It's sometimes amazing (and disappointing) what you find when you scratch beneath the surface of headlines. Take this one from Mashable: "Social Media Not a Big Factor in Holiday Purchases." It’s a big, eye-catching, alarm-raising headline, but as I dug into the story beneath the headline, I found my impression changed considerably.
The article reports on a ForeSee study that, according to Mashable, demonstrates that "social media may be an underwhelming driver" of retail sales. Based on the Mashable article, I downloaded the report from the ForeSee site, expecting a thorough exploration of social media's role in holiday shopping purchases. I was surprised to find that the portion pertaining to social media was a mere two sentences in the 22-page report. (In fact, ForeSee notes that its report could not contain all of the findings of the study, so additional information relating to topics like social and mobile will be made available in future weeks by request.)
Is it possible that in 2011 social media could help bring peace on earth, goodwill toward men (and women)? I’m enough of an optimist to hope so but enough of a realist to appreciate how naive that sounds. Still, I believe there are encouraging signs that social media can have a positive impact on the world — but only if it first has a positive impact on each of us.
If I predict that social media will bring peace to the world and am subsequently proven wrong, at least I’d be in good company. History is full of examples of technical advances that carried the promise of beneficial change but delivered something less. Alfred Nobel invented dynamite, a more stable version of nitroglycerin, to make mining safer; he eventually used his wealth to establish the Nobel Prizes after reading an erroneously printed obituary that called him “the merchant of death” for “finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before.”
‘Tis the season for gifts and wishes. I have no presents for Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo and Google (and giving them gifts would violate Forrester rules), so instead I’ve dug deep into my bag of hopes to offer some wishes for these leading tech and social media companies:
For Twitter, the gift of distribution. I’ve argued plenty on this blog that Twitter has already become mainstream based on the impact it has on our culture, if not on the number of people who use the information network. It must be rewarding for Biz, Ev and the Twitter crew to see tweets become news on CNN and in Entertainment Weekly, but that doesn’t pay the bills. For Twitter to become an ad-serving powerhouse (without annoying its loyal user base), it needs more people consuming tweets — it won’t be the number of people who tweet that drives Twitter’s revenue but the number of people who read those tweets. If Twitter is to maximize the potential of its Promoted Tweets, trends and accounts, it needs as many eyeballs as possible, and so in 2011 I give Twitter the wish of wider distribution. If Twitter can succeed in being integrated in sites across the Web (as Facebook has) not just as a button but as content, the future will remain very bright for the ubiquitous blue bird.
If you’re in need of a last-minute holiday gift, how about giving the gift of charity and education? I had a series of experiences with DonorsChoose.org this year that exceeded every expectation. Never have I been more appreciated for a contribution, nor have I felt and seen the impact of a donation more directly. The affirmative feelings I received from DonorsChoose.org were so wonderful, I want to share them with you (and I’m giving gifts of DonorsChoose.org to people on my gift list this year).
I came to know DonorsChoose.org through Twitter, which distributed $50 gift cards to attendees of its Chirp Conference in April. (Classy move, Twitter!) I was not familiar with DonorChoose.org and learned that it is a site where public school teachers in the US can post classroom project requests for which they need cash. Visitors can surf the site for projects based on topics or location and may give as little as $1. DonorsChoose.org vets each teacher’s request and purchases the requested classroom materials, shipping items directly to the school.
With Twitter’s gift card in hand, I surfed the site for a worthy school project in my home state of Wisconsin. I found a request from Mrs. D’s classroom in a high-poverty area of the state. Their need was simple: 16 current children's dictionaries and 16 current children's thesauruses. Others had already donated, such as Kirsten from Santa Fe, NM, who had attended the school in the 1970s and Sharon from Bayside, WI, because "I’m a strong believer in Literacy education." I used my $50 Chirp gift for Mrs. D’s request and then chipped in another $25 of my own to help the classroom hit its necessary total.
We recently conducted a survey on the Forrester blog to learn about the news sources you use to get interactive marketing information and insight. Among the responses we received, new media (online-only) news sources ranked high, which is no surprise since we asked on a blog dedicated to the needs of interactive marketing professionals.
When it comes to news and information about interactive marketing, Mashable rules the roost for those who responded; 4 of 5 people listed Mashable as a media outlet they visit at least once a month. Two other tech/media sites also ranked on top: TechCrunch and ReadWriteWeb. As for traditional media sources, The New York Times and Ad Age were tops for interactive marketing news among those who completed the survey.
Another interesting finding is how many different sources for interactive marketing news are used by survey respondents. Almost 4 in 10 people say they regularly visit a news site other than the 17 we listed in our survey. Top answers in the “Other” category include:
One common complaint I hear from marketers is that social media is not (yet) a mass medium. For example, the circulation for Cosmopolitan is 3 million, while the magazine counts just 700,000 fans in Facebook. And while it seems (almost) everyone is creating, using or consuming social media today, it is a highly fractured channel. Thirty years ago, almost every person watching television was tuned into one of three networks; today, 550 million people use Facebook, and each and every one of them is their own network.
However, the fact that social media is fractured and personalized does not mean that it isn't a mass medium; it just means it is a challenging mass medium. Here is the evidence for social as a mass medium:
Now look at your television and print budgets. Better put on sunglasses or all those zeros and commas may blind you! Now look at your social media budget -- I'll wait while you find a magnifying glass. Now back to your television budget; now back to my budget.
Some blog posts generate little reaction; some generate a lot; and sometimes it is a single idea contained within a blog post that spurs the greatest response. I recently authored a diatribe entitled "Eight Things I'm Sick Of In Social Media." The comments associated with the post are fascinating and informative, but one point created the strongest and most supportive reaction: When I said I was sick of Auto DMs on Twitter. (For those who don't know, Auto DMs are generic, pre-programmed responses that are automatically sent to each new follower on Twitter.)