SXSW: What Social Media Analytics and Data Can't Tell You | Beth's Blog

SXSW: What Social Media Analytics and Data Can’t Tell You

Fundraising, Research Studies

I’m just back from the SXSW Interactive Festival where I was on a panel called “What Social Media Analytics Can’t Tell You” moderated by Alexandra Samuel of Vision Critical, Jeremiah Owyang, Crowd Companies, and Colby Flint, Discovery Channel.   We discussed how social media analytics can provide some great information on your existing social media followers, but at the same time, there are gaps that need to be filled through other techniques.

The room was packed. Jeremiah kicked off our session with a call to retweet a photo of the audience, our hash tag, #SMdata, trended on Twitter and there was a robust back channel discussion of interested people. Alexandra gave an overview of the methodology offered by her company, Vision Critical, and some insights they have learned from combining a survey data from large sample with appending actual social media usage.   Next each of the panelists presented a research study based that combined large sample survey data on our issue area and appended actual social media activity usage.   Jeremiah presented an overview of his study about the collaborative economy and you find Jeremiah’s report and infographic here.  Colby shared results from a study on social TV study for the Discovery Channel that they conducted that looked at various patterns between social media users and their TV viewing habits.

I presented on a study that I did with Vision Critical’s data and large insight communities  in both the US and Canada that compared the social media activity levels of donors.  In the nonprofit sector, we are also lucky to have excellent financial and benchmarking data from Blackbaud and Chronicle of Philanthropy.   But many nonprofits rely on social media analytics alone to give them data about social media and online fundraising campaigns, looking at conversion rates of landing pages.  If they incorporate survey data it is often based on self-reported use of social media.  So, the ability to implement a survey with a sample size of 30,000 plus and then append actual social media usage data was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

Good research starts with hypothesis generation.   I queried colleagues Henry Timms Giving Tuesday and Steve MacLaughlin BlackBlaud and others who work at  nonprofits with large scale online fundraising campaigns that have a robust social media component.  (See this write up of Henry Timms recent SXSW panel about Giving Tuesday)  I asked them what would be most useful to find out?     Lots of theories came up about donation triggers and transaction platforms as well as slacktivism.

The overall hypothesis was:   Does more social media activities equal more donations?

Active social media users have been labeled by nonprofits as “Charity Slackvists.”  It refers to someone who does something for a charity online that requires minimal personal effort such as changing your Facebook status update.    It is a pejorative term that describes “feel-good” measures that have little or no practical effect other than to make the person doing it take satisfaction from the feeling they have contributed.  The underlying assumption being promoted by the term is that these low cost efforts substitute for more substantive actions – like making a donation.

Last year, UNICEF Sweden launched an advertisement criticizing Facebook slacktivism and calling for greater monetary support.    UNICEF Sweden’s critique of charity slacktivism was an extreme case, but was their criticism warranted?

If the slacktivist theory was correct, we’d expect to see a dramatic inverse relationship between social media activity and charitable donations: the more actively someone uses social, the less likely they’ll donate.   That’s not what we found.  It is more of an on-ramp to donations.   We found very little variation of donors based on their social media habits and activity levels.  59% of the survey sample reported making a donation to a charity in the last year, consistent with the 58% of the total population from the benchmarking study that Vision Critical did.  Facebook users who like fewer pages on Facebook may be slightly more likely than the average to donate (72%),  but once you factor in age,  social media users are no more or less likely to be donors.  (Our sample was combined US and Canada populations)

But does that onramp of active social media users who do donate lead to a pot gold at the end of the rainbow?  The survey data said, not really.    The total average amount of charitable giving for donors (per year) is very comparable between social media users and the general population, and doesn’t vary by usage – no matter how active or inactive someone is on social, they tend to give the same amount over the course of the year.

So, that does that mean nonprofits should give up on active social media users as a fundraising target?

No.    When we looked at who is moved to donate after encountering a charity via a social media channel, there is a positive relationship between the level of social media use and propensity to go from social to donation.   Active social media users are donating.   The chart shows that the more someone uses FB, the more likely they are to have made a social-inspired donation, especially those who frequently update FB status or like a lot of pages, less so with those who have a large number of friends.

This finding is the gold in the study.   These more active social media users are NEW donors to the charity.  This data look at whether the donor was new to the charity or a repeat donor and their social media activity on Facebook – and you can see that people with who have a lot of friends, update frequently, and like a lot of pages tend to be new donors to the charity.   I don’t know about you, but I don’t hear nonprofits complaining about having too many new donors.   But social media continues to be an undervalued cultivation channel for new donors.

On the survey, we asked people if they shared an appeal for donations to a charity.   Not surprisingly, the more often people post to FB, the more likely they are to post something about the charity they supported with that donation.  But what’s really important is that the more active they are on FB, the more likely it is that whatever they’ve posted is going to be a specific appeal for donations.   It is a virtuous circle.  If you get them to donate, they will share and solicit people in their network.

There are some preliminary findings from this study.   Stay tuned for a fuller release of the data, along with an infographic.

These findings have the following implications, which aren’t obvious when you rely on conventional social media analytics, where those less-active social media users disappear.  There are significant differences between these different groups, which nonprofits need to recognize:

  • Most crucially: let go of the “slacktivism” theory. Your most active social audience is valuable to you — not just for their posts, but for their dollars.
  • Social media is a channel to acquire new donors, but be sure to use social to engage and connect with them and capture contact information through all channels.
  • If you aren’t urging your donors to post about you when they donate, you’re missing a huge opportunity. While the majority of more active social media users (those who post at least once every other day) will go ahead and post anyhow, only a third of less-active users promote the charities they support…even if they’ve made a social-media inspired donation.

What you think?   If you could append survey data to actual social media usage, what would you like to know?

12 Responses

  1. […] I’m just back from the SXSW Interactive Festival where I was on a panel called “What Social Media Analytics Can’t Tell You” moderated by Alexandra Samuel of Vision Critical, Jeremiah Owyang, Crowd Companies, and Colby Flint, Discovery Channel.  […]

  2. […] In other conference news, Beth Kanter is back from SXSW with some insight into What Social Media Analytics and Data Can’t Tell You. […]

  3. Steve says:

    It would be interesting to see effects over time. Those who are on social media “slactivist” now may be become core supporters in a month or may completely have moved on. It would be interesting to track trends over time.

  4. Adam Weinger says:

    Hi Beth,

    This is really interesting data! My biggest question is similar to Steve’s comment: What are long-term trends of social media slacktivists vs. the general population?

    A hypothesis might be: social media slacktivists are a group that care deeply about an organization, but currently lack the means to donate (social media users tend to skew young, though that may be changing). Once the means are there, donations will follow.

    We may gain an insight into this hypothesis without waiting many years for data by asking the question: do social media users volunteer more vs. the general population? Do we see slacktivists donating their time more frequently?

    Thanks again for the data!


    Adam Weinger
    President, Double the Donation

  5. […] I'm just back from the SXSW Interactive Festival where I was on a panel called "What Social Media Analytics Can't Tell You" moderated by Alexandra Samuel of Vision Critical, Jeremiah Owyang, Crowd Companies, and Colby Flint, Discovery Channel.  […]

  6. Thanks for the data proving social media is full of slackers.

    The donation correlation is interesting. I’d extend that to what might be harder to measure, but I know to be true.. the non-financial goals on non-profits are even better served by social connections.

  7. […] Markets For Good has returned from her travels to South By SouthWest Interactive Festival. In the following article featured on her blog, she reports back on a panel discussion titled: ‘What Social Media Analytics […]

  8. What a fascinating data post! I’m behind on my blog reading, and had this one open in my browser for about two weeks, and so glad I finally read it.

    A few thoughts on this:
    1. Personal donation appeals through social media. When I worked at FirstGiving in 2010, we saw a huge majority of donors posting to their personal social media channels (primarily Facebook), and that powered a tremendous number of visits back to personal donation sites.

    It makes sense to me that this trend would continue with peer-to-peer fundraising, but I wonder: does your data differentiate between the traditional “I’m raising money personally so please give” and the “I just gave, won’t you please also?” appeal? These may have two different motivations for appeals, and I wonder whether or not there is any difference among their use of social media. (This would be an appended question to survey data.)

    2. Thank you thank you for validating the hunch that those who are active on social media are likely to become donors of organizations that they hear of through social media.

    You are so right that the key is how to get their ear, interest them, and keep them.

    3. Additional survey question I’d love to see appended to donor data: what specific social media activities by an organization influenced your likelihood to donate?

    Thanks for generously sharing your data results. I can’t wait to read the full report. When will it come out?


  9. Beth says:

    Hi Debra, thanks for your insightful comments! The survey questions and appended social media data generated some whoppers of a spreadsheet with 100s of tables and cross tabs. So, there is more data in there, but for the purposes of SXSW – since I only had 10 minutes to share, decided to pluck out the three most compelling findings.

    I’m also curious about retention too – and what would encourage donors to continue to make a contribution to the charity.

    Frank Barry did a panel at AFP on this topic and was not able to participate, but he told me there would be a blog post — so got to find it.

    I’m so behind on my reading as well. I was on the road doing workshops, keynotes, and conferences most of it — so now so happy to be back into the routine!

    Thanks again for commenting.

  10. […] I'm just back from the SXSW Interactive Festival where I was on a panel called "What Social Media Analytics Can't Tell You" moderated by Alexandra Samuel of Vision Critical, Jeremiah Owyang, Crowd Companies, and Colby Flint, Discovery Channel. We discussed how social media  […]

  11. […] I’ll be talking about the role of hyper-connected donors based on my experience and some recent research that shows how valuable these champions are for crowdfunding and social […]