LinkedIn: The “Other” Social Network Makes its Move

linkedinWe may be reading quite a few news reports these days about Facebook and Twitter facing a plateau in usage … but LinkedIn’s fortunes continue to be on the upswing (financial losses notwithstanding).

In late April, the social network reported that it now has more than 300 million active members throughout the world, which is up more than 35% since the beginning of the year.

Too, the gender gap in membership is narrowing, albeit more slowly:  Today, ~44% of LinkedIn members are women, up from ~39% in 2009.

Even more impressive for a network that has the lofty goal of “creating economic opportunity for every one of the 3.3 billion people in the global workforce,” is the fact that two-thirds of LinkedIn’s active members are located outside the United States.

This is underscored by the top three countries represented  in LinkedIn’s membership, which are the U.S. (#1), India (#2) and Brazil (#3).

worldwide membersLinkedIn’s latest international push is into China, where it seeks to add more than 140 million Chinese professionals to its membership rolls.

Mobile Movement

The increased use of “smart” mobile units has affected the ways users interact with LinkedIn as well; mobile traffic is expected to overtake desktop access later this year.

[In fact, that’s already happened in markets like the United Kingdom, Singapore and Sweden.]

Here are a few “factoids” that illustrate how significant mobile has become for LinkedIn operating as the world’s mobile employment bazaar:

  • Average number of LinkedIn profiles viewed daily via mobile devices:  ~15 million
  • Average number of job position openings viewed daily via mobile:  ~1.5 million
  • Average number of job applications submitted daily via mobile:  ~44,000

Despite these healthy usage figures, a continuing challenge for LinkedIn is the degree to which it has been able to “monetize” its membership.  Among U.S. members, the average revenue-per-user is hovering around $11.30.

That’s much better than the ~$3.75 average revenue-per-user amount for members overseas.  But it’s still well below the revenue-per-member figures being charted by Facebook, which helps explain LinkedIn’s continuing revenue and profit challenges.

Still, when you consider that LinkedIn is becoming the de facto “Help Wanted” public square for the professional world, it’s hard to criticize its business model as the “go-to resource” for human resources professionals involved in personnel recruitment.

And now that the platform has a an active membership north of 300 million people, it’s hard seeing how that dynamic is going to change going forward; LinkedIn really is in the catbird seat when it comes to recruitment.

Speaking personally, I’m glad LinkedIn is resisting going the route of Facebook and Twitter in their evolving “all advertising, all the time” revenue models.  If LinkedIn can continue to derive a large chunk of its revenue stream from recruitment solutions instead of relying on display advertising or sponsored posts that are too often distracting or irritating, so much the better for us.

Twitter: The social platform that’s less important today than it was yesterday.

Twitter losing lusterTwitter hasn’t mattered to very many people for a very long time.

Of course, for some it hasn’t mattered even from its inception. But when we start reading about Twitter’s most avid users and how they’ve begun to drift away from using the social platform like they’ve done in the past … you know that more than just the atmospherics are changing.

A case in point about this evolution is an article that was published in late April by The Atlantic titled “A Eulogy for Twitter.

The article’s authors, Adrienne LaFrance and Robinson Meyer, begin their piece by writing:

“We’ve been trying to figure out the moment Twitter turned, retracing tweets to see whether there was something specific that soured the platform.  

“Something is wrong on Twitter. And people are noticing. Or at least, the kind of people we hang around with on Twitter are noticing … audience-obsessed, curious, newsy … The thing is, its users are less active than they once were. Twitter says these changes reflect a more streamlined experience, but we have a different theory: Twitter is entering its twilight.”

Those are strong words. But the authors back up their assertions by noting that while people may still be using Twitter, many of them are no longer “hanging out” there. And that’s because there’s less “there there” to sustain once highly-engaged Twitter users.

The perceptions of Twitter’s value have been changing because of three key precepts which are now being proven out as “fictions,” according to LaFrance and Meyer.

What are those “fictions”?

  • The belief that other people in the “Twitterverse” are actually paying attention — or at least that a decent portion of one’s followers are seeing the tweets. 
  • The belief that competent and compelling tweeting will increase a person’s Twitter follower base. 
  • The confidence of knowing that there is a useful potential audience beyond current followers, so that the time and energy spent on the platform will pay dividends. 

None of these premises has turned out to be correct in the long-haul. Instead, the following stark realities fly in the face of all the hope (or hype):

  • Twitter is positively stuffed with “spam” accounts. In fact, the median number of followers for a Twitter account is … exactly one. Even if a few of those accounts are actually “legit,” of what value are they to anyone? 
  • Twitter’s year-over-year growth rate has fallen significantly since 2011.

And here’s another clear indication of how Twitter has morphed into something quite different from its original character. Today, Twitter is more likely to be merely a place to promote content published someplace else in cyberspace, simply providing quick links over to that content.

Whereas in the past, journalists and celebs and others were posting statements and opinions — and replying to or retweeting the posts of others — now it’s more likely to be canned promotion and little more.

… Which sets up a downward spiral, because followers aren’t seeing anything particularly new or interesting that they’re not already encountering elsewhere. So interest wanes … leading to reduced participation … leading to even less consideration of Twitter’s “worth” as a social platform.

This phenomenon of “professionalized accounts” means little more than being a bulletin board of scheduled tweets and broadcast links, resulting in collective yawns all over the place.

Of course, there’s one aspect of Twitter than continues its joyride unabated: hate speech and profanity. But that’s the sort of content many people would just as soon avoid encountering.

LaFrance and Meyer conclude that the world may have “outgrown” Twitter. They’re not happy by that turn of events, writing:

“For a platform that was once so special, it would be sad and a little condescending to conclude that Twitter is simply something we’ve outgrown. After all, the platform has always been shaped by the people who congregate there. So if it’s no longer any fun, surely we’re at least partly to blame.”

The authors go on to note:

“Twitter has done for social publishing what AOL did for e-mail. But nobody has AOL accounts anymore … [Today,] Twitter feels closed off — choked — in a way that makes us want to explore somewhere else for a while.”

It may not be time for Twitter’s eulogy. But there are many who don’t see much of a second act for the social platform, either.

By the way … where are those “somewhere elses” in social media that LaFrance and Meyer allude to? Try Snapchat, Instagram … even LinkedIn.  That’s where the interesting action is happening these days.

The Continuing Ambivalence about Twitter

Or is it more a division of the house?

ambivalenceOf all of the social media platforms that have taken root, the one that seems to cause the most divided opinions among the marketing and communication specialists I know is Twitter.

… And these are the folks who have been diligent about “following the script” for crafting tweets that are interesting, informative, and get noticed.

Each social platform has its strong and weak attributes, of course … but I hear far more mixed views about Twitter than I do about Pinterest, Facebook and LinkedIn.

This is amply illustrated in a recent discussion that was started on LinkedIn’s B2B Marketing Group, of which I’m a member.

Joel Harrison, Editor-in-Chief of B2BMarketing.net, posed this question to the group’s members:

“If Twitter ceased to exist tomorrow, would we all be better off?”

This rather provocative query elicited a range of reactions pro and con – which was to be expected.

However, I was a little surprised that the comments were weighted roughly two-thirds negative about Twitter versus positive.

Remember, this is a discussion group made up of marketing professionals — people you’d expect to be keen on pretty much any established social platform that has an extensive following for marketing purposes.

… Which, even if you discount the ~30% of accounts that “fake, faux and farcical” – still makes Twitter qualify as one of the leading social media platforms.

But consider these comments about Twitter posted by members of the B2B Marketing Group on LinkedIn:

“16 characters solve this dilemma: ‘Don’t take part.’”

 “I once read a tweet that said, ‘This is the generation that had nothing to say, and said it.’ Sums it up pretty well.”

 “My target audiences … have not mentioned that they prefer to communicate on that channel, so until that happens, there isn’t much going on.”

 “I like the old BBC mission: ‘Entertain, inform and educate.’ If you don’t do any of that, I ain’t following.”

 “Useful as an additional channel for customer service and sharing experiences – if the customer wants it.”

 “It depends on the industry and the target audience.”

 “As a marketer, it’s useful.  On a personal level, it annoys the hell out of me.”

These statements don’t sound like a ringing endorsement of the platform, do they?

Of course, they were posted on a business-to-business discussion board, so presumably people were commenting based on their B-to-B perspective; consumer marketing opinions are likely somewhat different.

What are your opinions about Twitter? Based on your own experience, how important and how effective has Twitter been to your marketing efforts?  Is it a critical component … or is it just one more ornament on the MarComm tree? Please share your comments for the benefit of other readers.

Twitter’s “Potemkin Village Problem” Isn’t Getting Any Better

“Millions of fake accounts dog Twitter.”

“Twitter dogged by bogus accounts.”

social-media-inflated-statsI’ve blogged before about the scads of Twitter accounts that are accounts in name only.

It’s been a problem for years.

But now, it takes on even greater significance as the market valuation of Twitter is being measured in the tens of billions as the company issues publicly traded stock in its IPO.

To this end, I found a recent Wall Street Journal article penned by technology reporter Jeff Elder particularly interesting in that it pulls together various pieces of evidence that have been building … and which together showcase the extent of Twitter’s “Potemkin Village” problem.  (Note the headlines from this article displayed above.)

Essentially, the problem is a plethora of “faux” Twitter accounts being created by an underground network of sellers – including 20 or so major operations scattered around the world – that then offer these accounts for sale to companies and brands wishing to “juice” their Twitter follower statistics to appear more consequential than they actually are.

Consider these points from Mr. Elder’s article:

  • Faux accounts abound on Twitter because users aren’t limited to having a single account – nor are they required to use their real names.
  • In securities filings, Twitter claims that “fake” accounts represent fewer than 5% of its active user accounts.
  • But this past summer, security researchers Andrea Stroppa and Carlo de Micheli reportedly uncovered more than 20 million fake accounts for sale on Twitter – which is closer to 10% of Twitter’s active account base.  (Twitter had no comment on this report.)
  • Stroppa and de Micheli also unearthed the existence of software programs that allow spammers to create unlimited fake accounts on Twitter.  (Twitter had no comment on this report.)

Evidently, Twitter has taken stabs at reducing fakery among its account base — however sporadically.

About a year ago, the company reportedly worked with a team of researchers from UC Berkeley and George Mason University to identify fake Twitter accounts and minimize “robot” activity.  This was done by actually purchasing fake Twitter accounts on the black market and then identifying their common characteristics.

A filter subsequently developed was then able to block ~95% of such accounts – but it was only a matter of days before the underground market figured out ways to get around the new filters.

Within two short weeks, the filters were successfully blocking only about 50% of new fake Twitter accounts, and that percentage has continued to decline further since then.

And these faux accounts are available for a ridiculously small amount of money.  For instance, this past November one marketer purchased 1,000 accounts from an online vendor located in Pakistan … for a whopping $58.

This marketer then programmed them to “follow” the Twitter account of a rap artist client who was interested in boosting his standing on the social network.

In addition, those same accounts have been used to retweet the rapper’s own tweets, thereby giving them greater exposure on Twitter.

And believe it or not, this sort of ruse often works, because prominence on Twitter can lead to legitimate attention by an unwitting press and other “influencers.”

But it’s all blue smoke and mirrors, of course.

The downside?  As more of these stories get reported and shine a light on the seedy underside of the Twittersphere, it can’t help but have a negative impact on the social platform’s reputation.

… Beginning with people like you and me.

Social Marketers Behaving Badly …

Social marketers behaving badlyEx-Cong. and New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner hasn’t been the only one misbehaving on social media.

Chipotle Mexican Grill also gets a time-out to sit in the corner for its social media hi-jinks. 

It turns out that a supposed hacking of Chipotle’s Twitter account in mid-July was nothing more than a ploy to grab attention and gain more Twitter followers.

For those who haven’t heard, Chipotle’s Twitter stream appeared to have been hacked as a series of bizarre and nonsensical tweets were posted over the span of several hours – until the company claimed to have solved the problem.

As it turned out … the whole thing was completely manufactured – all of those crazy tweets published by the company itself.

A few days later, a Chipotle spokesperson came clean, admitting that the whole episode was actually a carefully orchestrated effort to gain more Twitter followers, in concert with the company’s 20th anniversary.

Did it work?  Evidently yes … because Chipotle had ~4,000 more Twitter followers at the end of the campaign than it did at the beginning.

But some marketing professionals were critical of the ploy.  Here are a few representative comments:

  • Chipotle is a brand about honesty and authenticity; faking a hack if off-brand.”  (Rick Liebling, Y&R Creative Culturalist)
  • “Most of these stunts … strike me as being pretty lazy.  It’s like making your CEO do a press conference drunk and then apologizing for it once he sobers up.”  (Ian Schafer, Deep Focus CEO)
  • Chipotle’s pico de gallo was more ‘weak sauce’ than ‘muy caliente.’”  (Saya Weissman, Digiday Editor)

On second thought, perhaps it’s not such a good idea to “mess with the market” when upside is a few additional social media contacts (that probably won’t stick around), and the downside is brand irritation or even humiliation.

After all, Chipotle’s net gain in Twitter followers represented an uptick of just 1.7%

That seems a bit paltry considering the potential blowback and reputation risk.

The $25 Tweet

Value of a tweetA marketing analytics firm is claiming that the average tweet on branded Twitter sites is worth a little over $25.

Yep, you read that correctly; $25.62, to be precise.

The revenue estimate comes to us courtesy of SumAll, a data visualization and analytics firm.  It reached that conclusion after reviewing more than 900 of its customers’ social media program efforts.  SumAll published its findings last week in an infographic.

To those who might look at the ~$25 figure and scoff (that may be most readers), it should be noted that once the total number of people who see an individual tweet is taken into consideration, the amount of revenue gained per impression is only about one half of one penny, on average.

To put this into context, $0.005 revenue-per-impression is lower than most other marketing tools and about on par for AdWords revenues-per-impression.

The imputed revenue from tweets amounts to about 1%-2% in incremental revenues, according to SumAll’s study group.

Not surprisingly, this announcement was met with questions … and some skepticism.  Asked to explain further how SumAll came up with its results, a SumAll spokesperson replied on the company’s blog:

“… Our data comes from our own user base of over 30,000 people.  We anonymize the data first and then aggregate all the data to derive new, interesting insights from a broad population.  For this infographic, we collected data from all users who have a Twitter stream and commerce stream, and conducted some calculations to derive the value of each tweet.”

There, that should clear up matters nicely, right?

As if pre-anticipating the muffled sniggers or raised eyebrows in reaction to this “non-response response,” the blog response continued:

“This is obviously a little overgeneralized, but I hope that [it] clears some things up.”

Uh-huh.  Or as radio NPR talk show host Diane Rehm might say, “All right and we’ll leave it at that.”

The experience of our clients hasn’t approached what SumAll is reporting … but I’m interested in hearing what kind of results other companies may have experienced using Twitter as a social marketing platform.  Any particularly positive stories (or negative ones) to report?  Please share you observations here.

Is Social Media a Platform for Narcissists?

Narcissism on social mediaOver time, I’ve been seeing more articles and blog posts cropping up that broach the topic of social media and narcissism.  Here’s just one of the latest examples.

The issue boils down to this:

  • Do social media platforms cause people to become narcissistic?
  • Or is social media merely a conduit by which people who already possess narcissistic tendencies get to indulge in “self-referential behavior” on steroids?

One could probably start at the very beginning:  Is Mark Zuckerberg a narcissist?”    (Don’t answer that question!)

My own view is somewhat conflicted.  I see evidence of some people who cheerfully relish the bullhorn – and attention – that social media appears to give them.

But social media can be deceiving in that a “personal environment” can be built that seems like the whole world is watching and listening – but in reality it’s just a constructed edifice more akin to a Potemkin village.

How many people are actually reading anyone’s Twitter posts?    (Don’t answer that question!)

But I can also see clear evidence of some of the more “Type B” people I know who have made quite an impact on social media by virtue of some very impressive contributions – written information, videos, photography, etc.

In those cases, social media has been a way to extend influence well beyond a small circle of friends or colleagues – and far more than could ever be possible before.

How about you?  What are your thoughts on this topic and what have you observed?  Please share them here if you’re so inclined.

(Don’t worry, we won’t accuse you of narcissism!)

Twitter Followers: Fake, Faux or Farcical?

Fake followers:  They're all over Twitter
Fake followers: They’re all over Twitter.

I’ve blogged before about the nagging suspicions many people have about the true level of engagement on Twitter. Some have referred to Twitter accounts as “digital Potemkin Villages” and other (unprintable) characterizations.

And now we have the latest indications that Twitter’s “blue smoke and mirrors” extends to the most important global brands.

Status People, a purveyor of social media management platforms, has develop an analytical tool it calls the “Fake Follower Checker” that evaluates the characteristics of brand followers to determine to what extent they are “real people” as opposed to fakers.

According to Status People, up to half of the followers of the 20 most important global brands are either complete fakes, or inactive.

Of course, it is possible that some brand followers do nothing but follow … and rarely if ever post tweets of their own. But it’s also easy to surmise that the value of an inactive follower isn’t nearly as high as one who engages on the Twitter platform.

Details on how Status People conducts its Twitter follower analysis can be found here. In a nutshell, Status People sampled up to 1,000 records and assessed activity against a number of spam criteria. Those criteria included the degree to which Twitter accounts have few or no followers and few or no tweets … but that follow many other Twitter accounts.

For the record, here are the proportion of major brand followers on Twitter that Status People deems are “good” versus “inactive” or “fake,” ranked from highest to lowest percentage score:

  • Gillette: 64% “good” followers
  • GE: 61%
  • Oracle: 60%
  • Toyota: 60%
  • Cisco: 54%
  • IBM: 53%
  • Mercedes: 53%
  • H-P: 52%
  • Disney: 51%
  • McDonalds: 51%
  • Coca-Cola: 50%
  • Honda: 50%
  • Louis Vuitton: 50%
  • Samsung: 46%
  • Intel: 44%
  • BMW: 43%
  • Microsoft: 42%
  • Nokia: 37%
  • Google: 27%

And what about one of the biggest U.S. brands out there right now:  Brand Obama?  Of the President’s nearly 19 million followers on Twitter, the reports are that nearly three-fourths of them are fake, too. 

Some have questioned why Status People has gone to all of this effort shine a light on Twitter fakery. “What harm is done?” these folks seem to be asking.

In response, Status People contends that fake Twitter accounts exist to build status and power beyond what is legitimate, and that those behind them are gaming the system in an effort to burnish brand credentials unfairly.

But I think it’s actually worse than that.  Twitter fakers run the risk of turning the entire Twitter enterprise into one big farce. I know too many people who have completely turned away from Twitter in the past year, becoming convinced that the entire platform is simply an elaborate façade masking a “whole lot of nothing.”

This can’t be what the folks at Twitter want people to think of their own brand!

Social media: All that glitters is … what?

Fake followers, fans, friends on social mediaChances are, you haven’t heard of Anthony Gemma, and I hadn’t either. 

Unless you live in Rhode Island, that is.  Mr. Gemma is a businessman who’s running for U.S. Congress there. And despite the fact that he has yet to win his own political party’s primary, he has already amassed nearly 1 million Twitter followers.

That’s more followers than presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

According to various social media monitoring services, Gemma’s Twitter account added ~400,000 followers in February 2012 alone.

And how about this stunning statistic: Between January and February of this year, the number of friends on Mr. Gemma’s personal Facebook page jumped some 5,600% to nearly 170,000 people.

How is this possible? For clues, we can start by noting that Mr. Gemma has described himself as a “social media guru.” In addition to owning a regional plumbing business, he’s also headed up a concern called Mediapeel, which bills itself as a providing “media strategy advice” to companies.

And therein lie clues to the sudden surge of “interest” in Mr. Gemma and his Congressional campaign in the social media sphere.  One can only imagine the lengths to which Mr. Gemma and his campaign staff are going in order to show off the candidate’s “obvious” fame and notoriety.

But are Mr. Gemma’s social media followers for real? Or are they of the same ilk of the famed digital “Potemkin Villages” that have sprung up all over the Internet?

Consider a few telltale signs about Anthony Gemma and his fantabulous social media presence:

  • Fewer than 1% of Gemma’s Twitter follows are based in Rhode Island … but nearly 15% are in Canada. You’ll find another 2% from London, England, plus thousands of others from places all over the globe.  I’m not sure how far afield Mr. Gemma takes his regional plumbing business, but this geographic map is intriguing to say the least.
  • Gemma’s Twitter “fans” are an unusually  inactive bunch. On February 24, 2012 – the same day Mr. Gemma’s Twitter account picked up a tidy 87,000 new followers in one fell swoop – he asked his Twitter audience to retweet a photo. A whopping six people chose to do so.
  • Earlier this year, after the progressive organization Rhode Island’s Future questioned the validity of Mr. Gemma’s burgeoning bevy of Facebook friends and noted that the most popular origin of his friends, followers and fans was an unlikely location — Frankfurt, Germany — all of the names referenced in the RIFuture blog post mysteriously disappeared from Gemma’s social sites.  Interestingly, however, the most prevalent place of origin for Gemma’s personal Facebook page’s friends is another foreign city: Moscow.  I guess Mr. Gemma’s international interests range from the Germanic to the Slavic.

Although it’s impossible to know for sure, these signs suggest that there’s precious little “there there” when it comes to the extent of Mr. Gemma’s true social media footprint.

And in fact, just last week the political website Politico made the latest attempt to get to the bottom Anthony Gemma’s questionable social media presence.

Politico took note of this tweet from Mr. Gemma’s account, posted on July 24, 2012:  “Don’t add up your troubles, count your blessings. RETWEET to pass it on!”

Of Gemma’s nearly 1 million “followers”, only 17 did so.

And while one of them actually appears to be a Rhode Islander, the others include followers from Sydney, Calcutta, the Baltic States, Indonesia …

… But none from Potemkin Village.

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.