Avoid this catastrophic social media mistake

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Forgive my hyperbolic heading, but hopefully this article will be worth it.

All the union digital campaigning talk these days is about social media. But practical experience and lots of research from the non-profit sector and private sector shows old-fashioned email is still far more effective than social media in prompting members and supporters to action.

A private sector study by Custora from June 2013 showed that customer acquisition (think new supporters or members for unions) via email has quadrupled in the last four years, accounting for 7% of new customers. Meanwhile, Facebook and Twitter lag at around 1.4% and organic search around 16%.

For the non-profit sector, the NTEN 2013 benchmark report showed that email remains the “killer app” in terms of open rates, click throughs and donor acquisition. Across the non-profit sector, email averaged around a 17% open rate and a click through rate of 3.5%. This compares to a click rate of 0.22% for Facebook.

Email is over fifteen times more effective on average than social media.

Facebook, even as Australia’s most popular social network, is insignificant when it comes to prompting action, compared to email or (more importantly) an optimised website or campaign landing page. A minuscule percentage of members will leave Facebook to engage with your campaign or union by signing up as a supporter or, more importantly, joining the union.

Twitter is an even weaker way to draw members and supporters.

The research also shows that members and supporters attracted by email tend to be better supporters, remaining members longer, or engaging in more kinds of support (e.g. donating, signing multiple petitions, etc). Organic search — that is, when someone uses Google to visit your website — is even more valuable than email when it comes to this.

Unfortunately, social media is trendy, and email is rarely seen as an important communication tool in its own right. It’s not sexy or shiny. In fact, it is quite boring.

I’m not arguing that social media is not a valuable tool. However, it is limited in what it can do. The objective of all digital campaigning, including social media campaigning, is to spur real people to take real action in the real world. This can start with online actions (“liking” things, sharing them, signing petitions, etc), but ultimately it needs to move to real world action.

If you have a limited budget, email is what you should prioritise.

And in order to do email well (and to do social media well), you need a good website that is mobile-friendly and optimised for organic search.

Email is effective because it is “permission-based”. This means that you should have received the permission of your members or supporters to send them email. Because they’re your members, they’ve given approval to receive messages from you.

With the rise and ubiquity of mobile and smart phones, more and more people are accessing their email through their phones. In fact, both internet use and email use on smart phones is growing massively and is expected to overtake desktop usage in the next two years. In Australia, 55% of smartphone owners used their phone to access their email each month.

For unions looking for the “next big thing”, mobile-capable websites and email campaigns are it. Combined, they will ensure you can put powerful messages that spur people to action far more impactfully than social media can.

When you’re thinking about your campaigns, and you’re considering social media, stop. You can avoid a catastrophic mistake.

Before you invest in social media for your campaign, do you have an effective email system? Is it mobile-ready? Is your website capable of capturing supporter details? Is it optimised? Addressing these questions first may save your campaign.

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