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.
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.”
Nonprofits and small businesses that count on communicating with members, donors and customers with their website and email list (which would be, yeah, pretty much all organizations) are trying to figure out if, how and why they should focus on mobile platforms.
A recent report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project titled Smartphone Adoption and Usage provides data that makes a strong case that organizations should be working smartphone platforms into their communications resource and strategy plans. Now.
About 40% of American adults own a smartphone
We all recognize that cell phone use is pervasive. But there are dozens if not hundreds of varieties of phones and the majority do not readily access the internet.
This is changing quickly, however. The Pew report found that 35% of adults surveyed said they own a smartphone while 39% say they have a phone that operates on a smartphone platform (Blackberry, Android, iPhone, Windows, Palm). Forty-two percent answered yes to one of the two questions (do you use a smartphone and/or does your phone use a smartphone platform).
Smartphones most highly used by audiences critical to nonprofits
Smartphones are highly used in age groups that most nonprofits try hard to reach: people 30 to 50 years old, middle or upper income and well-educated. A couple relevant nuggets of data:
45% of 30 to 49 year olds have a smartphone (and 52% of 18-29 year olds);
Smartphones are used by 59% of Americans with household incomes of $75,000 or more (use drops as income drops: 22% of Americans w/ household income under $30k use smartphone); and
48% of college grads have smartphone.
We suspect that smartphone use in typically white-collar demographics may be driven by people using employer-provided phones but this wasn’t covered in the Pew report.
Smartphone use strong amongst minorities
Lest one think that smartphones are the domain of wealthy white guys, 44% of black and latino adults are smartphone owners compared with 30% of whites. This tracks, perhaps, with a general trend of smartphone adoption being highest in urban and suburban areas. In some cases, minorities have been earlier adopters of text messaging and relied upon cell phones (and now smartphones) for general phone communications and internet access.
Smartphone users are checking email and browsing the web
Not surprisingly, people are doing much more than making phone calls with their smartphones. Organizations should consider, however, the frequency with which users access the web and check email on their phones. As smartphones become a more fundamental way for people to perform online tasks, the organizations that provide the best user experience with mobile web and email will be best able to communicate.
In typical day, 68% of all smartphone users go online with their phone (access internet or check email). Amongst 30-49 year old smartphone owners, 71% access the internet daily with their phone (meaning that about 1/3 of all 30-49 year old Americans check email or access the internet on a smartphone each day). Interesting to note that a full quarter of smartphone users do most of the online work with their phone:
25% of all smartphone owners (regardless of whether or not they use the internet on their device) do most of their online browsing on their mobile phone.
Of all smartphone users, younger and lower income users are more likely to access the internet mostly with their phone. These people, especially low income users, are less likely to have other computers and/or broadband at home.
Next steps for organizations
This report is far from the only one indicating that mobile web and email use is rising to the point of being a standard way that people get online. Recent articles from ReturnPath, Campaign Monitor, Comscore and Nielsen are worth a look.
Many organizations look at mobile and start thinking about SMS/text messaging and apps. Both cool and have their place but the place to start might be where most people, as data indicates, are already at: browsing the web and checking email on their phones.
Start by optimizing your email for mobile devices. We took a look at that a couple weeks back with some tips and resources. If your organization is working on or looking ahead to a website redesign then work mobile into the mix. It’s not necessary to create a separate mobile site though that’s possible. Minimally, work with a team that understands how to optimize code so that it presents well on mobile devices. Make it a point of discussion in the project.
It’s time to get going, though. The opportunity costs are rising. Don’t assume that your audience will just wait until they get home to read your email or check out your web pages.
You get little time to make an impression when a reader sees your subject line in their mobile email program. Make it clear, inviting, snappy. Enough to give the reader a reason to open it (or at least not delete it).
Clear text, link and call to action early in the message body. Make it easy for the reader to get the point, act and move toward conversion.
Landing pages should be mobile-friendly. This may take the most work for many nonprofits. If a form, think simple layout.
For most organizations, the heart and soul of communications is the email list. Email is the 800 pound gorilla, the elephant in the room, the big kahuna. Email goes direct to the inbox, our online strategy metrics are led by terms like open rate and clickthroughs, and online fundraising campaigns depend on email marketing. Moreover, email is growing and generally has a strong return on investment.
Today, “mobile” is receiving lots of attention. And for good reason. It was recently reported that one in three Americans owns a smartphone. Some sources are indicating that more people will own smartphones than traditional cellphones by 2012. Add tablets into the mix and its clear that people are quickly adopting mobile computing.
A recent post in the blog emailmonday provides a solidly thorough rundown of mobile email stats including this one: right now about 10% of email opens are happening on a mobile device.
I’ll argue, though, that the quickest and most cost-effective place to focus your mobile strategy is your email.
Your email? What? That’s not mobile? Mobile is apps. Right? Angry Birds on your iPhone or getting people to read your Facebook page updates on their phone. Maybe mobile is a version of your website that looks good on mobile devices (which it is to some extent and we’ll get to that below but much or most mobile traffic is coming from your emails).
1) Traditional news releases and media relations still has value but it is diminishing quickly.
2) Mobile is big and growing bigger. At a minimum, nonprofits have to make sure their web sites work at least decently on mobile devices, and increasingly nonprofits would probably do well to actually optimize their sites for mobile.
3) Figuring out how to successfully feed stories into the new aggregators may matter more for getting traction than individual journalist relationships or any of the effective old media strategies. And those relationships will be tougher and tougher to maintain given the huge staffing cuts and staffing turmoil in the journalism industry (which nonprofits have been experiencing firsthand for a long time, as media lists grow stale more and more quickly).
A few weeks back we made the case for having a mobile strategy: at a minimum, nonprofits need to make sure their web site is mobile-friendly (if not mobile-optimized), and mobile apps might actually be worth the effort. Mobile apps can be useful as part of an engagement strategy, and mobile apps can be useful tools for creating ongoing revenue-producing transactional relationships (e.g., the type of functionality that Urban Airship offers), content subscriptions being the most obvious. But mobile advertising is another strategy that might be useful, and Gigaom thoughtfully posted a great overview of mobile advertising ins and outs.
Mobile advertising may not be an obvious choice for many nonprofits, but if you’ve got an audience, you may be able to incorporate an advertising element that offers relevant ads to your mobile app visitors but remains consistent with the vibe and feel of the app. Whereas web sites tend to be a foundational part of a nonprofit’s brand and presence, you have more latitude with mobile apps and more opportunity to to experiment. Some nonprofits have also experimented with affiliate marketing, an option marketer Chris Brogan has thoughtfully explored quite a bit.
Mobile advertising may not make sense for a lot of nonprofits, and it seems unlikely to offer any more than one more modest revenue stream, but nonprofits really do need to grapple with the limitations of the conventional holy trinity of fundraising – members, donors, and foundations – and this may be one more tool to keep in the toolbox.
If you’ve tried mobile advertising (heck, if you’ve tried a mobile strategy of any kind), we’d love to hear about it . . . what worked, what didn’t, what you would do differently? And if you’ve thought about it but decided not to, we’d love to hear about that, too.
This is the question Fast Company and many others are posing more generally, but of course the question applies to nonprofits as well. Social Fish lays out a thoughtful argument against associations creating mobile apps (which I think might agree reasonably extend to other nonprofits as well): too many barriers to the app being used, popular app types don’t track to what associations can offer, and not enough members use apps at all.
Sensible arguments all the way around. SocialFish is joined by Holly Ross on the Frogloop blog and others in making the case that organizations should focus on developing mobile-friendly versions of their sites before thinking about apps. This, too, seems like sensible advice given growth in the PDA market. Although market penetration by smartphones is still small, it is growing quickly. (SocialFish also argues for focusing on social network optimization before building apps, as well.)
Mobile-friendly probably should be a priority over apps, and I think SocialFish’s take is sensible enough, but I also think that mobile apps offer sustained engagement opportunities that might just be worth the investment. For one thing, as Wired Magazine argued in their provocatively-titled headliner last year (“The Web is Dead. Long Live the Internet!”): we are witnessing a real shift in how people access the web, away from conventional web browsers and toward mobile devices. An increasing proportion of mobile web-based activity simply bypasses the browser altogether. While making your site mobile-friendly (if not mobile-optimized) is almost certainly worthwhile, it only captures those people who are using mobile browsers in the first place. Companies like Urban Airship are doing really well (check out this Robert Scoble interview with their CEO, Scott Kveton) precisely because of this shift in how people interact with the Web. This argument is bolstered partly by the data on app-based financial transactions. As Kveton argues, the vast majority of mobile app-generated revenue results from ongoing transactions between a mobile phone customer and a specific app . . . users of that app continue to spend money on the app in order to access new value.
Well-designed apps also can offer high-value interactions that mobile phone users actually want. Obviously geolocation tools and gamification design elements are two (sometimes combined) approaches, but mobile apps can offer very engaging experiences and value that users don’t typically find through browsers. If you can build a really compelling app, maybe you should. Finally, apps also have a built-in mechanism for repeated interactions. Every time you publish an update or some other sort of push notification for your app, like Urban Airship does, everyone who’s got the app installed gets a fresh reminder about having it, and it gives you a chance to get them excited again about whatever value your app offers.
What you get with an app, as Fast Company suggests, is a self-contained experience, but it’s clear that without a real self-contained experience value proposition for potential users a mobile app strategy isn’t likely to do much for your organization. If you can offer high-value information, relevant deals, or a genuinely engaging experience through an app, on the other hand, it may be worth the effort. If you see mobile apps as an opportunity to deepen engagement, not just as a donation-making channel, I think they offer a lot of potential.
But all that said, most of this conversation about whether to app or not skips what I think is the more fundamental question: who is your audience, and how and why exactly do you want their engagement? MobileActive does a nice job of laying out some of the right questions to ask, but they all boil down to the same questions you should ask about any potential strategy: 1) who is your audience; 2) can you build an app in which they find value and through which can increase engagement; and 3) what are the costs of building and deploying an app compared to the benefits?