Content is a forest. Don’t just count the trees.

One piece of content strategy is knowing why, when, how (and if) you need to post your content in multiple places. That seems like a lot of extra work. A version of this topic about this popped up last week in a Slack community for nonprofit/NGO folks with which I’m involved. Someone posted this question:

Does anyone have any useful insight for blogging? I’m specifically looking at posting to our native website and cross-posting to other sites – Medium, Linkedin, WordPress, etc. Obviously each has their own strengths but it feels like overkill to post to all.

I love this. Where to put content, when, why, and what it should look like come up in every comms and digital program – regardless of whether or not there’s a clear content strategy. Every organization sorts this out. And the good ones ask the question over and over again. Talking through it presents a great opportunity to dig into about content strategy, staffing, planning, editorial style, marketing and more.

Isn’t putting our content in more than one place just extra work?

Pushing content into multiple channels is probably already happening. Your blog posts, articles, reports, and action alerts are all finding their way into social media posts.

A blog post you write today probably also has an accompanying Facebook post with a headline, text and photo optimized for Facebook engagement. It has a 200 or so character tweet and photo. Maybe it also has a one minute video – an interview with a staff member about the story that can go on YouTube or Instagram.

Doing this much is almost taken for granted. You want to raise awareness of the post, drive clicks to your site and so you create little versions of the story that entice people to click through to find out more.

Measure the forest, not just the trees.

Most of us focus on one featured piece of content – usually a blog post or other page on a website. We’re constantly planting new trees in our content forest. We care for each tree – at least for a day or two – by telling everyone “hey, go look at the tree.” We measure page views and Facebook likes, Instagram followers and retweets.

We’re often answering the “should I also put our content over there” using a cost-benefit equation that can’t be defined. Of course, we’re going to create the main post or piece of content. We have to do that. (You have to have at least one tree, right?)

How do we know if a tree on the website, on Medium, or on LinkedIn is worth it?

What if we could measure the value of the forest instead of each tree? We know a healthy forest needs different kinds of trees. Some live. Some don’t.

Some trees serve as home for squirrels and birds. Others produce twigs eaten by deer. Some create shade the keeps things cool and others drop leaves that replenish the forest floor.

Each person interacting with a story or piece of content (a tree) is getting something special from it. We just don’t have great ways of measuring individual value. But if someone important to us gets all their value from a Facebook tree then we better make sure that all the content they need is on Facebook. Other people might be email newsletter and Facebook consumers. Others get their nutrition from Medium. And maybe a little ego-soothing LinkedIn first thing in the morning.

A thriving forest is alive, evolving and growing. So is your content.

There’s no one way to care for a healthy forest. And what works today may not be worth doing a year from now. Know how people engage with content. Don’t just optimize the website for stickiness or assume you can create great Facebook posts that get people to go read the full article. Consider the people who spend most of their time in Facebook and make sure they get what you need them to get while there. If you can show that your people are on Medium then don’t look that as extra work, look at it as necessary and do it well.

Review your approach regularly. Don’t be afraid to shift gears, test, put more time into one part of the forest for a while.

Measuring the forest.

Figure out how to measure for the forest, not the individual trees. Don’t rely on page views, clicks, opens and raw audience size. That’s all great stuff. Do measure it. But don’t base your decisions about how to spend your time on it.

Here’s an idea: ask people qualitative questions about your content and it’s impact on their work, conversations with family or friends, their ability to take meaningful action. Ask them in January. Then ask those same people again in May and October. Do they recall content? Do they remember where they found it? Did they take an action or make a donation as a result? Did they change their own economic or political behavior? Did they send it to someone? How and why?

Many of these actions don’t happen at grandiose scales. The numbers may not wow you but tangible measures of action, empathy and engagement can be the difference between content that’s distributed and content that has impact. And that’s a helpful number to pin down when trying to define the difference between content strategy and content production.

Facebook Grants, Nonprofits and what’s really needed

Facebook GrantsEarlier this week Facebook announced that it had begun putting “Donate” buttons on pages run by US nonprofit organizations. The program rolled out on 19 nonprofit pages and other groups are invited to express interest in participating. Facebook is offering to funnel donations to nonprofits free of charge — 100% of donations made will go to the nonprofit.

This program is important for several reasons. Perhaps most importantly is that it begins (we hope) to standardize the Facebook donation experience which has to date been cobbled together through a combination of free and paid third party apps, forms embedded on page tabs (an interface Facebook removed), and any number of attempts to move potential donors off Facebook which has always been difficult.

A Donate Button? Yeah! Oh, wait. Meh.

The response to this news from the broader nonprofit community may be characterized as lukewarm at best. Why? Organizations won’t receive the names and contact information of donors. Nonprofits are tired of Facebook’s ever-changing algorithms, interfaces and rules. Organizations are also finding they have to pay to get their content in front of Facebook users that already Like and follow their page. Facebook makes it hard for organizations to reach their audience without paying. Nonprofits are not flush with communications and marketing resources. A pay to play environment shuts many if not most groups out of Facebook.
Continue reading “Facebook Grants, Nonprofits and what’s really needed”

If you watch one damn slide deck all year make it this one

Or, the science of great content that gets shared.

Only watch this if you want you want more people to read and take action on your content.

In June, a team from Upworthy gave a presentation at Netroots Nation about their approach to writing headlines and other content – all the while getting your stuff shared out the wazoo. I thought it was a terribly useful deck then, especially for nonprofit organizations that struggle to not just build a social media following but, more critically, have trouble getting their social communities to do much of anything.

The deck was updated for Rootscamp this past weekend. Check out the deck here or embedded below – but only bother if you have any interest in doing what it takes to make your social media communications get attention. Hell, all your communications could benefit from these insights into headlines, interesting writing, testing, optimizing sharing, and testing some more.

A few highlights for your consideration…

  • These folks know what they’re talking about. Upworthy launched in late-March, 2012. In eight months they have 791,000 Facebook fans, 43,000 Twitter followers, and 10,000 Tumblrs. Their early growth far (FAR) outpaces that of Huffington Post, BuzzFeed or Business Insider.
  • Middle aged women are the biggest sharers on the Internet. If your mom wouldn’t share your stuff you’re probably failing.
  • Write 25 headlines. Test the better ones. Use the best one.
  • The share image matters. A lot.
  • Make sharing on your website as easy as possible. So easy your mom could do it. Test these things, too.
  • Test. Collect data. Figure out what the data says. Test again. Repeat. Rinse. Test again.

For what it’s worth, we have seen even small sharing optimization tweaks have huge impacts on sharing when working with clients on email, websites, social media, and so on. Make sharing easy. Write great content. Here’s Upworthy’s deck:

Coming: charitable donations with Facebook Gifts

Today, Facebook announced the ability to make charitable donations (to one of 11 nonprofits at this point) through the Facebook Gifts program that is still rolling out to users.

Because you probably haven’t seen it, Facebook Gifts is e-commerce baked into Facebook that lets users buy gifts from Facebook and announce the gift through the Facebook platform.

The charitable donation program will let you make a donation in someone’s name to the charity of your choice or let the person you are gifting choose the charity.

Facebook gifts donation screen

At this point, Facebook seems to have rolled the program out using pre-selected non profit partner organizations, including:

  • American Red Cross
  • Blue Star Families
  • Boys & Girls Clubs of America
  • Girls Inc.
  • Kiva
  • Oxfam America
  • St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital

By and large, these are all well-established, high visibility organizations.  Wired reports that gifts are limited to $25. It is unclear how much, if anything, Facebook or 3rd parties are taking for processing fees.

Will donations through Facebook Gifts empower a new revenue source for non profit organizations? That seems unlikely but, really, it’s too soon to tell if (or even how) the Gifts program on Facebook will work. Offering a donation portal makes sense from Facebook’s perspective.

We think there are two potential upsides to this. First, it may raise awareness of the organizations involved. Second, and perhaps more importantly, it may make people more aware of or comfortable with the idea of giving to organizations through Facebook.

The onus will still be on organizations to actively engage supporters and move them to donations or other appropriate interactions. While this may make more people aware of the idea that Facebook is a donation platform it won’t make marketing and communications easier. Keep an eye on how these 11 organizations communicate with their Facebook audiences for insights into what works (or doesn’t).

Social media is like soylent green: It’s made of people

Hats off to Brian Solis for a simple but powerful thought about social media today. He answers the question “What’s your best advice to social media managers?” The answer:

Stop talking about social media

Boom. Simple. We couldn’t agree more.

Note that this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t think about if or how you measure the ROI of your Facebook or Twitter efforts. Fact is that C Suite types want to know why they’re spending time and money on anything.

The point is that nonprofit organizations, like any enterprise, need to think about the outcomes they need and what they need people to do to make those outcomes happen.

For a nonprofit, it doesn’t matter how many people like you on Facebook or how many retweets you got last week. What matters is whether the people at the other end of those communications channels (along with the people reading your blog, direct mail, answering the phones when you call, reading your email alerts, getting your SMS alerts and more) are, both immediately and over time, taking the actions needed to make the change you want to see in the world.

Think of your organization’s fundraising, outreach and mobilization strategy as one big pie…a pie made up of people. Social media is one to reach those people. Some people use it a lot and many will share great (and funny) stuff with friends. Many use mobile. Others use email.

Social media is not an island. Don’t treat it as one. Make sure that your social media and other digital communicators are working closely with offline communicators and organizers. Look for overlaps between social media profiles, email addresses, web visitors and direct mail addresses. Understand how people use these to take action on your behalf.

Most of all, understand how people communicate, engage and act. Stop talking about social media and focus on the people and what they need.

Photo by ROFL CAT


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.”

Data Informed, Not Data Driven

This Adam Mosseri talk about how Facebook uses data to make decisions is a little dated but his observations are still extremely useful. His key insight: clear metrics and strong data-driven feedback loops can be powerful, but they have their limits as well. Facebook often uses solid empirical data to make decisions about their website design, their products, and the workflows that users experience on Facebook. They can test two versions of a website design, for example, and if design option A produces higher engagement than design option B it’s an easy choice.

But Mosseri also explains how an excessive fidelity to data-driven decisions can privilege incremental and uninspired changes at the expense of innovation and ambitious thinking. Facebook sometimes is aiming not only for high levels of engagement but for more fundamental changes in the way people interact with it and with each other. Facebook’s Timeline, for instance, inspired anger and fierce resistance among many Facebook users and sharp derision from the press, and the use of a conventional data-driven decision process would have killed it before it got very far, but Timeline is now a central and deeply-valued part of the Facebook experience.

Most nonprofits don’t seem to rely much on data for their decision-making about their websites, email newsletters, programs, and fundraising efforts, and when they do those efforts aren’t often carefully crafted and executed (some do, of course, but for every one that does there are many, many more that don’t). The remedy isn’t to swap all the intuitive and qualitative decision-making for analytic feedback loops, but to find a good balance. “Data informed, not data driven,” as Mosseri says.

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

What Facebook subscriptions mean for organizations

This post originally appeared on Frogloop.

On Wednesday, Facebook rolled out a subscribe feature that should be of interest to nonprofits because it may make it easier for organizations to interact with people on a personal level.

Most organizations have a branded page that Facebook users can like. When they like your organization’s page your updates appear in their news stream. But branded pages face a big hurdle: it is tough to connect at that personal level that helps define the Facebook experience.

The subscribe feature opens the door to Facebook users being able to follow updates from people they don’t know without becoming friends. This means that your organization’s executive director, board president, communications director or on the ground leader can post to Facebook (hopefully with a personal voice) make those updates available to people they don’t know.

Manage Facebook subscriptions
Choose "Subscriptions" on the left side menu of your profile to manage subscribers and enable your subscription options.
There are two parts to the subscribe process. First, you as a personal profile owner need to allow subscriptions. Click the subscriptions button on the left side of your profile page.

You’ll then see the screen that allows you to permit subscribers. Click Allow Subscribers. Here you will also be able to manage who can comment on your posts seen by subscribers.

Allow Facebook Subscribers button
Click "Allow Subscribers" to let people subscribe to your public posts on Facebook.

If comments are “on” then any subscriber can comment. If comments are “off” then only friends of friends can comment. You can’t, however, turn comments off completely. You can also manage what notifications you receive about new subscribers.

Control public Facebook posts
When you create a post choose "Public" to make it available to subscribers and friends. If you don't want an update available to subscribers be sure it isn't tagged as "Public."

Subscribers will now see your public posts. Your posts are probably set by default to be seen only by friends. You can change this for specific posts using the dropdown button next to the Post button.

How does one become a subscriber?

Once you make public posts available for subscription anyone can subscribe. When Facebook users visit your page they will see a subscribe button at the top of the page next to the “Add Friend” button. If you’re already friends with someone you won’t see the subscribe button (because you’re already seeing their posts).

Subscribe button on Facebook
Subscribe to a user's public posts by clicking the Subscribe button next to the Add Friend button.

Control updates you subscribe to on Facebook
Choose which/how many updates to receive from users you are subcribing to on Facebook.
A couple things to keep in mind: you don’t have to allow subscribers to your feed to subscribe to others and subscribers can control the amount and type of updates they see.

The options for which updated you want to see as a subscriber are not very clear. Subscribers can see “all,” “most” or “only important” updates. Facebook needs to do a better job at explaining what this means in real terms.

How will people know they can subscribe to your Facebook updates? Facebook is actively suggesting people that you might want to subscribe to with ads in the right sidebar.

Facebook subscription suggestion ad
An example of a Facebook subscription suggestion ad along the right side of the Facebook page.
Some of these ads are filled with somewhat random people and others are people that your friends have subscribed to with the names of your friends shown. This, plus automated status updates when you turn on subscriptions and subscribe to someone’s updates should boost overall use of the subscribe feature.

So who is going to use this and how can it help organizations?

In the near term, subscriptions will be picked up by bloggers and others that pretty much do their work in and around social networks. Some of the early chatter about Facebook subscriptions is that it is a hat-tip to celebrity. Stars and people that are well known in social media and technology will probably get some added reach with this but, as Mashable notes, there are possibilities for journalists, parents and teachers, and even average users. There is an upside for nonprofits as well.

Many organizations have leaders or staff with a personal brand on Facebook that is already being used on behalf of their organization and its work. An example would be Phil Radford, Executive Director of Greenpeace USA. Phil’s Facebook page shows that he has just under 2,300 friends, much of what he posts is only visible to friends but much of what he posts on Facebook is about Greenpeace and the issues on which the organization works. These posts are of interest to Phil’s friends but are not really directed at personal life events. But because they come from Phil (and not a huge organization on its branded Facebook page) they are a little more personal.

A leader and/or strong social media voice for an organization’s cause could turn on subscriptions and post their work and issue-related updates publicly, making them available to the streams of bloggers, reporters, politicians, activists and countless other interested citizens. This provides a level of personal interaction around issues and the organization that just isn’t possible by following an organization itself.

One potential downside: If you’re making your posts available to an audience of subscribers (and not just “friends”) then you make yourself more accessible. This is great in social media but increases the likelihood that you’ll be engaged by people that disagree with you. This is, of course, a primary concern organizations have with blogging and creating social media pages: what if someone disagrees with us and people see that? Facebook seems to have thought about this possibility and lets you manage who can comment (anyone that subscribes or just friends of friends). You can’t turn commenting off completely, however.

It’s likely that Facebook will fiddle with the subscriber feature and we’ll see some fine-tuning of comments and subscribe process. Maybe it won’t get used much and will go away but that seems unlikely. This is a clear shot at Google+ type interactivity, for one thing.

We’re interested to see what organizations do with subscriptions and would love to know what you think.

Facebook is giving people what they want (engaging content, that is)

Giving people what they want. This is how I would sum up news from EdgeRank Checker that Facebook user engagement is at least 70% lower with posts to Facebook through 3rd party applications (like Hootsuite). We’re not going to get into details on the methodology of the report. Check the original post for that. Allyson Kapin does a great job running through the report and its implications over on Frogloop.

Posting to Facebook with 3rd party applications lowers engagement
Infographic looking at lower Facebook engagement on posts from third party applications.

The idea that posts to Facebook from third party applications get less visibility on Facebook is not new. But this study is the most conclusive look yet at real data. What we want to look at here is what’s the moral of this story for organizations.

What you, as a Facebook user, see on Facebook is not simply a chronological stream of everything posted by every one of your friends and the pages you have liked.

When you visit Facebook you are seeing what Facebook shows you. It’s their network, after all. And what they are showing you is what they think you are most likely to be interested in reading as judged through past likes, comments, wall posts and tags.

Most people have figured out that there is at least some difference between “Top News” and “Most Recent” Facebook streams (though if you have figured out why you see what you do on the Facebook mobile app let us know – that one seems inexplicable at times).

Facebook wants you to see Top News because it believes you will be more likely to be interested and stay on the page. Facebook wants you to be happy.

This, friends, is the world presented to you through an algorithmic filter. Facebook figured out that people are happier seeing stuff they like. Continue reading “Facebook is giving people what they want (engaging content, that is)”