Bird dropping: Instagram overtakes Twitter in the social media derby.

Instagram logo

It seems like the jockeying for position among social networks is never-ending.

The latest case in point:  Instagram, which is presently the fastest growing social media network in the United States.

According to the latest figures released by digital market research company eMarketer, as of February 2015 Instagram now has over 64 million users in America.

That’s a ~60% increase in just one year, and it puts Instagram in third place among all social networks, surpassing Twitter for the first time.

Not only that, eMarketer forecasts that Instagram will add more than 10 million additional users in the United States this year:

  • Facebook: ~157 million U.S. users forecast in 2015
  • LinkedIn: ~115 million
  • Instagram: ~78 million
  • Twitter: ~53 million
  • Pinterest: ~47 million
  • Tumblr: ~20 million

       (Source:  eMarketer and LinkedIn, February 2015.)

eMarketer also forecasts that Twitter will continue to fall further behind Instagram in the upcoming years, since Twitter’s annual growth is expected to be in only the single digits throughout the rest of the decade.

Based on the overall American population, Instagram has now a market penetration of nearly 25%.  Of course, that’s well behind Facebook, which has nearly 50% penetration.

Untitled-1But Instagram’s user base is skewed heavily towards teens and millennials – people between the ages of 12 and 34.  This makes Instagram a bit more of a threat to LinkedIn and even Facebook than you might think at first.

Facebook’s user base has been skewing older in recent years.  If those trends continue, we could see a measurable drop-off in Facebook’s share of users, with a corresponding rise in Instagram’s penetration.

Of course, we mustn’t forget that Facebook was the social media network of choice for younger people at one time, too.  After all, it got its start on college campuses.  But now that Facebook has solid adoption among older Americans (age 40 and over), no longer does it seem like a “cool” network for some millennials and teens.

So it would be foolish to assume that Instagram is a slam-dunk to continue to be the “network of choice” for younger people in the years hence.  One never knows what new network might suddenly appear on the horizon and capture their hearts.

Still, Instagram’s rise has been noteworthy.  And it certainly puts the lie to the notion that there wasn’t room for a new network to enter the increasingly crowded social media space and make a big splash.

Personally as an “aging boomer,” I don’t have an Instagram account, and neither do most of my acquaintances.  What about your own personal experience or professional experiences with this network?

Social media and marketing: Is the honeymoon over?

social mediaIt’s no secret that companies large and small have been putting significant energy into social media marketing and networking in recent years.

It’s happened for a variety of reasons – not least as a defensive strategy to keep from losing out over competitors who might be quicker to adopt social media strategies and leverage them for their business.

And yet …

Now that the businesses have a good half-decade of social media marketing under their belt, it’s pretty safe to say that social tactics aren’t very meaningful sales drivers.

That’s not just me talking.  It’s also Forrester Research, which as far back as 2011 and 2012 concluded this after analyzing the primary sales drivers for e-commerce.  Forrester found that less than 1% was driven by social media.

And in subsequent years, it’s gotten no better.

A case in point:  IBM Smarter Commerce, which tracks sales generated by 500 leading retail sites, has reported that Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter combined represent less than 0.5% of the sales generated on Black Friday in the United States.

Those dismal results aren’t to say that social media doesn’t have its benefits.  Generating “buzz” and building social influence certainly have their place and value.

But considering what some businesses have put into social media in terms of their MarComm resources, a channel that contributes less than 1% of sales revenues seems like a pretty paltry result – and very likely a negative ROI, too.

Going forward, it would seem that more companies should pursue social media marketing less out of a fear of losing out to competitors, and more based on whether it proves itself as an effective marketing tactic for them.

Consider the points listed below.  They’ve been true all along, but they’re becoming even more apparent with the passage of time:

1.  Buying “likes” isn’t worth much beyond the most basic tactical “bragging rights” aspects, because “likes” have little intrinsic value and can’t be tied directly to an increased revenue stream.

2.  A great social media presence doesn’t trump having good products and service; even dynamite social media can’t camouflage shortcomings of this kind for long.

3.  Audiences tend to “discount” the value of content that comes directly from a company.  This means publishing compelling content that clears that hurdle requires more skill and expertise than many companies have been willing to allocate to social media content creation.

Calibrating the way they look at social media is the first step companies can take to establish the correct balance between social media marketing activities and expected results.  Instead of treating social media as the connection with customers, view it as a tool to connect with customers.

It’s really just a new link in the same chain of engagement that successful companies have forged with their customers for decades.  In working with my clients, I’ve seen this scenario play out the same basic way time and again; it matters very little what type of business or markets they serve.

What about you?  Have your social media experiences been similar to this — or different?  I welcome hearing your perspectives.

The world of social media: Facebook here, there and everywhere.

If you think that Facebook has a hammerlock on social media across the world … you’re not off by much.

Facebook NetworkSocial media strategist Vincenzo Cosenza publishes a periodic world map of social networks in which he identifies the social networks that are the most popular in each of the 137 countries he tracks.

His evaluation is facilitated by a combination of website tracking data as aggregated by Alexa and other similar tools.

In viewing how the social media map has changed over time, what we see is that “Facebook blue” now dominates to such a major extent that the world map is looking more and more like a map of the British Empire – with the Spanish and Portuguese Empires thrown in for good measure.

In fact, according to Cosenza’s latest map, Facebook is the dominant social network in no fewer than 130 of the 137 countries being tracked.

That’s ~95% of them.

Not surprisingly considering their large populations, Facebook boasts the most members in the United States, followed by Brazil and then India.  (Brazil overtook India in the rankings in 2012.)

Each year, a few new counties are added to the Facebook column.  Sometimes the shifts are small (Moldova and Latvia are the latest), but this comparison between 2009 and 2014 maps certainly shows the overall trend towards Facebook, including such high-population countries as India, Brazil, Mexico and the Philippines:

 

global map of social media networks

Of course, a few of the non-Facebook countries are home to a big chunk of the world’s population:

  • China is dominated by QZone
  • VKontakte is the social platform of choice in Russia
  • Iran remains closed to Facebook or any other Western social media, although long-dominant Cloob has been replaced by Facenama as the largest social network there.

As for which social networks are vying for the #2 position after Facebook – in most cases, it’s LinkedIn, Badoo and Twitter.

But when it comes to true competition, it’s really just Facebook and then … all the rest.

Time spent online daily: 2.5 hours and growing.

Lots of time spent onlineIf you’re wondering what happened to all of the community volunteer activities people used to do – not to mention the popularity of participating in group social or recreational activities like softball or bowling leagues … you might look at the time Americans are spending online as one possible explanation.

The evidence comes in the form of research the Interactive Advertising Bureau did when they contracted with GfK Research to conduct an extensive online survey as part of a larger behavioral analysis of American adults.

Fielded in late 2013 with participation from ~5,000 adults between the ages of 18 and 65, the IAB/GfK survey revealed that Americans are spending an average of 2.5 hours of every day online.

Add that on to the average ~5 hours per day spent watching TV – a figure that’s hardly budged in years – and it’s little wonder that the Jaycees, Shriners’ and other service organizations are finding it more difficult to recruit new members … or that “old faithful” group social and recreational activities are in danger of becoming less relevant.

The IAB/GfK survey also revealed which types of online activities are engaged in the most.  The chart below, created by Statista from the IAB/GfK report’s data and published in The Wall Street Journal, gives us the lowdown:

Online Time (average per day)

 

I wasn’t surprised to discover that social networks chew up the most online minutes per day.  Online video viewing and search time seem about as expected, too.  And who doesn’t enjoy a nice game of Spider Solitaire or Internet Spades to wind down after a long day?

But at ~30 minutes per day, the e-mail average seems on the high side.  People must really be struggling with managing personal inboxes stuffed with marketing e-mails.  (But if work-related e-mails are part of the equation, the half-hour figure seems more expected.)

Comparing these results to similar research done in prior years, the most recent survey charts an increase in online video watching; it’s doubled over the past four years.

Other activities that are on the rise include online gaming, and listening to online radio.

Adding it all up, total time spent online is continuing its inexorable rise thanks to mobile connectivity and the “always-on” digital environment in which Americans now live.

Perhaps the way to stem reduced interest in group social activities and volunteerism lies in giving people free reign to “multitask” even as they participate in the local bowling league or Ruritan Club meetings …

What are your thoughts on the time people are spending online – and if it’s crowding out other forms of daily activities?  Please share your thoughts with other readers here.

Social Branding: Reality-Check Time

social brandingWith all of the attention marketers have been paying to social media, it’s always helpful to look and re-look at information that gives us clues as to how customers are actually interfacing with brands in the social sphere.

Statistics published in a just-released report titled Digital Brand Interactions Survey, based on research conducted by web content management company Kentico Software, gives us a reality check on just how [non-]essential social media actually is in the greater branding picture.

The Kentico research queried approximately 300 American consumers age 18 or older via an online survey administered in February 2014.  Let’s start with the most basic finding:  the degree to which consumers “like” or “follow” brands on social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram:

  • No brands followed on social media:  ~40%
  • 1 to 10 brands followed:  ~39%
  • 11 to 20 brands followed:  ~7%
  • 21 to 30 brands followed:  ~6%

Considering how many different brands the typical consumer encounters in his or her daily life (dozens? … hundreds?), following ten or fewer brands on social media represents only a very small proportion of them.

Yet that’s exactly where four in five consumers are when it comes to social branding.

So … how do companies get into that rarefied group of brands that are, in fact, followed by consumers?  Here’s what the Kentico survey discovered:

  • Already interested in the brand and wanted to stay informed:  ~40%
  • Followed on social media to receive special offers:  ~39%
  • Followed because of a recommendation from a friend or family member:  ~12%
  • Didn’t really know the brand before, but wanted to learn more about it:  ~8%

These results suggest that the notion that social branding is an easy way to attract new customers may be flawed.  Instead, social branding is better-suited to deepening brand engagement with existing customers.

Money talks as well (discounts or other special offers) – and be sure to offer them often.

kentico logoIn another piece of evidence that points to social branding’s relatively weak ability to drive incremental sales … Kentico found that ~72% of its survey respondents “never” or “hardly ever” purchase a product after hearing about it on a social network.

An equal percentage of respondents have “never” or “hardly ever” had brand encounters online that altered their already-existing perception of those brands.

So it would seem that much of the “heat” generated by social branding may be adding up to very little “light.”

On the other hand, there is also some good news for brands in the social realm:  The incidence of people “unliking” or “unfollowing” brands is quite low:  Only about 5% of the survey respondents reported such actions.

When that does happen, it’s often because a brand has been publishing too many social posts – or the content of the posts themselves is uninteresting.

The biggest takeaway notion from the Kentico research is to remind us to maintain a degree of skepticism about the impact of social branding – and to understand that in most cases, social media activities are going to remain the “ornaments” on the marketing tree rather than be the “tree” itself.

In fact, that’s probably the case even more now — as consumers become bombarded with ever-more marketing messages from ever-more brands with every passing day.

Social Media Communities: Digital Potemkin Villages?

Social media stats riddled with fake accounts and cipher profilesMarketers like to talk about the 90-9-1 rule of web engagement: For every 100 people who are online, one person creates content … 9 people comment on that content … and the remaining 90 may lurk and read, but never participate in any other way.

The more we learn about social media engagement, the more we’re seeing the same phenomenon at work. To wit, studies of social networks like Twitter, Facebook and Google+ are finding far fewer numbers of “real” and “active” users than the gross statistics would suggest.

Alarmingly, these evaluations are finding that as many as half of social media accounts could be fake, or are ones that contain no user profiles.

And if there isn’t a user profile, of what value is a social media account to marketers? After all, it’s the information in these user profiles that provides the data for targeted advertising and marketing campaigns.

Just how extensive is the problem?

Let’s start with Google+, one of the latest entrants into the social media sweepstakes. Kevin Kelly, an industry specialist, published author and former editor of Wired magazine, recently conducted an analysis of the ~560,000 people who have him in their Google+ “circles.”

Reviewing a random sample of these ~560,000 users, he found that the majority of them had not made a single post … had not posted their image … and/or had never made a single comment.

More specifically, here’s what Kelly found:

Only ~30% had ever posted anything
 ~6% were “spammers”
 Fully ~36% were “ghosts” … accounts lacking even a user profile

Evidently, Google+ is taking “ghostwriting” to new heights.

What about Twitter?

Several editors at Popular Mechanics magazine reported recently that only ~25% of their Twitter followers were “real.” About half were identified as fake users or spammers.

Twitter may be tweeting away … but how many people are actually listening and who’s actually engaging?

Who’s gaming the system here? Clearly, there are reasons why people are trying to show higher social media engagement than is actually occurring. Marketing campaigns love to cite metrics where the number of followers and “likes” is high. It’s great for bragging rights … and sometimes financially beneficial, too, when performance goals are met and monetary payouts triggered.

And today there are plenty of ways for people to find services that will jumpstart campaigns by garnering thousands of followers or “likes” … all for a tidy fee, of course.

It would be nice if the social media platforms would step up to the plate and show some transparency in what’s going on. It’s highly likely that these platforms have developed sophisticated ways to pinpoint which of their accounts are real … versus those that are contrived.

But will they be publishing their findings anytime soon? Don’t hold your breath.

Until marketers can get a better handle on the “real facts” behind the elevated engagement numbers being hyped, it’s best to view any such stats with a jaundiced eye.

Here’s a suggestion: Take any stats you might hear about page “likes,” viral video views and the like … and discount them by a massive percentage – say, by 50%. Then, you might be approaching the reality.

Over time, we’ll probably learn more about “authenticity” when it comes to tracking true activity and engagement in the social realm. Marketers would do well to demand it. It’s just not clear how soon it’ll happen.

Until then, keep your antenna up and apply caveats all over the place.

What Facebook Looks Like Today

Facebook's world mapBy now, everyone knows that Facebook has pretty much won the social media wars, as early entrant and rival MySpace hemorrhages employees as it tucks its tail between its legs and slinks away.

And Facebook itself is a good chronicler of the hyperactivity of Facebookers wordwide. Recently, it published some stats on “what 20 minutes on Facebook looks like.” Among the revelations:

 ~10.2 million comments uploaded every 20 minutes
 ~2.7 million photos uploaded
 ~2.0 million “friend” requests accepted
 ~1.8 million status updates posted
 ~1.6 million wall posts
 ~1.5 million event invites sent out
 ~1.3 million photos tagged
 ~1 million links shared

Fan designations (or “likes”) are now reaching stratospheric proportions for some celebrities. And who were the most popular in 2010 based the “most liked” status? The results show a major skew towards the younger generation … and toward entertainers rather than political, scientific or academic leaders:

 Lady Gaga: ~25 million people “like”
 Eminem: ~24 million people
 Megan Fox: ~20 million people
 Vin Diesel: ~19 million people
 Rihanna: ~19 million people

Where does President Barack Obama rank by comparison? He’s at ~17 million “likes” – right along with Bob Marley, Li’l Wayne, Justin Bieber and Shakira.

Personally, I found the trends in relationship status to be the most interesting. There were quite a few relationship changes … but perhaps not as many as you might expect considering that there are an estimated 600 million active users on Facebook these days.

For the record, here’s what happened with personal relationships in 2010:

 ~44 million people changed their status to “single”
 ~37 million changed their status to “married”
 ~28 million changed their status to “in a relationship”
 ~6 million changed their status to “engaged”
 ~3 million changed their status to “it’s complicated”

Notice that the number of people who migrated away from marriage were nearly equally matched by those becoming engaged or getting hitched. As the famous French saying goes, Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. (The more things change, the more they stay the same.)