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.”

Lessons From the SOPA/PIPA Fight

Wikipedia screenshot by Flickr user LoveNMoreLove.The Congressional fight over the SOPA and PIPA bills wasn’t a fight about whether intellectual property should be protected – virtually everyone agrees on this – but about how best to accomplish it. In fact, the most visible voices in the fight over SOPA/PIPA, on both sides, were people and industries with livelihoods based on creating or protecting intellectual property. But the substantive positions between proponents and opponents, and the implications of the legislation, were considerable nonetheless.

For nonprofits, the implications were substantial even if they weren’t generally highlighted. Making service providers fully liable for copyright violations occurring anywhere on their networks would almost certainly lead them – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social engagement platforms among them – to aggressively censor information before it is ever posted, erring on the side of expansive and overreaching prohibitions rather than risk liability. And it gives repressive governments, well-heeled corporations, and others a substantially enhanced ability quickly to shut down web sites and entire domains, a power easily applied to silence online speech they dislike for whatever reason. For nonprofits involved in supporting democracy or human rights movements around the world, these provisions were especially troubling. Ethan Zuckerman and Joi Ito of the MIT Media Lab have a good blog post (“MIT Media Lab Opposes SOPA, PIPA“) explaining some of this.

But the SOPA/PIPA fight was important for nonprofits in another way, as well: a technical, largely unreported, non-issue exploded into the popular consciousness in a matter of months, fundamentally changing the debate in Washington, D.C. In an incredibly short period of time, SOPA/PIPA opponents repeatedly made national and local press (local television stations were covering this!), compiled petitions signed by millions nationwide (Google says seven million signed its petition, and Fight for the Future reports ten million on another one), and produced a day-long Wikipedia blackout. I suspect there are a lot of lessons non-profit folks can learn from the SOPA/PIPA fight. Here are five:

1. Clear and Compelling Message
Opponents were able to take two very complex pieces of legislation and explain them in clear terms that spoke directly to the values and interests of their intended audiences. Tech people understood the implications of the DNS-blocking provisions, people whose livelihood depends on the ability to share information understood the implications of making social networking sites liable for copyright violations by people using the sites, and free-speech advocates understood the censorship implications.

2. Critical Mass
Opponents hit a critical mass, and their stories went viral, in part because everyone across key communities started talking about it about at the same time. Some of that was probably blind luck, but it was also because key opponents found ways to reach out aggressively across their networks more or less in unison. If you weren’t aware or engaged yet, but you were part of those networks, you heard about the issue a bunch of times within a short period, and then often you’d turn around and share the information with your networks, amplifying the viral effect. This was a real-time example of the “people have to hear something a dozen times before they notice it” marketing adage.

3. Calls to Action
Opponents, when reaching out to the not-yet-engaged, were able to offer a range of easy ways to express support. Calls to action included options like replacing your social networking profile photo with a “Stop SOPA” image, signing the national petition, adding your name to sign-on letters, and spreading the word about the blackouts by Wikipedia, Reddit, and others. Tons of individuals and individual companies created their own badges, images, and other easy-to-use tools. And many of these calls to action were themselves viral (or at least amplified the overall virality of the message). This was often organic … although there were people coordinating and collaborating (and some in prominent positions), there wasn’t, to my knowledge, a conventional campaign leadership team calling the shots, issuing assignments, and allocating resources. People across the networks felt empowered to contribute, and contribute they did.

4. Volume
We often argue that narrowly focused outreach strategies can have more impact than untargeted outreach strategies. Efforts that depend on numbers alone typically don’t cut through the noise or they fail to offset more targeted strategies by the other side (“another day, another 5,000 emails from some nonprofit advocating for something”). The SOPA/PIPA fight illustrates an exception, however: if you can push the volume level high enough, even a strategy largely dependent on numbers can have a real impact. The number of news stories, the number of emails and phone calls received by legislators, the number of people signed on to the petition, the significance of Wikipedia blacking out … all of this resulted in a volume level that was impossible for legislators to ignore, and many flipped from supporting SOPA/PIPA to advocating for a slowdown or even opposing it altogether.

5. Telling Concrete Stories
And, lest this get lost in the excitement of a quickly organized large-scale national campaign, it looks like concrete stories from real individuals who would be directly impacted by SOPA/PIPA were also really important to persuading legislators to shift their positions. The high volume efforts got their attention, but the legislators and staff I spoke with wanted to know – in very tangible terms – what the legislation would actually mean in specific instances for real people and real businesses. The large-scale outreach work created space, but from here it looks like the concrete stories were essential for closing the deal.

Although I don’t think the SOPA/PIPA fight is necessarily a good model for every advocacy campaign, it’s not difficult to predict that the so-called “internet community” will become increasingly political and increasingly sophisticated. There are plenty of lessons from this fight for other advocacy efforts, and lots of opportunity to collaborate with other constituencies as well as watch and learn as online advocacy strategies mature.

MacWorld just posted a interesting analysis, and we’d love to hear about the best analyses you’ve come across. We’d also love to hear your thoughts on the lessons to learn from the SOPA/PIPA fight.

Priority Inbox and learning to love creating relevant email

Gmail - Priority InboxA bit has been written here and there about Gmail’s Priority Inbox. In online terms, the feature is hardly new, having been unveiled in August, 2010.

For a while now, email marketers have been discussing the value of segmentation, relevance and only sending subscribers what they want. Word to the Wise, which blogs on email deliverability issues, recently had a great quote on the “perfect” email:

The perfect email is no longer measured in how perfectly correct the technology is. The perfect email is now measured by how perfect it is for the recipient.

Nonprofits have largely steered clear of the conversation. But Priority Inbox and other systems are entering your recipient’s inboxes and may radically change the way subscribers interact with your messages.

As inbox placement becomes increasingly complicated (going way beyond a reverse chronological list) with spam filters and both automated and manual “priority” filters largely driven by relevance, organizations can’t assume that delivered email is being shown to the recipient.

Gmail Priority Inbox and other options
Gmail Priority Inbox and other options are becoming more visible to users - and more likely to be used. Click image for larger version.

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