A friend of a friend: How Obama used Facebook to turn out voters

We all know that social networks can be a crucial arena for engaging your supporters and developing new relationships, but for a sense of scale look no further than the 2012 presidential campaigns. Both campaigns made extensive use of social networks like Spotify, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, and, of course, the giants Facebook and Twitter.

One major problem for the campaigns in the closing weeks of the race: 18-29 year-old voters are very difficult to reach by phone, and making sure that very specific audience actually voted was a critical campaign element, especially for the Obama campaign. Their solution: aggressively, intelligently, and strategically using Facebook to identify supporters, keep them engaged, and then – during the GOTV (“get out the vote”) efforts in the final weeks – reminding them to actually vote.

Because of their early and sustained efforts identifying supporters through Facebook, 85% of the campaign’s GOTV 18-29 year-old targets were friends of friends of Barack Obama on Facebook. Obama for American Digital Director Teddy Goff explains, “We had about seven million instances of people contacting about five million people, all of their friends who they knew … these were people we had to reach, and couldn’t reach otherwise.”

And note the importance of very clearly identifying the audience. Even though Facebook users span a wide range of demographics, different demographics use the network differently. This was a strategy targeted for a very specific demographic. This not-so-little detail highlights a common problem in exhortations for nonprofits to use social networks more aggressively. The first step should always be defining the goal, and the second step – always – understanding the mechanisms of change enough to clearly and specifically define the audiences you need to influence. Then you can figure out if and how social networks matter, and how to use them effectively if they do.

But there is clearly a growing chance that social networks will matter, and if your target audience for a given campaign includes 18-29 year-olds in the United States, then social networks may well be critical part of your strategy.

Jacob Smith is the co-author of The Nimble Nonprofit: An Unconventional Guide to Sustaining and Growing Your Nonprofit, the former mayor of Golden, Colorado, and a nonprofit consultant.

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.”

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.

Don’t phone in your social + weekly wrap

Busy week so we’re going to wrap it by kinda sorta phoning it in. And there’s the theme for the main story here.

Puppy on the phone. Don't they have earbuds or something for dogs?Earlier this week I received an email of the “take action/write congress now” nature about an issue that to me seemed pretty intense, important and, well, worthy of stepping up and clicking that button to write my Congresswoman. All in all it was pretty well written and compelling.

A couple things struck me as odd.

The PS was a call to join the organization on Facebook and Twitter. The links went to the general Facebook wall and Twitter page. If taking a shot at clouding an advocacy action with a social media call to action then make the landing page relevant to the action at hand.

There should be one clear call to action and one clear goal in your message. If one clicks the Facebook link she’s not coming back to the email, especially if the content on Facebook at that moment has nothing to do with the issue.

At this point, folks, people know about Facebook, know your organization has a Facebook page, and they know how to find it and follow your organization. Why distract from your message with a confusing call to the obvious?

Focus. Drive towards a goal-oriented conversion or don’t bother. Don’t phone it in.

Second, the message was “signed” by the organization and not a person. Perhaps this has little or no impact on the number of respondents but it sends a message that there aren’t actual people there writing these messages, staying on top of the issue…someone that could tell me personally what the hell is happening. People connect with people. Not organizations.

Wrapping up the week

Some smart thinking on the Intertubes this week:

Punk views on social media writes about the brand army. A lot of smart organizations look to identify some of their most active social media followers and give them tools to spread the word. Many others just sorta hope that will happen. Instead, look at social media following as the start of the engagement process. Empower and enable everyone there to get involved, spread the word and speak on your behalf. Create an army.

Get a digital product manager for your nonprofit. WHAT? Daniel Atwood ran digital at the impressive Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association for several years. He notes that digital has changed the nature of how many people view the role of nonprofit organizations. Increasingly,  folks want tools to make change directly. Heard of Change.org? Nonprofits know what’s going on in their field and are often creating tools for change. Why not think of these as products for people, not just staff?

Digital teams need to get a handle on how they position themselves in the organization if they want to stop underperforming. That’s part of the message from Jason Mogus over at Communicopia, a firm that’s been putting forth a ton of smart thinking lately about digital teams. Fact is most digital staff really need to build their leadership skills and take charge of their team’s destiny. It won’t be easy but is imperative for the team success (and the organization’s).

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.

Time spent watching online video going up means you need to tell a good story to the right people

Time spent watching online video vs. streaming viewers.
Time spent watching online video going up while number of people watching holds steady.

People are watching more video online. Recent data from Nielsen shows that the growth of time spent watching online video is outpacing the rise in unique viewers. In other words, most people that will watch video online are already doing so. Growth is coming from those people spending more time watching video.

Nielsen and others cite growth in long-form video watching and not just watching more videos. People are spending more time watching movies and TV shows on Hulu, Netflix and other streaming video outlets. More people watching Weeds on their computer doesn’t have many direct benefits to organizations using video to build awareness and market their issues. Minimally, however, this is a sign that people are increasingly able and willing to view longer length streaming content.

There are a couple important takeaways for organizations. One is the value of good storytelling in video. Another is the need to take distribution strategy seriously from the start. Video content is found through many channels, lives in many places and needs to be much more than something plopped on YouTube and embedded on a web page you host.

Tell a Great Story

This shouldn’t be news to nonprofits. Some of the most successful online videos have been a few minutes or longer because they’ve used storytelling to drive engagement and sharing. A couple great examples of this are the Story of Stuff and the Meatrix. If you want to dive into some of the storytelling themes used in these videos I suggest you check out this recent presentation by Jonah Sachs, a point person behind both Story of Stuff and the Meatrix.

Continue reading “Time spent watching online video going up means you need to tell a good story to the right people”

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)”

Relationships are about organizations and people (not communications tools)

It seems that “email is broadcast communications with the audience” while social media is (or can be) interactive and a way to have a conversation with your audience. Broadcast messaging is a shout at recipients to take action. Interactive or social media may make a call to action but it assumes opportunity for other involvement by the recipient.

Shouting in the storm by Flickr user lanier67
Organizations that aren't thinking about relationships may be shouting into the wind regardless of communications medium. Photo by Flickr user lanier67.

Communications media have been forever evolving, however, and while some channels may lend themselves to more or less interaction their use as engagement and relationship-crafting tools has more to do with the communicator than the medium. To paraphrase Beth Kanter, perhaps, a fortress organization with a Facebook page is still a fortress.

Social media to the rescue?

We talk about conversation, continued interaction, and (if you like) two-way engagement is viewed as more valuable. Relationships aren’t built in a command and control environment (except in the military, perhaps). An organization, campaign or company that can interact and have a back-and-forth dialog with a constituent or customer is, they say, going to have a more fruitful relationship with that customer (or donor or member).

Social media is sometimes characterized as a knight in shining armor riding to the rescue of organizations besieged and alone inside email and print walls that let messages out while nothing comes in. Social medial will knock down the walls and create a free flow of conversation and information amongst leaders, staff and citizens. All will benefit. Cake for everyone.

Continue reading “Relationships are about organizations and people (not communications tools)”

The state of social media in Congress: Now with shiny data points

Photo by Flickr user wallyg
The US Capitol. It's inhabitats are probably tweeting as you read this. Photo by Flickr user wallyg.

From October to December, 2010, the Congressional Management Foundation (CMF) surveyed Capitol Hill staff about their use of online technologies to manage constituent, media and other communications. Their first report, released in January, 2011, was called Communication with Congress: Perceptions of Citizen Advocacy on Capitol Hill.

The latest report to come from last year’s survey of Congressional staff, titled #Social Congress: Perceptions and Use of Social Media on Capitol Hill, was just released. The results are fascinating and important to anyone working in an organization using social networks and email to engage Congress on advocacy issues.

The CMF report plays up the significance of social media in Congressional offices. That’s likely due to the historical perspective they have. After all, social media and online in general, even email, has been around a very short time relative to postal mail, office visits and other in-person interaction. Looking at some of the numbers here you’ll see that “in-person” and “personalized” interactions carry much more water on the Hill.

This should perhaps serve as a warning to those trying to automate large-scale communications from constituents to Congress via Twitter or Facebook. Many Hill staff don’t think constituents are actually sending form emails. Social media interaction can be more personal so shoot to make it so. There is a radar seeking out impersonal and inauthentic messaging.

Continue reading “The state of social media in Congress: Now with shiny data points”