With the recent revelation about the Facebook data breach of at least 87 million user profiles, I felt compelled to look into the basis of available statistics about U.S. adult usage of leading social media platforms. Many nonprofit stakeholder organizations use various platforms to communicate with stakeholders, announce milestones and appeal to donors, so it is important that we can trust the statistics and the user security being provided.
The first thing to realize is the published “Active Monthly User” data appears to be self-reported by the companies. Examining Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Snapchat, the leading platforms by number of users, immediately reveals a few curiosities.
Let’s begin with the fact that there are 250 million adults in the U.S., and according to Pew Research, 69% of U.S. adults (173 million) use at least one social media site. If you total up the published Active Monthly Adult users of these seven platforms, it totals 369 million which is roughly 214% of the social media active adult population. And this is fine, because people use more than one platform like Facebook or Instagram for personal use, LinkedIn for professional use and YouTube for education and fun.
In addition to our initial seven, we should also consider other leading platforms including: Reddit, Skype, Tagged, Stumbleupon, Tumbler, Myspace, Google+, Care2, CafeMom and Reverbnation (listed in order of number of average monthly users). Together, these 17 make up the bulk of the social media platforms being used in the U.S.
Taken together, these platforms claim they experience 814 million adult active monthly users, or 472% of the active adult population. This implies that on average, U.S. adults, who use social media, use 4-5 social media platforms each. I have to admit that I have trouble buying this implication. Interestingly, I was unable to find any data on the average number of platforms used by adult users.
Social Media Cross-Roads
I raise the matter of what may be inflated user statistics because many organizations are at a cross-roads and are questioning the hard costs and opportunity costs of maintaining a social media presence. For regional and national organizations, a Facebook and Instagram presence, and perhaps a Youtube channel are a relatively efficient way to make information available to a large number of broadly disbursed stakeholder. For more localize organizations, it is increasingly difficult to justify the staff time it takes to gather material to post and maintain an attractive, well written and effective site.
There is no question that investing in an effective website is money well spent. It is a softer argument, however, for investment in secondary and tertiary web presence. This is especially true when we consider that only around 5% of people read the hard copy newsletter that is sent to them by organizations. This is 5% engagement using a “push” strategy of mailing hard copy. Social media is a “pull” strategy where stakeholders need to initiate a visit to your Facebook page or the like. Push strategies are always more effective than pull strategies.
If we now consider the well-deserved scrutiny Facebook is receiving for their profound breach of trust, and the ensuing exodus of users, the efficacy of maintaining a social media presences become even more fraught.
For organizations that are questioning the use of limited resources on social media, I suggest investing in a dynamic and continually refreshed website, and the use of Google Adwords to drive qualified traffic – in my experience, better qualified than Facebook ads – to your great website.
1. If your organization has a social media presence, scrutinize the user numbers and rates of conversions to action.
2. Consider the costs to attain these results, and how the funds might be used for greater effect.
3. Don’t feel like you HAVE TO HAVE a social media presence, like you do HAVE TO HAVE a strong website.