Friday, 17 January 2014

So who did join the global conversation last year? And will it continue this year?

Lessons learnt from IDS success on Facebook by Digital Communications Officer Robin Coleman

Like most research organisations and think tanks the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) has invested heavily in our use of social media to engage people around our work and in 2013 we experienced very rapid growth of Facebook fans. We recently produced this short film providing an overview of our year in social media.

There is no doubt that some people within the international development community and beyond will be surprised that IDS now has over 50,000 Facebook fans. This is double the number who follow the University of Sussex, where we are based, and slightly more than follow either the UK’s Department for International Development or the OECD. So who are our fans and what does this milestone really mean in terms of the impact of our research communications?

Let’s breakdown who our fans are comparing end of year results:

Top 5 counties were:

2012% of all fans2013% of all fans

Being a UK based organisation we expected to see a strong home crowd support but within a year our Indian fan base had doubled. Further analysis reveals that engagement and geographic spread i.e. where our fans are based has grown from 35 to 144 countries (as seen below) suggesting that we are developing a truly international audience.
Created using AMMAP

Breakdown by Gender and Age

Looking at the fan base data we can see that the majority of fans are aged between 18 and 34. Ok, not that unusual as it would be rare to see anything different with the social media industry reporting the same trend. Since IDS is an academic institute offering MA and PhD courses with a target audience aged between 18 and 34 then this fan base shows how well this social network works perfectly. As well as the majority of fans either studying or recent graduates, it is encouraging to see an older audience using Facebook. This means an opportunity to impress and influence those in professional positions and generate a viral effect through sharing our content.

From a gender perspective, industry reports suggest that Facebook users are in the majority Female in developing countries. However, nearly all the age categories for IDS fans show that Males actually tip the balance which matches recent figures of those in developing countries like India.

Who’s actually interacting?
Having more fans than some of our counterparts is great to brag about but the real objective should be engagement i.e. how many people are actually listening and responding to our content. Luckily Facebook Insights allows us to see the breakdown by country, city, gender and age using the measurements of People Talking About the Page and Positive Feedback (previously known as PTAT or People Talking About This). These two measurements combine the number of fans (and non-fans through sharing to friends) Liking, Commenting and Sharing our Facebook content be it posts, photos, links shared or mentions of our page.

Here’s how it breaks down for IDS fans on Facebook:

There’s an obvious correlation between age and interaction/engagement (expressed here as PTAT). The youngest groups show a high percentage of interaction then the trend line declines as the age sets get older, with the exception of the Over 65s. Could this be just the novelty for those new to social media? By Gender, our Male fans are also liking, sharing or commenting more on IDS posts than Females.

Rule of 90 – 9 – 1
Studies have shown that online communities share a common engagement statistic and this same ratio still rings true in social media. Think of it as a Pareto principle for the internet. Defined on Wikipedia as the 1% rule, it expresses the percentages of an internet community and defines them as follows:
  • 90% are 'lurkers' - those who are happy to just view content and follow silently
  • 9% are 'contributors'; those interact with the content owner, mention you, comment occasionally
  • 1% called the 'creators': hardcore fans who can produce great content, always interacting but could also be problematic if handled incorrectly.
Here’s a funny example of the 1% which we’d all love to deal with.

Does this ratio stand with our Facebook page?
Referring to the ‘Who’s talking with or About IDS’ graph then yes it does. The trend line ratio percentage if combined across all ages and gender would be 10.95%. Using the 90-9-1 ratio those contributing (9%) and creating (1%) content would equal 10% therefore this golden rule has been matched.

2014: changes are happening
There are a couple of inter-related reasons why social media and in particular Facebook could be on the wane.

Within the blogosphere of those studying and specialising in social media, there’s been speculation that networks like Facebook and Twitter are experiencing a ‘cultural lag’. In other words the honeymoon period has ended and social media is no longer the novelty anymore. With so much content being shared and competition for users’ attention there’s only so much time and effort fans and followers will spend.

This cultural lag for the major social networks may become global and effect those not just from the early adopting countries like the USA. Although in 2013 social media has been proved to be popular for countries like India, Bangladesh and Egypt, this has been fuelled by the availability of smartphones and mobile technology. The future may also see new ways to communicate online if we're to learn from MySpace's demise or the popularity of native language based networks like Sina Weibo, China's own micro-blogging service.

Facebook as a company is responding to this issue and the feedback of brand pages muscling in with their marketing content. They know that the nature of a social network is to retain those who make it. Being social animals we want to converse with our friends and not companies and organisations. Unless we can connect with their beliefs and interests close to their heart then page owners will be and have been getting ignored.

The solution to this, Facebook believe is to make changes to its news feed algorithm where individuals will see more posts in their feed that have more interactions (i.e. posts that are liked, commented and shared). This could actually mean page owners will have to consider using advertising. Fine if you have the resources to pay for this service. For those in research communications it will be a challenge in terms of either better content writing or looking for extra funding.

Despite having an extremely accurate targeting tool based on its users’ data in place (age, gender, geographic location and what we Like) Page owners will need to see proven results that this advertising works.

So, the challenge for creating interesting content continues. Keep your 10% stimulated and learn from the spikes of traffic.