“What social media channels should our cultural organization be using?”
It’s a question that I am asked frequently – and for good reason! Data suggests that social media may be the key to activating likely visitors, and the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study (the source of a majority of the information on this site) measures how much time people spend on different social media channels. Thus, it’s a good question to which I may have some helpful information!
The answer contemplates the intersection of two considerations:
1) The platforms on which the most people (or certain target audiences) spend the most time
2) The platforms upon which an organization can most effectively engage audiences in its mission and experiences, and maintain a consistent presence.
In this article, I am going to focus on the first point so that it may inform how your organization approaches the second. This is a data update from an article that I wrote in 2016. Things can change quickly in the digital world, and it’s time to look at how things have changed.
Social media is an important source of information for likely visitors to cultural organizations.
I’d be remiss not to discuss the strategic importance of social media before diving into individual platforms. After all, if we don’t acknowledge the importance of these engagement tools, it’s difficult to create a strategy to use them effectively.
Likely visitors to cultural organizations are super-connected to the web. This means that they have access to the web at home, at work, and on a mobile device. Likely visitors to museums, zoos, aquariums, botanic gardens, historic sites, and performing arts entities cite web-based platforms as their primary source of information, regardless of age.
Even more interestingly, perhaps, is the fact that people who qualify as likely visitors to cultural organizations but who have not visited in the last two years rely on social media even more than current attendees. In other words, our opportunity to reach new audiences doesn’t involve less engagement using social media – it depends on more of it!
Social media and digital engagement play a fundamental role in driving visitation to cultural organizations. Earned endorsement – and people sharing stories about their visits on social media, in particular – plays a strong role in motivating visitation.
Has your organization ever experienced an unexpected closure? It could have been due to a weather alert (such as a snow day or hurricane), civil unrest, or a sudden, facility issue. These things happen. And when they do, organizations often adjust their annual attendance expectations by simply subtracting their projected attendance for the day of the closure. Interestingly, data shows that these unforeseen closures – which often happen for crummy reasons – hurt us even more than we realize! Organizations actually lose an average of 1.25 annual visitors (instead of just one), when there is an unexpected closure.
The reason why? Lost stories.
These organizations don’t just lose the people who would have attended that day. They also lose the word of mouth endorsement and social media posts from those people. They lose the Instagram stories, the Facebook posts, and the dinner party conversation about the trip. Those stories play a critical role in remaining top-of-mind among likely visitors and motivating others to attend – and the web amplifies those stories.
The importance of what people say about an organization is so critical in motivating attendance today that it was the basis of one of the first Know Your Own Bone Fast Facts videos on this site.
Which social media platforms have the most users?
The number of people reached by a platform is limited to the number of people on that platform. And the more people who are on a platform, the more likely it is that some percentage of those users are likely visitors to cultural organizations. These numbers matter, because they let us know – plainly – what platforms people are using.
This chart considers how many users are on each platform worldwide each month. It is straightforward! The data comes from the platforms themselves and their self-reported number of users, rounded to the nearest million.
Why are the channels shown here in this order? Because this was the descending order of their user numbers in 2016. As you can see, the line up has changed over the past two years.
Facebook has the most users of any social media platform by over one billion people. That hasn’t changed! If you hear someone say, “People just aren’t on Facebook anymore,” then you may want to consider showing them this chart…or any other chart showing Facebook user numbers, for that matter.
At the time of this data pull – June 2018 – Instagram had just made headlines for reaching over one billion users. Though the number of users has increased for every one of these platforms since 2016 – except Tumblr, which lost about one hundred million users – the most notable growth is in Facebook and Instagram. Instagram is the second most-used social media channel of the bunch, and this social media channel is certainly a powerful force worth noting.
On which social media platforms do people spend the most time?
Now we know how many people are on each platform, but what if they are just logging on and logging off? The number of people using a platform isn’t necessarily indicative of the amount of time one spends on that platform. One need not even have an account to gather information from some of these platforms. How can we take that into account?
Let’s take a look at relative social media timeshare. Understanding where a majority of people spend their time online plays an important role in informing where your organization may most benefit by spending theirs. This data considers the comparative context of time spent on specific social media platforms. It comes from the media consumption and usage data collected as part of the ongoing National Awareness, Attitude & Usage Study. Remember that one need not necessarily have an account in order to spend time on some of these channels. Thus, this information shows the timeshare of the US market on the specified social media channels, regardless of whether or not one has an account on the platform.
It has been quantified using index values as a means of indicating relative proportionality around a mean value of 100. Essentially (and perhaps unsurprisingly), items with index values less than 100 have a less notable timeshare than those with index values over 100. A benefit of index values is that they allow us to easily compare values.
The most social media time is spent on Facebook. As you can see, people in the US spend 4.5x more time on Facebook than Twitter, and 8.7x more time on Facebook than LinkedIn. Though people spend 1.7x more time on Facebook than Instagram, the image sharing site holds down second place, and the amount of time devoted to this platform is important to note.
Do you remember about five years ago when folks used to refer to social media as “Facebook and Twitter?” Today, the power players are Facebook and Instagram.
What is the overall “power” of these social media platforms?
Finally, let’s put these two pieces of information together to determine the relative “power” of each of these channels. That is, where the most people are spending the most time.
These data are drawn from the two charts above to create a composite index value chart to help compare the “power” of these channels. When we consider how many people are using each platform alongside the amount of time spent on each platform, we are better able to develop optimal online engagement strategies and best allocate our resources. These numbers are also in index values in order to compare these values with one another. Take a look…
Facebook is important. Facebook is very important.
Facebook is a whooping 82x more “powerful” than LinkedIn, and 31x more powerful than Twitter. It is 3.5x more powerful than Instagram, the second most powerful social media platform.
Facebook—and to a lesser extent Instagram—rule the land. It may be wise to prioritize these two platforms, and make sure that adequate time and resources are spent to maximize the power of both. If you are a location-based cultural organization such as a museum – then your organization already has a Facebook and Instagram presence, even if your organization does not have an account. People share their experiences on these platforms, and those endorsements don’t just “go away” if an organization chooses not to pay attention. It benefits organizations to know what people are saying and sharing about them. Having accounts so that you can keep tabs on endorsements and engage directly with people who share their stories helps to utilize these platforms effectively… and make way for stronger relationships and even more endorsements. After all, it’s likely that in some way, your organization is already there!
Some may notice that YouTube is not included in this chart, and it has a significant number of users who spend a great deal of time watching videos. The reason for this is that – while technically a social media channel – YouTube is often primarily used as a platform for watching video as opposed to a channel for interaction like the others included here. Thus, it’s used differently than the others and often hosts the embedded content that gets shared on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and other platforms. YouTube is certainly an important channel and a powerful tool. For the sake of these measurements and deriving the overall, weighted “power” of platforms, we have excluded it here because it functions a bit differently.
Is your organization considering these points when executing its digital engagement plan? Here are some important notes and best practices that relate to these data:
1) Organizations benefit by meeting audiences (on platforms) where they are
If we ignore this information and try to promulgate our content on platforms that aren’t being used by audiences, we only hurt ourselves. It doesn’t matter how great an organization’s content is if it’s screaming it into an empty room – nobody is there to hear the message. Remember, your organization may determine importance, but the market determines relevance. The market decides what platforms to use and for what reasons – we can simply meet them there with an engaging presence or not.
This information is critical for devising an effective social media strategy and allocating limited resources. These data help us let go of what is ineffective and make better use of our time. These data inform us of the comparative number of attendees at each platform’s house party and how long they are there so that we aren’t that person at the party hanging out in the corner talking to themselves. Nonprofits tend to have limited time and resources. This information can help organizations get the most bang for their buck.
Are you spending more time on Twitter than Facebook because you’ve always spent more time on Twitter, or because that’s the best use of your time?
2) It is not simply social media. Platforms matter – particularly Facebook.
Facebook is important. Every once and a while, there will be buzz that tons of people are suddenly leaving Facebook and Facebook just isn’t the thing anymore. This is untrue. Sure, people use other platforms, but in the world of social media, Facebook reigns. There’s no excuse not to prioritize Facebook. Period. Social media is important, and when we talk about social media, Facebook is a large portion of that definition in itself. Instagram is an important platform as well.
That said, some audiences use different platforms for different reasons. These platforms have different functions, benefits, strengths, and weaknesses. It’s important to consider your organization’s goals alongside this information. Don’t get me wrong: This isn’t intended as a convenient “out” for thinking critically about what platforms your organization is currently engaging audiences upon and why. It’s the opposite: We benefit by taking this information into account in order to develop effective strategies – but we must not treat every social media channel as if they are the same. They are not exactly the same.
3) This is not a social media plan in itself
This information should inform your overall strategy in a big way, but your overall strategy may extend beyond this information. Are you on the right platforms for sharing your message? How much time will it require to effectively take up a new platform? What is your organization trying to achieve through social media? You don’t need to be on all of these platforms. Which platforms you should be on depends on your goals and what you can successfully maintain. This said, the data are rather clear that it’s not the wisest move to, say, invest significant time in Snapchat at the expense of Facebook – at least without having a clear rationale for favoring Snapchat and choosing to compromise engagement on Facebook.
When in doubt: Figure out how much time you need to do Facebook and Instagram well and then work from there. Often, content created for Facebook can be repurposed to fit in well on other platforms. Are you on the right platforms for your audiences, your content, and what you hope to accomplish? These are the critical questions to ask yourself before your organization decides how to invest its time and resources.
The data are not necessarily the underpinning of a social media plan. Instead, they help inform an effective social media engagement strategy mindful of the allocation of resources necessary to achieve your goals. As a reminder: Before creating any social media plan, it is beneficial to understand (and agree upon) your organization’s brand values.
4) There’s a difference between “having an account” and actively engaging audiences with that account.
Social media is part of an ongoing, multi-faceted engagement strategy. It is a way to tell stories, amplify earned endorsement, and become top-of-mind when next Saturday afternoon strikes and a likely visitor suddenly finds themselves without plans. It’s not enough to set up an account and call it a day. Maintaining an online presence requires diligence, real-time awareness, creativity, and storytelling. Social media for social media’s sake doesn’t help an organization better reach its goals.
Social media channels can be important places to show how your organization walks its talk. Organizations that highlight their missions and experiences financially outperform those marketing primarily as attractions.
A key part of success may be hiring and valuing talent who can build relationships via online platforms and who understand what an organization is aiming to accomplish. These connectors help make your organization come to life every bit as much as onsite educators, docents, and curators. Social media matters.
Online engagement is engagement.