Social Media Mashup — 2018 Edition

One thing you can say about social media platforms – their world is invariably interesting. Or as a colleague of mine likes to say, “With social media, you drop your pencil, you miss a week.”

The Pew Research Center makes it a point to study the topic twice each year in order to stay on top of the latest shifts in social media usage trends. Pew has just completed its latest report, and what it shows are some findings that confirm longer-term trends along with several evolving new narratives.

One thing hasn’t changed much: Facebook and YouTube continue to dominate the social landscape in the United States.  Facebook remains the primary social media platform for most Americans – with two-thirds of U.S. adults reporting that they use Facebook, and three-fourths of those saying that they access the platform on a daily basis.

What this means is that half of all U.S. adults are going on the Facebook platform every day.

If anything, YouTube is even more ubiquitous – at least in terms of the percentage of people who access the platform (nearly 75% of the respondents in the Pew survey). But the frequency of visits is lower, so one could say that the platform isn’t as “sticky” as Facebook.

No other social media platform is used by more than 35% of American adults, according to the Pew survey:

  • YouTube: ~73% of U.S. adults report that they use this platform
  • Facebook: ~68%
  • Instagram: ~35%
  • Pinterest: ~29%
  • SnapChat: ~27%
  • LinkedIn: ~25%
  • Twitter: ~24%
  • WhatsApp: ~22%

The chart below shows social media usage trends based on Pew Research studies going back to 2012:

Taking a closer look at social media behaviors reveals some stark differences by age group, and they portend even greater changes in the social media landscape as time goes on. In terms of being involved in “any” social media usage, Pew finds significant differences by age cohort:

  • Age 18-29: ~88% use at least one form of social media
  • Age 30-49: ~78%
  • Age 50-64: ~64%
  • Age 65+: ~37%

So, as the current population ages out, social media participation should go even higher.

But what about the composition of platform usage? Within the 18-24 age group, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter are used significantly more when compared to even the next oldest age group.  Most dramatically, for Snapchat the participation level is ~78% for the youngest group compared to just ~54% for those age 30-49.

Other notable differences among groups include:

  • Pinterest is much more popular among women (~41% use the platform) than with men (just ~16%).
  • WhatsApp is particularly popular among American Hispanics (~41%) compared to blacks (~21%) and whites (~14%).
  • LinkedIn’s niche is upper-income households ($75,000+ annual income), which correlates to higher education levels. Half of American adults with college degrees use LinkedIn, compared to fewer than 10% of those with a high school degree or less.

More detailed results from the Pew Research study can be found here.

Social media platforms navigate the delicate balance between free speech and censorship.

Everyday Americans weigh in with their views.

The past few months have seen people like Mark Zuckerberg doing mental acrobatics attempting to explain how social media platforms like Facebook intend to control the spate of “fake news” and “hate speech” posts, comments and tweets that are so often the currency of interactive “discourse” online.

And now the First Amendment Center of the Freedom Forum Institute is weighing in with the results of a survey in which ~1,000 Americans were asked for their opinions about the challenges of monitoring and controlling what gets published for the world to see.

The survey, which has been conducted annually since 1997, gives us insights into Americans’ current attitudes about censoring objectionable content balanced against free speech rights.

Asked whether social medial companies should remove certain types of content from their pages in certain circumstances, sizable majorities agreed that companies should do so in the following cases:

  • Social media companies should remove false information: ~83% agree
  • Social media companies should remove hate speech: ~72% agree
  • Social media companies should remove personal attacks: ~68% agree

At the same time, however, when asked whether the government should require social media sites to monitor and remove objectionable content, those opinions were decidedly mixed:

  • Strongly agree with having government involved in these activities: ~27%
  • Somewhat agree: ~21%
  • Somewhat disagree: ~20%
  • Strongly disagree: ~29%
  • Don’t know/not sure: ~3%

So the key takeaway is that Americans dislike objectionable content and think that the social platforms should take on the responsibility for monitoring and removing such content. But many don’t want the government doing the honors.

A mixed result for sure — and one in which governmental authorities could well be d*mned if they do and d*mned if they don’t.

More information about the survey findings can be accessed here.

Blogging and social media in B-to-B marketing: Continually falling short.

As a MarComm specialist and head of a marketing firm for several decades, I’ve worked with my share of marketing tactics — the tried-and-true ones as well as the “next new things.”

Along those lines, working with numerous B-to-B companies in their attempts to turn social media and blogging into significant sources of new business, the track records have been more often ones of failure than of success.

I think the issue boils down to something pretty fundamental: Unlike consumer products, where customers can fall deeply “in love” with particular brands, or at the very least develop feelings of brand affinity, in the world of business products and services, the brand dynamics are seldom “emotional.”

The reality is, business buyers are looking for products and services that will solve their problems and also provide all-important CYA peace of mind. Few B-to-B buyers are truly “excited” about these purchases, and they aren’t personally “invested” in the brands in question, either.

Instead, they’re looking for solutions that work. Ones that deliver on a checklist of criteria, and ones that don’t risk unpleasant developments down the road.

In such a world, the notion that buyers are waiting around to read the and interact with the next blog article or social media post that’s published by a supplier is fanciful at best.

News flash: The target audience doesn’t care about things like that.  Business buyers don’t have time in their busy schedules to read the posts.  The few times they will is when they need to satisfy a business need and are looking for information to help them make an informed buying decision.

But of course, it’s precisely then when content needs to be easily findable on the web. Brands that have published deeper and more relevant content than their competitors are going to be the ones that show up on search engine results pages (SERPs), because those are the websites the search engines reward with higher rankings based on the perceived “relevance” of the web pages in question.

This view of B-to-B audience dynamics isn’t just my personal one; survey research of B-to-B buyers reveals similar attitudes.  For instance, market research and communication firm KoMarketing publishes an annual B2B Web Usability Report, and the findings they uncover are consistent:

  • Most B-to-B buyers don’t think a blog adds much to a supplier’s credibility as a company.
  • As for social media activity, three-fourths of buyers find such platforms irrelevant to their interests and concerns.

So, what is it that buyers are seeking?

It’s more “actionable” data such as sales contact information (who to call), a list of customers a supplier serves (addressing the credibility factor), plus customer testimonials, case studies and similar reports that help buyers “see” themselves in the experiences of other customers.

That’s pretty much it.

Which brings us back to blog posts in the B-to-B realm. Informative articles that center on customer testimonials and before/after case studies provide the best of everything:  content that buyers will actually find useful, along with the “relevance” and “robust activity” that search bots are seeking in making their quasi-mysterious calculations on how high to rank a particular web page on SERP pages.

It dovetails with my typical advice to business clients:

  • Don’t publish blog posts because you expect people to read them like they would a newsfeed. Publish them for relevance and visibility when your prospect is actually seeking out information and insights — which could be months or even years after you publish the post.
  • Make sure each blog article addresses “problem –> solution” topics centered on the challenges your customers are most likely to face.
  • Twitter or Facebook? Unless your marketing have plenty of time on their hands and nothing better to do, don’t bother with these social platforms at all — because the payoff is so mediocre.

What about you? Are your B-to-B marketing experiences different?  If so, please share your perspectives in the comment section for the benefit of other readers.

Facebook fallout: Lots of talk … much less action on the part of users.

Over the past month or so, the drumbeat of ominous news about Facebook and how its user data have been used (or misused) by the social platform and customers such as Cambridge Analytica has been never-ending.

To hear the hyperventilating of reporters, you might think that Facebook was teetering on the brink of an implosion or similar corporate catastrophe as a result of all the nasty revelation.

Well … maybe not so much.

Securities firm Raymond James has surveyed a sample of ~500 Internet users in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica “user abuse” allegations in an effort to determine just how concerned people are about the news, and how it might be impacting on Facebook usage.

It comes as no surprise at all that a clear majority of those surveyed have concerns about Facebook’s use of their personal data. To wit:

  • Very concerned about Facebook’s use of personal data: ~44%
  • Somewhat concerned: ~40%
  • Not concerned: ~15%

But when asked how they may be changing their use of the social platform as a result of knowing about Facebook’s treatment of their personal data, it turns out that only ~8% of the survey respondents have stopped using (or plan to stop using) the platform.

On the other hand, a solid half of the survey respondents report no changes at all in their use of Facebook – now or in the future.

For those in the “mushy middle,” the majority of them plan to use the social platform “somewhat less” rather than “significantly less” than before.

So, what we’re witnessing is unmistakably heightened user concerns generated by a flurry of news reports that lead to … very little.

In fact, in a report that accompanies the survey findings, Raymond James’ analysts go even further, predicting that user concerns will likely ease as the news cycle slows on this topic.

Considering how strongly Facebook has integrated itself into many people’s daily lives, that prognosis comes as little surprise to me.

But what about you? Have you made changes in your usage of the social platform?  Have you noticed changes made by your friends on Facebook?  Feel free to share your perspectives with other readers.

Clueless at the Capitol

Lawmakers’ cringeworthy questioning of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg calls into question the government’s ability to regulate social media.

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Capitol Hill, April 2018. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

With the testimony on Capitol Hill last week by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, there’s heightened concern about the negative side effects of social media platforms. But in listening to lawmakers questioning Zuckerberg, it became painfully obvious that our Federal legislators have next to no understanding of the role of advertising in social media – or even how social media works in its most basic form.

Younger staff members may have written the questions for their legislative bosses, but it was clear that the lawmakers were ill-equipped to handle Zuckerberg’s alternatively pat, platitudinous and evasive responses and to come back with meaningful follow-up questions.

Even the younger senators and congresspeople didn’t acquit themselves well.

It made me think of something else, too. The questioners – and nearly everyone else, it seems – are missing this fundamental point about social media:  Facebook and other social media platforms aren’t much different from old-fashioned print media, commercial radio and TV/cable in that that they all generate the vast bulk of their earnings from advertising.

It’s true that in addition to advertising revenues, print publications usually charge subscribers for paper copies of their publications. In the past, this was because 1) they could … but 2) also to help defray the cost of paper, ink, printing and physical distribution of their product to news outlets or directly to homes.

Commercial radio and TV haven’t had those costs, but neither did they have a practical way of charging their audiences for broadcasts – at least not until cable and satellite came along – and so they made their product available to their audiences at no charge.

The big difference between social media platforms and traditional media is that social platforms can do something that the marketers of old could only dream about: target their advertising based on personally identifiable demographics.

Think about it:  Not so many years ago, the only demographics available to marketers came from census publications, which by law cannot reveal any personally identifiable information.  Moreover, the U.S. census is taken only every ten years, so the data ages pretty quickly.

Beyond census information, advertisers using print media could rely on audit reports from ABC and BPA.  If it was a business-to-business publication, some demographic data was available based on subscriber-provided information (freely provided in exchange for receiving those magazines free of charge).  But in the case of consumer publications, the audit information wouldn’t give an advertiser anything beyond the number of copies printed and sold, and (sometimes) a geographic breakdown of where mail subscribers lived.

Advertisers using radio or TV media had to rely on researchers like Nielsen — but that research surveyed only a small sample of the audience.

What this meant was that the only way advertisers could “move the needle” in a market was to spend scads of cash on broadcasting their messages to the largest possible audience. As a connecting mechanism, this is hugely inefficient.

The value proposition that Zuckerberg’s Facebook and other social media platforms provide is the ability to connect advertisers with more people for less spend, due to these platforms’ abilities to use personally identifiable demographics for targeting the advertisements.

Want to find people who enjoy doing DIY projects but who live just in areas where your company has local distribution of your products? Through Facebook, you can narrow-cast your reach by targeting consumers involved with particular activities and interests in addition to geography, age, gender, or whatever other characteristics you might wish to use as filters.

That’s massively more efficient and effective than relying on something like median household income within a zip code or census tract. It also means that your message will be more targeted — and hence more relevant — to the people who see it.

All of this is immensely more efficient for advertisers, which is why social media advertising (in addition to search advertising on Google) has taken off while other forms of advertising have plateaued or declined.

But there’s a downside: Social media is being manipulated (“abused” might be the better term) by “black hats” – people who couldn’t do such things in the past using census information or Nielsen ratings or magazine audit statements.

Here’s another reality: Facebook and other social media platforms have been so fixated on their value proposition that they failed to conceive of — or plan for — the behavior inspired by the evil side of humanity or those who feel no guilt about taking advantage of security vulnerabilities for financial or political gain.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg interviewed on the Today Show, April 2018.

Now that that reality has begun to sink in, it’ll be interesting to see how Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook — not to mention other social media business leaders — respond to the threat.

They’ll need to do something — and it’ll have to be something more compelling than CEO Zuckerberg’s constant refrain at the Capitol Hill hearings (“I’ll have my team look into that.”) or COO Sandberg’s litany (“I’m glad you asked that question, because it’s an important one.”) on her parade of TV/cable interviews.  The share price of these companies’ stock will continue to pummeled until investors understand what changes are going to be made that will actually achieve concrete results.

Amazon’s Spark that Fizzled …

Amazon Spark: Less like a sizzle … more like a fizzle.

It’s now been more than nine months since Amazon launched its social media platform Spark … and so far, it’s hardly sizzled.

In fact, it’s made barely a ripple in the market.

There are plenty of people who contend that the last thing the world needs is yet another social network. But others would like to see new alternatives to the recently beleaguered Facebook platform.

As for its trajectory, it looks as if Spark is following the former rather than the latter path. The question is, “Why?”

Very likely, the answer lies in Spark’s questionable underlying raison d’etre.  Essentially, Spark is a social feed of photos and other images. That makes it similar to Instagram … sort of.

One difference between the two platforms is that Spark is open to exclusively to Amazon Prime members.  That limits the potential number of Spark users pretty severely, right from the get-go.  [It’s true that non-members can view Spark feeds — but they can’t post their own content. And what’s a social platform if you cannot interact with it?  It isn’t one.]

Another difference with Instagram may be even more of a fundamental problem. The rationale for Spark is to focus on products that Amazon sells.  Spark is directly “shoppable,” which differentiates it from Instagram and other social networks.  It also makes it less like a true social network and more like a garden-variety e-commerce site.

In other words, rather than being an interesting and engaging social platform, Spark is boring. Informative – but boring.

It isn’t that Amazon/Spark allows brands themselves to post content there; posting privileges are granted only to people it dubs “enthusiasts” or “onsite associates.” Brands must seek out “regular people” [sic] who are members of Amazon Prime to post content on their behalf about their products.

And I’m sure that’s happening – along with varying levels and forms of compensation flowing to these supposed “enthusiasts” in return for the product plugs. But can anyone imagine less compelling content than what results from this kind of commercialized “AstroTurfing”?  No wonder people are ignoring this social media platform.

Andrew Sandoval, a group director for media planning agency The Media Kitchen, summarizes Spark’s predicament by noting that lifestyle-focused people tend congregate on Instagram — a place that shows people living their lives through products. By contrast, “Amazon Spark is mostly just talking about your products, which is the hard-sell.  Ultimately, the e-commerce social experience is a little too far from the social experience,” Sandoval opines.

Have you interfaced with Spark since its July 2017 launch? If so, do you see redeeming qualities about the platform that the rest of us might be missing?  Please share your comments with other readers.

Welcome to the Ad Duopoly: Google and Facebook

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, it’s pretty obvious that the advertising marketplace in America has changed radically in the past few years.

In short order, we’ve seen the largest concentration of digital advertising converge on just two players:  Google and Facebook.  In fact, according to digital advertising research firm eMarketer, those two firms alone are attracting two-thirds of all digital ad dollars in the United States.

But this development isn’t all that surprising.  The vast bulk of Google’s ad market share results from its search engine marketing platform (paid search). As for Facebook, it dominates digital display advertising not just in America, but in many other countries all over the world as well.

And both companies are the “big kahuna” players in the mobile advertising sector, too.

What’s interesting is that, despite the shortcomings that many people recognize in both types of digital advertising – banner blindness and often ill-targeted paid search results — healthy growth in both forms of advertising continues apace.

Google’s ad revenue growth has average around 20% for more than 30 straight quarters. Its growth in the third quarter of 2017 is right on pace at 22%.

For Facebook, the growth dynamics are particularly lucrative; its year-over-year ad revenue growth is pushing 50%.

Mobile ad revenues are growing even faster; they accounted for “only” $9 billion in revenues for Facebook in just the third quarter.  And just as paid search advertising revenues represent more than 90% of Google’s total company revenues, mobile advertising accounts for nearly 90% of Facebook’s overall revenues.

With so much advertising activity, one might wonder from where it’s emanating.

One answer to that question is that the “universe” of advertisers is exponentially higher than we’ve ever encountered before. With low barriers to entry and “anyone can do it” ad development tools, “Jane and John Doe” are far more likely to be advertisers in today’s world of digital marketing than was ever contemplated just a few decades ago.

To wit: Facebook estimates that its social platform has more than 6 million active advertisers participating on it at any given moment in time.  That’s the equivalent of 2% of the entire population of America.

It’s kinda true:  “We’re all advertisers now.”