Social Media is not killing Email – so what’s your next excuse for not using Email as well as you could?

Each time we see a significant evolution in the way consumers communicate there is always a temptation to jump to the conclusion that the latest method will surely kill-off the previous methods. Presumably such predictions were bandied about after Alexander Graham Bell made his first telephone call back in 1876 – yet the mail service didn’t die-out as a result of the adoption of telephones. Rather more recently, there have been suggestions that email will kill-off traditional mail ever since I got my first email address back in the early ’90s (remember Compuserve?) – but it hasn’t happened yet (although that debate does continue).

As such, following the incredibly rapid adoption of Social Media over the last few years it’s not surprising that people are having the same discussions again – ‘surely if everyone is tweeting or facebooking then they’ll no longer be using email?’. Indeed, this was the very idea being put forward in a WSJ Tech Article I spotted towards the end of last year entitled: “Why Email no longer rules”.

However, it turns-out based on a growing body of research evidence that the rumours of Email’s imminent demise at the hands of Social Networkers are incorrect. Here are just a couple of examples to illustrate what I mean:

Firstly research from Nielsen back at the start of last year. This is particularly interesting because Nielsen analysts had previously gone on record stating that Social Media was more popular than email, based on a global analysis of internet usage. However, when they went on to do more detailed research examining just how Social Media use decreases Email use they actually ended-up disproving their original hypothesis and instead proved that social media use actually leads to increased Email use – as illustrated in the chart below. You can read more about their research here.

More recently, this same finding has been confirmed by US Relationship Marketing Agency Merkle in its ‘View from the Social Inbox’ report released just last month. Based on research conducted in late 2009, they too found that active social network users are more likely to be avid email users. With 42% of social networkers checking their email 4+ times per day compared to just 27% of non-social networkers (as shown below). You can download the full Merkle report here.

So, now that we have a growing body of evidence that Email is continuing to be a key online communication channel – despite the overwhelming popularity of various forms of social media – here comes the important question… Given Email’s continued, if not growing, importance – just how happy are you with the way you’re using it to engage with your supporters?

This question has been particularly front of mind for me recently as I’ve been working with two large UK charities to help develop their online fundraising strategies and in both cases opportunities to improve email use have offered some of the greatest income growth wins.

If you’re in the same boat, then don’t feel too downhearted – because you’re certainly not alone. According to the 2009 Adestra/Econsultancy Email Marketing Census, 72% of email marketers (from both commercial and non-profit organisations) admitted that they are not using email as effectively as they could – despite acknowledging that it offers the best ROI of any online activity other than natural search. Interestingly, as shown below, the top two reasons given for not using email effectively were ‘Quality of email database’ and ‘Lack of strategy’, with ‘Poor technology’ 7th in the list – reflecting the fact that many organisations now have access to the technology required to undertake pretty sophisticated email programmes, but their strategic planning has yet to catch-up:

With most of the online fundraising buzz these days tending to be focused on some form of social media activity, it’s good to be reassured that dear old email is here to stay – and, in the light of this, to be prompted to make time to consider whether you’re online income is suffering because you’re not using it as well as you could be.



Advice on Twitter use – based on what top US companies are NOT doing

It’s often the way with things like Twitter that you tend mostly to hear stories about how well people are using them. Which can leave you with something of an inferiority complex about the fact that you haven’t actually had time to begin testing them properly – because you’ve been too busy raising money.

With this in mind, it’s worth taking a quick look at a free report just released by PR Agency Webber Shandwick entitled ‘Do Fortune 100 Companies Need a twittervention?’ – because their research revealed that as much can be learned from what big US companies are doing wrong as from what they are doing right when it comes to Twitter use.

Apparently 73 of the Fortune 100 companies are on Twitter, with 540 Twitter accounts between them. However, half of these accounts have fewer than 500 followers, three-quarters rarely ever tweet, and 81 are inactive – either abandoned after a specific event or simply placeholder accounts protecting against brand-jacking.

The report goes on to consider whether the accounts convey any form of personality or particular tone of voice – with over half registering a FAIL on this. It also examines how the accounts are being used, and then offers a summary of best practice – comprising advice which is as relevant for non-profits considering adding Twitter to their online communications programme as it is for big corporates.

Overall, the report concludes that for the majority of Fortune 100 companies Twitter remains a missed opportunity – which will hopefully make any fundraisers with a Twitter inferiority complex feel just a bit better that they’re not so far behind as they might have thought.

There is no doubt that Twitter can form an effective part of your online programme. But its use has matured extremely quickly and with this have come certain specific expectations on the behalf of Twitter users – which can only be met if you understand and follow best practice when you’re using it.

It’s no longer sufficient just to get your organisation a Twitter account and then play about and see what happens. At best that’s likely just to be a waste of your time and at worst could have a negative impact on your brand in the eyes of those online consumers you’re looking to engage with. Over the last couple of years there have been masses of different reports written on what to do and what not to do – so start by learning from other people’s successes, and failures, and then you’ll be in a far better position to capitalise on whatever Twitter-based opportunities might be out there for you.

For more specific guidance on using Twitter for non-profits, here are a couple of guides to start you off:

If anyone has other non-profit specific Twitter guides that they would recommend, then do share details of them by leaving a comment below.



Failing MySpace drops behind Twitter in the UK

Twitter vs MySpace

Some pretty shocking data for UK fans of the social networking site MySpace was highlighted last week, with the news that traffic to the site has now dropped behind that of microblogging site Twitter.

On one side, this is just more evidence of the amazing rise of Twitter in the UK (leading to London being described as the “capital of Twitter” by its CEO, Ev Williams) – and these site traffic stats actually only tell part of that story, due to the number of people using third-party applications to manage their Twitter accounts.

However what is more significant is such clear evidence for the apparent collapse of MySpace over here.

With the pace of change in the Web 2.0 world over the last few years, it’s easy to forget just how dominant MySpace looked in the UK market back in the early days of the online social networking goldrush. As a reminder, I dug-out a blog post I wrote ‘way back’ in early June 2007 – when it was Facebook that was the freshfaced newcomer showing what would now be described as ‘Twitterish’ growth…

Facebook vs MySpace 2007

Amazing to think that back then MySpace was sitting pretty on over 100m users worldwide, compared to Facebook’s mere 25m. The story since then has of course been dominated by Facebook – with it’s active user numbers reaching 250m by July this year, while MySpace growth has stalled such that even its dominance in the US social media market seems doomed.

All in all, a useful reminder never to take the social networking world for granted. It is still a far from mature marketplace and there is pretty well constant change going on out there, whether related to new functionality, shifting user demographics, or the simple departure of users altogether. All of which makes it essential for any marketers or fundraisers responsible for social media activity to keep an eye out for data that helps them understand just what’s happening, so as to help guide where to invest time and budgets when looking to engage with supporters online.

Second International Twitter Fundraising Festival coming-up in September

Twestival Local

On the back of the phenomenal growth in usage of the Twitter microblogging service, there has been much discussion over the last year about the potential for its use by charities and other non-profits for both supporter communications and fundraising.

The case for using it as an addition to your online supporter communications now seems pretty clear – if your supporters are users of the service and you have someone available in your organisation who can manage your day-to-day Twitter communications (monitoring tweets relating to you and fielding the inevitable questions that will start to come through if people actively engage with your Twitter feed).

Quite how best to raise money direct from Twitter is less clear at present. Micro-transaction initiatives like Twollars are interesting but have not, as far as I know, yet started to deliver significant income for anyone, and few organisations are as yet showing real income coming from other Twitter-specific testing.

However, where it certainly is proving itself as having a fundraising role is when used to bring people who are usually only connected online together offline for a ‘real world’ fundraising event – known in Twitter parlance as a Twestival.

The first ever Twestival – entitled Harvest Twestival – was organised in September 2008 by a group of Twitter users here in London and set the form for future events – being organised entirely by volunteers, in a very short timescale, using Twitter as the primary communication and co-ordination mechanism. Originally intended for 30-40 people, their event ended-up attracting 250 and raised money for a central London homeless charity called The Connection.

After such a great start, the first Global Twestival was held in February this year with people from over 200 cities worldwide taking part and raising some $250,000 for charity:water.

Building on this success, a second international Twestival is taking place next month – from 10th through 13th September. But this time, rather than all events around the world focusing on a single charity, it is being described as Twestival Local with groups of volunteers voting for the charity they would like their local city’s event to raise money for. There’s a Google Maps mashup on the site showing all of the registered city Twestivals and their chosen charites – with the London Twestival raising money for the children’s charity Childline.

London Twestival

This is a fantastic example of online community fundraising in action – with freely available social media tools being used by groups of volunteers to run events on behalf of specific charities that they select as being most worthy of the resulting funds. No involvement from community fundraisers employed by specific charities. Just Web 2.0 empowered volunteers doing it for themselves, in the way that works best for them, and with all money raised going to their chosen charity.

So, do take a visit to the Twestival Local site; see where your local Twestival is taking place next month; and have a think about what this type of Community Fundraising 2.0 initiative might mean for the future of fundraising as it continues to grow in popularity.

2009 Hype Cycle report – is Twitter on the slide or headed for enlightenment?

Hype Cycle 2009

Back in May last year I wrote about the ‘Hype Cycle’ devised by technology research company Gartner to illustrate the adoption, maturity, and business application of specific technologies, and I specifically considered where on the cycle various online fundraising initiatives lay.

So with the release of the the 2009 Hype Cycle Report, I was interested to compare where things are now (see the chart above) compared to where they were last year (see the chart below).

Hype Cycle 2008

There are certainly some interesting shifts here from the perspective of the digital fundraiser.

For starters, Microblogging has swept over the ‘Peak of Inflated Expectations’ and on towards the ‘Trough of Disillusionment’ in just one year – thanks essentially to the phenomenal rise of Twitter. However, this doesn’t mean that all the Twitter nay-sayers have been proved correct – because if Twitter adoption and application continues at this pace then it could just as well whizz up the ‘Slope of Enlightenment’ towards the ‘Plateau of Productivity’ by this time next year. It certainly seems to be moving towards mainstream adoption far faster than Gartner predicted in 2008.

Web 2.0 can be seen to have started this migration towards general acceptance already, moving from the ‘Trough’ in 2008 to the start of the ‘Slope’ now. Driven forwards by its increasingly widespread adoption, but at the same time probably held back by the challenge of effectively monitising the massive interest in Web 2.0 applications. Likewise, Corporate Blogging can be seen to have moved on at much the pace predicted by Gartner.

Noticeably lagging behind in the progress stakes are Public Virtual Worlds, like SecondLife, which fell rapidly from an high ‘Peak of Expectations’ back in 2007 (anyone else remember the Pet Shop Boys ‘playing’ at Secondfest?) and now seem stuck down in the ‘Trough of Disillusionment’ with minimal progress over the last year. I guess that makes last month’s Second Life Relay for Life, raising over $270,000 for the American Cancer Society, an even more notable success.

You can read more about Gartner’s Hype Cycle here.

80% of UK online population visited social networking sites in May 09 – including a whole lot of over 55s


Online research and measurement company comScore just released the findings of a study into UK social networking site usage which provides a good picture of just how mainstream social networking has now become – with an incredible 80% of the total UK online population (aged 15+) apparently having visited at least one social networking site in May 2009.

As you might expect, the most active users are still in the 15-24 age group, with 86% of them visiting social networking sites and spending an average of 4.6 hours on them over the month. However, as the table below shows, 67% of the 55+ segment are also shown as using these sites, for an average of 3.7 hours over the month – confirming the fact that social networking is ‘maturing’ as an online activity (which, as I’ve said many times before, is good for online fundraising).

Picture 1

The report also provides a popularity ranking of social network sites for the UK, as shown below, with Facebook now by far the dominant site in this category – with pretty well the same unique visitor numbers as the next four sites put together.

Also interesting to see figures for the growth of Twitter – up a phenomenal 3,226% year on year. That’ll be an interesting growth rate to review in 12 months time…

Picture 2

Twitter community-building initiative by ChildFund International draws some flak

Picture 2

There has been quite a bit of online discussion about the initiative launched earlier this month to help publicise the rebranding of the Christian Children’s Fund to ChildFund International, whereby they are aiming to acquire Twitter followers to @childfund by offering to send farming supplies to a family in Gambia, Zambia, Kenya or Ethiopia for every 200 followers gained.

I must admit, the first thing I wondered when I heard about the campaign was quite how the funding of the farming supplies was being provided. Presumably not just from the charity’s usual funds, as the incentive link then just wouldn’t make sense. Yet there was no mention of any matching grant from a major donor to incentivise the sign-up of followers – which would have made sense. It turns-out I wasn’t alone in being confused, as revealed by Geoff Livingstone from the PR agency behind the campaign in a blog post earlier today where he seeks to clarify the situation.

It turns-out that the charity did indeed apparently raise matching donations to fund the incentive campaign – not from a single major donor but from lots of individual donors who agreed to give an extra gift to fund it.  However, there is still no more information provided with regard to quite how these special donors were engaged with the campaign – which is a pity as it would have added some much needed authenticity to the whole initiative. A further authenticity gap comes when you take a look at the new ChildFund International website – where there is no mention of the initiative at all (so far as I could see).

So, it looks like there’s a key lesson to be learned here. Before launching any such social media initiative, do make absolutely sure that you’ve thought the whole thing through and are able to explain exactly what the deal is – in this case where the matching funds came from and just what else ChildFund has in store for those who sign-up, beyond the knowledge that they’ve contributed one-two-hundredth of a set of farming supplies for a family. That way you pre-empt any unnecessary suspicions and resulting tricky questions and you’re far more likely to generate a good-sized pool of genuinely interested followers. Indeed, this learning goes for any such prospect pool building initiative – online or offline – although you’re potentially dealing with a more savvy and challenging audience when you embark on Twitter-based initiative than when using more traditional channels (as poor Mr Livingstone has discovered).

As I finish this post, @childfund has got a total of 968 followers, which is four more than they had when I grabbed the screenshot above a few minutes ago – so there’s some life in the campaign yet. However, under the one donation per 200 followers incentive, that still only equates to approaching 5 families receiving the specially funded supplies – which just doesn’t seem right somehow.

The incentive initiative runs through to July 27th, and it’ll be interesting to see just how large a Twitter community they’ve managed to attract by then.