The Social Media Myth

By: Herschell Gordon Lewis

Remember Simon called Peter? Remember Glen or Glenda? Remember “Call me Ishmael” or, for that matter, “Call me Pisher?” Remember Cassius Clay and Muhammad Ali? Remember Allen Stewart Konigsberg and Woody Allen? How about Caryn Johnson and Whoopi Goldberg? Or Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta and Lady Gaga?

One hidden change: Social Media to Commercial Media. Here’s a question for you and anyone who slaves away in the dungeons of fundraising: Are social media, as they convert to commercial purposes, competitive with email and direct mail?

The disciples say yes. Is their word valid, since they’re disciples? The skeptics say no. They have comparative numbers as backup.

Which are you? Disciple? Skeptic? Or, are you as yet agnostic? Let’s see if some of the reports filtering in can validate any of those positions. Before arguing one way or another, opinions and results need to be split into two segments. One is recruitment of new donors. The other is maintenance and renewals of existing donors. Media allocation for each isn’t necessarily identical.

Inevitable changes, inevitable consequences

When Frances Gumm changed her name to Judy Garland, the name change was pretty much invisible to the general public because the studio implemented it before anyone of consequence knew Frances Gumm. When General Motors exploded the social media myth by canceling its schedule on Facebook, the action resounded throughout both the commercial and the nonprofit half-worlds. Fewer practitioners were surprised than the dedicated Facebook adherents thought possible. Were you surprised? (Please don’t forget: The word “media” denotes plural. The singular is “medium.” So proper usage is “The media are…” not “The media is….”)

A report issued by ZD Net showed that although 90 percent of nonprofits have a Facebook presence, use and growth are slowing, and the other major social media – Twitter, LinkedIn, and MySpace – already are in decline. The numbers reinforce this negative conclusion: click-through rates for Facebook ads are an almost inconceivably small 1/20 of 1 percent. That’s one response per 2,000 message-recipients. It doesn’t begin to compete with even the weakest conventional medium. That’s substantially worse than the industry average, and analysts such as Mathew Ingram (quoted in Bloomberg BusinessWeek) say it seems to be getting worse instead of better. Does that report surprise you?

The immediate question among agnostics is whether the nonprofits that have a Facebook presence have both an active and a reactive Facebook presence. More to the point is the comparative cost of maintaining an interactive presence, against a straightforward — OK, traditional — fundraising method.

Check out your own system for determining whether a service organization is worth your dollars, euros or yen. Is the word “like” sufficient ammunition on a competitive level? Has commercialization of Facebook and Twitter, in which the request that you please “like” either what’s being pitched or for what the organization stands, has to be accompanied by a reward, or the “offer” isn’t competitive?

Do statistics influence your decisions?

“Skyttle Friends” seems to specialize in Facebook analytics. A Skyttle survey of Facebook users interacting with fan pages stated that as many as 99 percent of those fans interact once and never again. Beyond that, Facebook click-through rates are a minuscule 0.011-0.165 percent, barely tabulable. Google’s numbers are four to seven times greater.

But some of Google’s own publicly offered statistics dance around a point instead of landing on it. An example is this one: “20% of all online searches have local intent and this percentage jumps to 40% when searches are performed from smartphones.”

OK, what has this statistic shown? Right on – smartphones account for almost half of all online searches. For you, whose principal concern should be response, that’s a “So what?” statistic. Searches and response can be light-years apart.

Want to argue with disciples?

Let’s agree that any “marketing” campaign conducted on a social medium increases the proclivity of someone to think favorably of the product, if commercial, or the cause, if nonprofit.

You have to agree, because the statement is too venerable as a principle of all advertising. Where you have to ask questions and mount tests is to determine how many exposures, how much time, and how much money are involved to convert that favorable image to real dollars. Maybe you’ll also agree with an eConsultancy study of 1,400 consumers published in an advertising periodical: 42 percent said they prefer to receive ads for sales and specials via email compared to just 3 percent who said the same for social-networking sites and 1 percent who preferred Twitter. But as you agree, you might be adding the increasingly standard, “So what?” The word, prefer, is insignificant in our universe when stacked head-to-head against respond. The ancient concepts of “noted” and “pay-per-click” are kissin’ cousins of preference but strangers to response.

A “report” by Netwits ThinkTank typifies the problem you can have when using social media without implementing tools to determine just where your contributions are coming from. According to the report: “42.3% of the entire American population use Facebook. Twitter has over 16 million users. YouTube is the second most used search engine in the world.” Other sources place Pinterest well above YouTube, but that isn’t the point. You quickly do see the point: That 42.3 percent use Facebook and that Twitter at 16 million users has no more relevance than the number of TV owners whose TV sets can show “X Factor.”

Your concern is simple and twofold:

1) How many of those people are you reaching?

2) Is the cost-per-response competitive with other means of reaching potential donors?

Might this be an indication of disconnect between high visibility and low response? In the magazine Fast Company, Michael Lazerow wrote last spring, “Nielsen last quarter released results from 79 Facebook ad campaigns, and on average, Facebook’s social ads had 55% higher recall than non-social ads.” Marcelo Somers, writing for Behind Companies: “Facebook advertising doesn’t work because they focus on showing you ads based on who you are, not what problem you are trying to solve. Ironically enough, Google is running around afraid of Facebook, but their ads have been better targeted all along because they are shown at a moment where one has a job that needs to be done.”

All right, all right … but how about nonprofits? Do you see a comparative response for your organization on social media’s horizon?

Think like a professional fundraiser

You know what happened to Pygmalion: He fell in love with an ivory statue he had created … and brought it to life. The name is the source of The Pygmalion effect, the phenomenon in which the greater your expectation that a person or a source will perform, the better they actually will perform.

Let’s be Pygmalion-like when considering social media. Social media of some kind will probably eventually become important in fundraising. Will that be Facebook or a descendant of Facebook? Will it be a less-shrill version of Twitter, expanded beyond the 140-character limit that forces sophomoric misspellings, not admirable in fundraising? Will it be a less user-egoistic version of LinkedIn? Will it be a medium not yet unleashed? While pondering as the socially adept juveniles we are — “Are we there yet?” — you can keep tabs on whether yes, you’re there … or no, not yet … by doling out dollars to unproven media stingily.

Social media parallel all other media in the 2012 shortened-attention-span development. Among other worthwhile experiments, you might consider leaning on list companies for access to names you can circularize multiple times on a classic, carefully controlled comparative basis. List owners and list companies might agree if you share results with them.

Within that structure, split the appeal:

  • A tight, short, hard-hitting, straight-to-the-gut appeal;
  • A “because you are who you are” appeal; and,
  • A rational explanation of what you need, why you need it and why that individual is your logical target.
  • A sub-split: offer membership in an “Advisory Board;” and,
  • A sub-split: direct mail on an “n’th-name” basis within each group.

Compare results. You’ll have an indication — and until renewal time comes it’s only an indication — of whether social media brings in response at a comparable level. Final thought Fundraising not only is a business; it’s just about as tough a business as might exist in today’s cynical and brutally competitive society. The label “social” is increasingly artificial. That isn’t your problem.

Oh, no. Your problem is to thrive as your competitors, whether disciples and skeptics, whether enchanted or disenchanted by social media, lose position because they can’t decide which image to project – the natural Frances Gumm or the manufactured Judy Garland. NPT

Herschell Gordon Lewis lives in Pompano Beach, Fla., consulting with and writing direct response copy for clients worldwide. He is the author of “Hot Appeals or Burnt Offerings,” an analysis of fundraising techniques. His most recent book is his 32nd — “Internet Marketing Tips, Tricks, and Tactics.” Among his other books are “On the Art of Writing Copy,” “Creative Rules for the 21st Century,” and “How to Write Powerful Fund Raising Letters.” His website is herschellgordonlewis.com

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