Every so often I’ll try to take the temperature of the social media world and try to dig up the latest numbers for how many monthly active users (MAUs) are on the dominant social media platforms. Here’s the latest result (done on 1/31/2015).
- This measure isn’t entirely scientific; it’s based on reports on blogs and in the news media. I believe in all cases the numbers are self-reported – so take them with a grain of salt (I’m not aware of any sort of independent body that actually goes in to look at the data and verify any of these numbers). Given that many of these companies are publicly-traded, one can easily imagine the temptation to tweak the numbers to eke out a positive quarter.
- For these graphics, I focus primarily on platforms that businesses are currently using. There are some new additions in this arena as companies and organizations are dipping their toes in (chiefly WhatsApp and Snapchat).
- In some cases it’s difficult to get the latest numbers (I suspect because the platforms are experiencing stagnant or declining use) so I’ve pushed those platforms off the main chart and tagged them with “unknown.” Foursquare, for example, split itself into two separate platforms (Foursquare – offering Yelp-like reviews, and Swarm – retaining the “check-in” feature of Foursquare) and the company doesn’t discuss their user base except to say that they have 55M users which is too vague.
- Though they boast 347M “total users,” Linkedin is likely flat in MAU growth; the 187M users number comes from February of 2014. Linkedin is a platform that people tend to use the “Ronco Oven” model for use: “set it and forget it” (creating a profile and then neglecting to interact or update it until they’re searching for a new job).
- You can find the previous version of this graphic (from 2014) here.
A few years ago, I put together a graphic illustrating the size of many of the top social media sites in comparison to one another. It’s about time I did a revision – so here is one for 2014 in case you happen to find it helpful.
Notes about the methodology:
- This version illustrates Monthly Active Users (MAU) instead of Total Users. Total users has become a meaningless number as the use of social media has continued to rise, as many more people have occasion to create multiple accounts (particularly spammers). Moreover, social media is no longer trying desperately to convince the mainstream world that it is important; it’s got that locked down. Now it’s trying to convince the mainstream world that it is relevant and useful (primarily to drive commerce).
- Several platforms (Flickr, Foursquare, Reddit, Tumblr, Vine, and WordPress) don’t readily publish statistics on their monthly active users. This is almost certainly because those numbers are lower than they would like them to be – so they try to cheat by using numbers like “views” or “posts published.” I thought it important to call out that they’re trying to buck the trend toward disclosure by noting them on the chart.
- Wikipedia is in the unfortunate position of being a vital centerpiece of digital life, but having comparatively fewer monthly active users because of the passion and knowledge required to be a Wikipedian. Participating in Wikipedia requires coding knowledge, as well as objectivity – to keep entries as objective as possible, people with a connection to topics are discouraged from contributing to those entries.
Go Ahead, Get At Me – Tech and the Blurred Lines Between Advertising, Marketing And Public Relations
As far as I can tell, the major factor that helped keep communications disciplines like advertising and PR separate was the fact that one had to work through the mass media to get messages out. On the advertising side, there was the complex process of media buying from hundreds if not thousands of media outlets. On the PR side, there was a similarly complex process of establishing relationships with a vast array of journalists.
The rise of digital has accelerated the pace at which communications efforts are integrating, to the point of almost being indistinguishable. Here’s how this reality has manifested itself:
Pay Per Click
John Wanamaker famously said “half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” Now we can track a customer all the way from clicking on an ad through shopping on a website to the final purchase (and beyond, with the proper customer engagement system in place). Nationwide advertising campaigns used to only be something the largest brands could afford. Small businesses were relegated to the yellow pages, local weekly papers, and high school athletics programs.
As Chris Anderson wrote: “What matters is not where customers are, or even how many of them are seeking a particular [product], but only that some number of them exist, anywhere.”
Now that anyone can advertise to anyone at an affordable price simply by filling out the equivalent of an intelligent online form, it’s reducing the need for specialization and expertise. Over the past few months alone, Facebook has made dramatic changes to its advertising platform to simplify the process to the point where even a novice can run a competent digital ad campaign (with A/B testing no less!) Both Facebook and Google have robust educational resources (from chats to webinars to tutorials) so that anyone can learn how to advertise.
Everyone Needs Creative
Decades ago, it only made sense to pay for high-quality photography or video if you had the budget to pay to have them viewed. This usually meant traditional advertising campaigns with big budgets. Digital has rendered this paradigm obsolete. Public Relations pros, used to relying on the written word and some well-placed phone calls, are now finding themselves pressed for content to fill the insatiable newsfeeds of their clients.
No matter who you are, if you work in a communications-related discipline it is now your duty to be able to produce visual content. Photos, illustrations, infographics, videos, vines – you’ll need them all to help tell your company’s story in a fashion compatible with the media-rich, attention-poor sea we all swim in. “Creatives” are still important – but the economics of marketing/advertising/pr today mean that they can’t be the only producers of visual media. So voracious is the public’s appetite for new and original visuals that we need to train ourselves to see every meeting, visit, tour or walk down the hall as a time to keep our eyes open for what could turn into the next tweet or YouTube upload.
Understand IP Law
Another reason it’s important to produce your own original content is that it’s so easy to take what someone else has produced and share it as your own. This is verboten, however, unless you do it within the carefully-prescribed parameters of the Intellectual Property (IP) law (something PR people had little occasion to worry about in the past). You need to know what is “fair use” – and beyond that – what is fair play (even if you’re not risking a lawsuit, your actions could risk the reputation of your organization).
When you need a visual, fight the urge to type ‘images.google.com’ and bogart something from there for your next blog post. Even if you’re web-savvy and know to click the “Search Tools” box and specify “labeled for commercial reuse with modification” under “usage rights” – you could still run afoul of copyright trolling law firms tossing out demand letters like singles at a strip club. You don’t know that the person who uploaded that image and gave it a Creative Commons license actually owned it in the first place. You can’t even trust the royalty-free stock image websites – colleagues of mine have been shocked to find that some of those services steal images and leave users to suffer the legal consequences when the actual owners find the unauthorized use.
Turnkey Visual Production
Even the highly-technical field of video production is changing at the hands of the blurring effects of tech. Here there are two factors at play:
- The Public’s Changing Appetite: Viewers (particularly younger ones) no longer require that everything they watch be well-produced. Tastes are changing as a result of the democractizing effects of social media. In some cases, a piece of video that is too slickly-produced can actually have an undermining effect. A similar phenomenon happened with the advent of digital music storage formats (particularly MP3): teens have grown to prefer the crispy, tinny quality of compressed digital music over the warm sound of analog records that are prized by audiophiles.
- An Explosion of Automated Tools: One no longer needs thousands of dollars of equipment and software to produce visuals worth sharing. YouTube offers free tools to correct and enhance video (and it even automatically detects and alerts users to possible problems). Easy-to-use apps and software will bundle images with pretty transitions and set them to music. Google+ is earning praise for its “Auto Awesome” tool which magically improves images and even bundles them into a multimedia experience.
SEO and Two-Way Communication
PR pros aren’t the only group displaced by this shift in how we produce and consume media; on the flip side of the equation marketers and advertisers are being confronted with the need to up their game with respect to writing and relationship-building (traditionally the wheelhouse of PR). No one will watch a gorgeous video or view an amazing graphic if they’re not properly described and tagged so they can be indexed by the massive social media machines whose algorithms determine what we see recommended in our newsfeeds. Further, it used to be that you aired an ad and the only feedback you might get was an industry award or write-up in a media trade column – but now every company is confronted with instantaneous feedback in the form of likes and comments. Responding to the “trampling herd” can be critical to the success of a campaign.
To some, all of this change comes as a crushing blow. Unfortunately decades of specialized expertise and experience are being rendered irrelevant. I sympathize with them, but in the end all of this is for the better. Now you get to use virtually all of your ideas – the barriers to executing them are much lower. Moreover organizations that have always had stifling budget limitations have a new universe of opportunities to connect with stakeholders (look no further than the power granted to animal rescues that have harnessed the photo-sharing abilities of Facebook to find adoptive homes for previously-unwanted pets – something they couldn’t do if they had to do ad buys in newspapers or on TV).
Onward and upward.
When is a Marketing Job Not a Marketing Job? – At Grand Marketing / Cohesion Inc / [Future Name Here]
I feel an obligation to protect the students that I teach and mentor. Whenever possible, I try to steer them away from mistakes I’ve made or lend them some of the limited wisdom I’ve acquired in nearly two decades of being a professional.
The latest effort to help students and young professionals out is advising them to stay away from “Cohesion, Inc.” (formerly “Grand Marketing”), “Prestige Enterprises,” and other similar companies, which are essentially door-to-door sales or telemarketing jobs falsely promoted as jobs in marketing, advertising or public relations.
These companies target college students and 20-somethings with promises of jobs in marketing and advertising, when what they really offer is commission-based sales. They claim to represent companies in the “Sports” and “Fashion” fields because they know these industries are top targets of young professionals. In reality, students end up selling undesirable products (like health supplements) and work on commission – and often they’re set up as multi-level marketing operations (ie pyramid schemes).
In doing some digging, it appears that many of these companies are all franchises of Cydcor (the Mother Ship). Their entry on PissedOffConsumer spells out many of the same complaints that others have had. The parent company, be it Cydcor or some other group, provides the franchisees with canned website copy and direction on how to set up their business (which makes them all easy to spot – see below).
Fortunately social media gives former employees and interviewees a way to share information about the deception with others, resulting in this long entry about Grand Marketing / Cohesion at PissedOffConsumer.com. In fact, social media could be what drove the company to switch names as the negative reviews rank higher than the actual company website in Google search results:
Another company of the same variety in Grand Rapids has come to my attention: Prestige Enterprises Inc. They appear to be the same type of operation, as the copy from their website shows up on the sites of dozens of other similar “marketing” companies around the country. I took a unique phrase from the websites of Cohesion and Prestige and googled it – these are the results (so either they’re all plagiarists, or they all are using the same website template):
These companies also share similar Facebook page characteristics (inspirational quote photos – some even use the same ones, group photos, and a “careers” page that links to the Jobcast recruiting app).
These companies are starting to get more savvy about how they recruit, as they’re realizing that people are figuring them out. They’ve even started to infiltrate the job boards at colleges and universities (so you can’t even trust that those have been vetted properly, a fact I was disappointed to find out). Moreover, Cohesion appears to be trying to get out in front of the negative reviews, and mysteriously a couple of rave reviews have shown up on the company’s Glassdoor.com page (and somehow the same photos from their Facebook page are uploaded to the Glassdoor profile on the same day as one of the reviews):
As many young professionals need to be warned about these deceptive outfits as possible – so if you’ve had a bad experience with a company like this, post a review to Glassdoor.com, RipOffReport.com, or PissedOffConsumer.com, or give us their name here. If you’ve received a job offer from a company you’re suspicious of, please feel free to contact me and I’ll be happy to help you do background research on them to see if they’re legitimate or not. If you want to do your own research, here are some tips:
How to Tell if a Company is Really a Marketing / Advertising / Public Relations Firm
- Check their website and social media presences for photos of actual, real people. Most of these companies rely heavily on stock photography (because real photography of real people is expensive or time-consuming to produce). If they do have photos of “real” people – they’ll typically be large group photos which make it appear like there are more people working there than actually are.
- Do they talk about “Sports Marketing,” “Fashion Marketing,” or other really desirable industries that seem too good to be true? – They probably are.
- Search for the company name in your local business publications (for example the Grand Rapids Business Journal, MiBiz or Rapid Growth) – have they made any lists? Are there any profiles of their executives or employees? If not – that’s a red flag.
- Check your local County Registrar or the Michigan State Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (DLEG) – they will allow you to search for people who have applied for DBA record (“Doing Business As”). Most, like Kent County, have an online search feature. This can tell you who is behind the company and much more about them – particularly the State of Michigan DLEG directory; it contains the company’s annual report and incorporation documents (watch for companies where the same person holds all of the offices – ie President, Secretary, Treasurer, Director).
- Find what appears to be a unique string of text somewhere in their website (usually from the “About” section) and search for it in quotes in Google. When the results come back, if you see the exact same string of text in multiple other websites – you’ll know they’re not legit. Note: Google will sometimes omit similar results – so you may need to click the “repeat the search with the omitted results included” link.
- Look for a company on Linkedin. They should have a company page (especially if they’re a marketing, advertising or public relations firm). If they don’t have one, red flag. If they DO have one, you can use it to get more intel on the company: if you view a company page and click “Insights,” it will give you a wealth of data. You can find out who some former employees are (so you can look up their work history or perhaps even contact them to get insight on how it was working there), who some current employees are, what similar companies people also search for, and the most common places their employees came from.
- Search for the company on job websites (I recommend Indeed.com, which is right now by far the best job website). If they have a LOT of positions posted and yet they’re small enough that you’ve never heard of them, that should be a big red flag. Just look, for example, at how many positions Prestige Enterprises is trying to fill (and the variety of titles).
Radian6, Cision, Wildfire, SocialRadar, Trackur, Alterian SM2, Sysomos, Lithium, Viralheat, Brandwatch, UberVU, Trendrr, Trackur … all good tools with rich featuresets and analytical capabilities. They all have one problem, however.
They’re not Google.
No matter which tool you go with for social media monitoring, it inevitably cannot index as much of the web as Google, which currently has over 3.65 billion pages. Some do an admirable job attempting to keep up by buying access to other indexes of web and social content – but that still isn’t complete and worse, it adds a delay to the process of merging the two databases. As any social media manager will tell you – delays are something they can ill afford.
This missing data causes three major problems:
First, important mentions can be missed (or not accessed in a timely fashion).
Second, the archives are incomplete – looking at the present is a primary concern but historical data can be important as well.
Third, the analytics generated by the expensive social media monitoring platforms aren’t accurate; worse, they seem to get progressively less accurate as the size of the brand decreases. If you’re Coca-Cola you’re okay, but this is a huge problem for most of the brands my colleagues and I work with which are primarily local in nature (which means they have a far smaller footprint online).
Despite their best efforts, none of these tools will ever be able to match Google’s prowess for indexing the increasing vastness of the web in real-time. So Google needs to offer a social media monitoring service – and I would welcome one even if it had a pricetag as hefty as the aforementioned tools (some of which have a BASE price of $500/month).
Tapping Google’s enormous reserves of indexed content is even more difficult now that the search giant has eliminated RSS feeds for Google Alerts when it discontinued Google Reader, and now limits them only to searches of Google News. All of the conversation about the “death of Google Reader” and subsequent scramble for alternatives has so far almost completely missed this critical detail which is, for my money, far more important.
I just went through the arduous process of reformatting a hundred or so RSS feeds I had built using Google Alerts because they’re no longer active. Transitioning them to Google News RSS feeds is okay, but my understanding is that it won’t capture nearly as many mentions as a general Google Search. Google even says as much here in outlining its standards for being included in the Google News index.
I completely understand the need to eliminate content that is not worthy of being considered “news” from the index, but the problem is that social media managers need to be aware of ALL mentions of their company/clients – not just the high-quality ones.
Google is well-positioned to offer this sort of service; they already have the data, they’re excellent at building easy-to-use interfaces, they’re excellent at providing analytics, and they’re well trusted. I doubt we’ll ever see this service, but I’ll continue to dream anyway.
A colleague, Jeremy Bronson, posed an excellent question on a forum for social media professionals looking for insight to share with recent graduates interested in social media jobs. For what it’s worth, here are my suggestions…
Go Beyond the Classroom
Unfortunately higher education often does not keep pace with the world around it; nowhere is that more evident than the digital world. With the possible exception of a handful of programs around the country (like the stellar program at Syracuse being run by Dr. Bill Ward), it’s likely that most students in the Communications field have very little exposure in the classroom to the tools they will use every single day on the job.
- The Downside: That means it’s up to students to build the skills they need on their own.
- The Upside: Those tools are readily available, free, and tutorials are available everywhere on the web to learn them.
This past semester I taught a class (Technology in Advertising & Public Relations) and it gave me a little window of insight into the lack of social media acumen that most students build in school.
The class usually focuses on teaching students the Adobe suite of products (Photoshop, Illustrator, Pagemaker and Dreamweaver), and some basic video editing skills. Those are all valuable things, but they leave a whole lot out and don’t really address the current state of technology which has moved to “Software As Service.” Should someone interested in social media really learn Dreamweaver when the vast majority of the web development they do will likely be in a content management system (CMS)? – Probably not, unless they want to be a web developer – and that’s probably a different path than working in social media.
Some of the platforms social media pros need to know likely include the following:
- CMSs like WordPress
- Social Media Platforms (esp. Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, YouTube, Pinterest, Google+)
- Photo Editing
- Video Editing
- Slideware (esp. PowerPoint, Prezi, etc.)
- Collaboration / Workflow Platforms (like Basecamp and Podio)
- Customer Relationship Management (like Salesforce)
- Email Marketing Tools (like VerticalResponse, MailChimp, Constant Contact, etc.)
- Google Adwords
- Facebook Ads / Linkedin Ads
- Monitoring Tools (like Google Alerts, Cision, Radian6, SocialRadar, Vocus, etc.)
- Social Media Management Tools (like Tweetdeck, Hootsuite, Sproutsocial, Radian6, Seesmic, etc.)
Learn How to Learn
What should you learn? That changes regularly becuase the web changes regularly. The most important skill a social media pro needs to have is the ability to learn quickly and efficiently because change is the only constant. For example, here is a list of social media platforms that didn’t exist when the current crop of graduates entered college:
Fortunately there is a basic, over-arching similarity to every platform and tool that means even if a specific one becomes outdated – there is valuable insight that will carry over to others.
It is possible to learn how to learn efficiently. For the digital world, it’s rare to find textbooks – but there are vibrant communities (Facebook and Linkedin groups or Tweetchats) to connect to and ask questions of, as well as informative blogs that are only an RSS feed away. Plugging in to these two resources is how I keep up on everything (along with listening to various podcasts in the TWIT family). What I’ve found in nearly two decades of digital life is that people LEAP to help others who are earnestly seeking information.
When you do ask for help, though, make sure it’s only AFTER you’ve already tried googling your question first.
Build Your Skillset
Knowing how to write in HTML5 or edit with Avid isn’t a necessity, but it will definitely help your chances of getting a job in social media. Every digital skill you can add to your reportoire is a potential advantage over another applicant for the job you want. The same goes for experience with digital platforms. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but provides some examples of the sorts of things you’ll want to consider spending your time on:
- Are you Google Adwords Certified? You could be – and that would look good on a resume.
- Have you ever used a third-party tool to add content to a Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest presence? – Try some out: Woobox, Offerpop, Votigo, Wildfire, Shortstack, etc.
- Can you do graphic design using programs like Photoshop or Illustrator? – You should be able to, as you’ll likely be doing some every day. If you don’t have the money to shell out for Adobe products, you can learn on GIMP (a freeware graphics program).
- Are you a decent photographer/videographer? – This skill comes in handy very frequently for creating engaging content.
- Do you understand Search Engine Optimization? – You should.
- Have you ever placed ads on Facebook or Linkedin? – You can try experimenting with promoting yourself to prospective employers to learn how to do the same.
- Do you know how to do research quickly to become a micro-expert on a topic? – This is really valuable, particularly in an agency context.
- Do you understand digital analytics and what metrics are most valuable (and how to explain them to non-tech people)?
Learn the Law
An understanding of communications and intellectual property law comes in handy weekly if not daily. Content creation involves navigating a variety of legal frameworks. For starters, copyright. The unauthorized use of a copyrighted image, text, or video can (at the very least) cause your content to be pulled from the web or (at the worst) get your organization slapped with a lawsuit.
Then there are the rights of the people contained in any content you’re creating. Understanding what you can say with an image of someone is important. If you work with organizations in the healthcare world, the people you seek to depict may be covered under HIPAA – meaning you need their expressed authorization just to imply they are a client of a healthcare provider.
Even activities on the back-end interactions carry legal implications; newspapers have begun suing the providers of services that generate reports of media mentions for customers (for unauthorized reproduction of copyrighted work).
Beyond the legal system getting involved in your activities, you can run afoul of the policies of social networking platforms very easily. Facebook, for example, doesn’t permit anything resembling a contest being hosted natively on a Facebook page. If you’re asking people to “like” a post for a chance to win a prize – you could have that Facebook fan page disabled.
Learning the law is also important because you need to be able to advocate for what you’re doing and justify it to the higher-ups in your organization. The legal departments of virtually every company and organization don’t know SQUAT about legal precedent in the digital world and they will (with good intentions) sometimes shut down your efforts because they don’t understand them.
[Sidebar: Here’s a good test to see if your legal department knows anything about digital law – if they have advised your organization to attach a legal disclaimer to company email signatures, they don’t know what they’re talking about. Those things carry zero legal weight and are completely unenforceable. That’s the sort of advice they’re dispensing to the C-suite, and that sort of bad advice can shut down a potentially-great social marketing campaign in the name of protecting the company.]
Understand Internet Culture
One of the most important abilities a social media pro needs to have is a deep and abiding understanding of how the Internet works. There are unwritten rules everywhere – and knowing those rules cold is one of the main reasons why someone is paying you to handle their social media for them. You are their digital sherpa.
This knowledge, unfortunately, is not easily gained through reading – but really requires experiencing or observing the web at work to best absorb.
Just like going on vacation in a foriegn country, the further away from the mainstream/touristy areas puts you at greater risk of violating the unpublished mores of the web – and amplifies the consequences. Reddit is a great microcosm of the web (and, in fact, it has originated many of the paradigms for how people interact online). The academic term for the tribes that coalesce online is “Discourse Communities.” They have their own codes, icons, and language – and communication is how they maintain their membership. There are discourse communities for EVERYTHING online, from programming languages (Flash vs. HTML5) to social news tools (like Reddit vs. The Chive).
For example, do you…
…understand the importance of attributing/crediting people online?
…know how to properly use tech terms in context? (and cringe whenever someone says “facebooked” or “twittered”)
…know how to deal with trolls?
…know how to identify influencers?
…understand why the web abhors censorship (and why it’s a doomed strategy to pursue)?
…why you shouldn’t ever ask a question that you can google the answer for?
It’s one thing to be able to engage online as yourself. It’s entirely another to engage on behalf of an organization. This is what separates social media users from experts. Unfortunately, most young people aren’t experts despite the conventional wisdom. They grew up using technology every day and have never lived without ubiquitous Internet connectivity, but their expertise is very narrow and focused only on communicating on behalf of themselves for their own purposes. If you’re entering the working world and want to be a communicator for others – the skills and spheres above are critical to rounding out your knowledge base.
Hope this helps; know that you can always count me as a colleague. If you have questions, ask. A lot of other social media peeps and I will very likely be able to answer them within a few hours.
"...and you shall have no pie."As my parents tell it, when I was an infant my first word wasn't a word - it was an entire sentence. Very little has changed.
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