research on how Americans use social media. One interesting finding: a huge percentage (89%) of Americans twelve and older are familiar with Twitter while a much, much smaller percentage (10%) actually use it.

This has been a pretty consistent finding over the past several years, so while it’s interesting, an even more interesting finding is the explanation for that gap. Edison concluded that “44% of ALL 12+ Americans report seeing tweets in other media (radio, TV, newspaper or other websites) ‘Almost Every Day,’ and 80% of Americans overall claim to have ever seen tweets in other media.” This is big deal, because it means that Twitter’s impact is outsized relative to its market penetration and because it means that its impact is actually quite complicated, filtering through other media in addition to whatever direct impact it has.

Edison points to three important implications:

  • Regardless of how you use Twitter, most Americans (as in an actual majority of Americans) view Twitter as a purely broadcast network.
  • As such, Broadcasting is far from dead, and social isn’t killing it. Social is changing it, but in terms of how most Americans consume tweets, Twitter is just another cable network.
  • If you are measuring anything based upon unstructured data mined from Twitter (particularly influence), you are missing nearly 80% of the potential impact of Twitter by not taking the cross-media and offline impact of Tweets into account.

They won’t be releasing the actual study until Blogworld NY in early June, so we may have to wait until then to really dive into their findings, but it may have substantial implications for what an effective nonprofit Twitter strategy might look like.

Some of the most important nonprofit uses of Twitter are relatively confined, involving conversations amongst engaged nonprofit folks. Twitter is where a lot of those conversations happen, and a nonprofit Twitter strategy might fruitfully focus on engagement in those conversations. It’s not clear that the Edison study impacts that type of strategy very much.

But for nonprofits that want to use Twitter to engage with people outside of those conversational circles, paying attention to how tweets and Twitter memes escape the Twittersphere and penetrate other channels and other conversations is really important.

Our First Book Launch: The Nimble Nonprofit Hits the Streets (and Barnes & Noble)

The Nimble Nonprofit is now available at Barnes & Noble ($4.99)!
Yesterday Trey and I launched our first book, The Nimble Nonprofit: An Unconventional Guide to Sustaining and Growing Your Nonprofit, with a ton of help from our Bright+3 colleague Ted Fickes.

We’re only a day into it, but it’s been great fun so far: a ton of awesome reviews on Amazon, a bunch of great Twitter traffic, and even an unsolicited and really favorable full-on book review (thanks Bonnie Cranmer!).

In addition, I now have a “Jacob Smith” author page on Amazon. I wasn’t expecting much when I logged in to set it up, but I must not have paid author pages much attention previously because it turns out they’re actually set up pretty well. In addition to what you’d expect (profile, photo, etc.), they also allow you to bring in a Twitter feed and an RSS feed, which is a nice touch.

And great news if you are a Nook fan: The Nimble Nonprofit is now available at Barnes & Noble!

The book is in review at Apple, and as soon as it launches there we’ll announce it.

We’re thrilled to sent our little book out into the world, and we welcome your comments, critiques, and thoughts … send them our way:

  • email: authors@nimblenonprofit.com
  • Twitter: #nimblenpo
  • web: http://brightplus3.com/

The First Bright+3 Book Launch: The Nimble Nonprofit

I am thrilled to announce the launch of The Nimble Nonprofit: An Unconventional Guide to Sustaining and Growing Your Nonprofit.

The nonprofit world truly is in a state of flux. Much of what used to work doesn’t anymore. The need to invest in growing ass-kicking staff and to develop sustained organizational capacity has never been greater, yet the difficulties of doing so are growing as quickly as the need. In The Nimble Nonprofit we cover a wide range of what we believe are critical challenges facing the nonprofit sector:

  • cultivating a high-impact innovative organizational culture;
  • building and sustaining a great team;
  • staying focused and productive;
  • optimizing your board of directors;
  • creating lasting relationships with foundations, donors, and members;
  • remaining agile and open; and
  • growing and sustaining a nimble, impactful organization.

We mean for The Nimble Nonprofit to be a guide – an unconventional irreverent, and pragmatic guide – to succeeding in a nonprofit leadership role, and to tackling this incredibly challenging nonprofit environment. We aimed for a conversational, practical, candid, and quick read instead of a deep dive. If you want to immerse yourself in building a great membership program, or recruiting board members, or writing by-laws, there are plenty of books that cover the terrain (and some of them are quite good).

But if you want the no-nonsense, convention-challenging, clutter-cutting guide to the info you really, really need to know about sustaining and growing a nonprofit, well, we hope you’ll check out The Nimble Nonprofit.

This is our first book, and the publishing industry is a state of disarray, so – following the spirit in which we wrote the book – we are taking an unconventional path. We decided to publish strictly as an e-book, and we decided to self-published (with a bunch of help from Ted here at Bright+3). We are offering the book through the big three e-bookstores (Amazon, Apple, and Barnes & Noble, and we might add a few more to the mix), and we’ve priced the book at $4.99, which is much less expensive than the vast array of other nonprofit books.

As of right now, the book is available on Amazon (and it’ll hit the other two stores shortly). If you’d like to score a copy of The Nimble Nonprofit and enjoy reading it on your Kindle, iPad, or another tablet, jump on Amazon and grab it (did I mention it’s only $4.99?).

And, because our main goal is contributing to the conversations around these critical questions, we are also making a .pdf version of the book available for free.

We suspect that most readers will agree with some of what we argue and disagree with other parts, and because we challenge much of the conventional wisdom about building strong nonprofits, we’re pretty sure that some folks will disagree with a lot of what we write. And we look forward to the conversations. Please send us your thoughts, critiques, comments, and ideas

  • email: authors@nimblenonprofit.com
  • Twitter: #nimblenpo
  • web: http://brightplus3.com/

Tell us where you think we’re wrong and where we’ve hit the nail on the head, and please share with us other examples of nonprofits doing a great job of tackling these challenges and where they are just getting it wrong.

Happy reading –

Jacob

(P.S. The Nimble Nonprofit is available right now on Amazon.)

Lets Get Local: Using Social Media in State and Local Campaigns

Earlier this week, Jacob and I were joined by a colleague, Karen Middleton of Emerge America, at the Nonprofit Technology Conference where the three of us spoke about the use of social media in state and local advocacy campaigns.

The three of us are longtime activists and advocacy campaigners. Jacob and Karen are both former elected officials (Jacob a city council member and mayor, Karen a state legislator and member of the state board of education). Having served, they bring a unique perspective to the discussion. We explored the challenges that elected officials face, particularly those at the state and local level where resources are highly constrained.

Saul Alinsky in Chicago, 1966. We may be communicating digitally but it's still about organizing relationships.

The framework of our presentation was tied together by the premise that while social media (and email and other online communications) are digital (or virtual, if you like), advocacy is local and, especially at the state and local level, the work of influencing local elected officials is all about relationships. Understanding how the people in your online networks know and relate to officials goes a long way towards using social media in a powerful and strategic way.

We had a great discussion with people in the room, many of whom are engaged in some strong campaigns. Nancy Marks from the Boston-based organization Health Resources in Action shared their Face Off Against Tobacco campaign which is a great use of personal messages and photos. The more personal you can make your messaging, the better, and this is very true at the local level.

We are sharing the slides from the session below. We’ll be sharing similar versions of this talk at some future events in Colorado and online. Stay tuned.

You might also want to check out the Digital Engagement Guide. I came across it recently and it looks to be a good new site tracking the use of digital tools and networks in the public sector.

The National Conference of State Legislatures has a page listing the social network links of the legislative leaders of all states.

If you have tips or other examples of local campaigns with great uses of social media we would love to hear from you. Share them in the comments.