Part II: Survey & Focus Group Outcomes
Digital Media Channels
According to survey respondents in Europe, Twitter remained the most popular social media platform for the fourth consecutive year, with 84% usage, followed by LinkedIn at 77%. YouTube, with 58% utilization, surpassed Facebook, with 56%.
In the US, Facebook remained at the top for the third year with 94% of respondents saying they have used the platform. Twitter and LinkedIn retained their second and third ranked positions, respectively. E-newsletters are popular on both sides of the Atlantic; 81% of US organizations and 75% of EU associations saying they use these.
Social Media Management
A majority of representatives, in both EU (89%) and US (95%), say that social media is managed by internal paid staff. Professional societies are more inclined to engage volunteers in this function, with 33% of US societies saying they use volunteers compared to 1 in 7 of EU societies. Nineteen percent of EU associations engage a communications agency, while only 13% of US associations report doing so.
Among those that use internal staff, a communications or marketing manager is the staff member most commonly assigned to the social media task in both the EU (62%) and US (57%). Among those associations that outsource some or all of their social media functions to a communications agency, US associations are more likely to assign content creation or social media account management to an outside firm (both 45%), while EU associations are most likely to outsource video production (58%) and reports or research (55%).
A majority of associations polled in Europe and the US spend fewer than five hours weekly on social media. In the three years that Kellen has surveyed associations on both continents, we have found that the time spent on social media is increasing, especially in the EU.
Multiple Social Media Channels
Thirty-nine percent of US organizations and 31% of EU groups reported having regional or local branches. Thirty-nine percent of US associations reported having special interest groups as did 38% of European organizations.
Among these organizations, most say that at least some of their social media profiles are separate for engaging with local constituents or those with shared special interests. In both the EU and US, a majority of associations with separate profiles say that their social media profiles are predominantly managed by the local organization.
Social Media Uses
Event promotion is the most frequently cited use use for social media among associations in both the EU and US. European associations, many of which are based in Brussels, are more likely than their American counterparts to use social media to communicate with key opinion formers and with members of the media. In fact, the percentage of EU associations, using social media to influence opinion leaders has grown from 49% in 2014 to 61% in 2016. In the US, use of social media to communicate with opinion formers has increased only five percentage points during the same period.
At least 60% of EU based organizations that have a specific objective reported that their association’s use of social media is effective at achieving that objective. Profile building and event promotion were said to the effective by 84% and 81% of association representatives, respectively. Approaching half (46%) of US associations say that social media is effective for member recruitment, and 80% say that it is effective for event and other promotions, member engagement and profile building and promoting education or other offerings.
In 2016, 57% of EU associations reported that they measure the effectiveness of social media, similar to the 53% which reported measurement efforts in 2015. In the US, there was similarly little change, from 62% in 2015 to 59% in 2016.
The way associations measure the impact of social media is evolving. More associations are measuring the impact of social media by the numbers of interactions by or engagements with their target audiences. However, counting the numbers of followers or fans remains a popular form of measurement, too.
Digital Advertising Use and Effectiveness
Associations’ use of paid digital advertising continues to expand, with more substantial growth seen in Europe, where the proportion that report using paid digital advertising increased slightly from 21% to 27% over the past year.
In the US, paid digital use grew from 36% to 41% during the same time period. Paid banner ads are the more popular form of advertising in Europe but in the US, Facebook advertising ranks higher than any other channel tested, where it is used by more than 50% of trade associations, and more than 60% of professional societies.
The most common objectives that associations in both the US and EU have for using paid digital ads are to promote content and events and to attract website visitors. US associations also reported substantial use of paid ads to recruit members. US and EU associations that utilize paid digital advertising report positive results from paid ads when used for growing their organizations’ following on social media, addressing issues, promoting events and attracting website visitors.
Eighty-seven percent of US associations surveyed said they have increased their spending on digital media during the past two years, along with a majority of those in Europe. Decreased spending on traditional print and broadcast media were reported by 40% of US associations and just half of EU organizations.
This year marked the first time Kellen explored the topic of crowdfunding with survey participants. Only 4% of EU associations and 6% of US associations that responded to the survey reported having used any online crowdfunding platform. Associations in both the EU and US reported using Indiegogo, Kickstarter, GoFundMe and CrowdRise.
With such a small sample reporting the use of crowdfunding it’s difficult to have an accurate measure of associations’ crowdfunding experiences and outcomes.
Mobile apps that enable easy on-the-go digital access are much more popular among US associations than EU organizations. Seventy-two percent of US associations report using some form of mobile app, compared to only 40% of EU associations. In the US, the most popular apps are those that provide information for attendees at conferences or tradeshows.
The next most prevalent uses for mobile apps are event registration and to provide access to information, an organization’s directory or website. The majority of associations that use mobile technologies on both sides of the pond report that use of mobile apps is growing. Correspondingly, the majority of associations plan to expand their use of mobile technology in the coming year.
US: From Outputs to Outcomes
For the third consecutive year, Kellen explored how US trade associations, professional societies and other nonprofit organizations are using social media, working with the research company ComRes to survey 254 association contacts and conducting a focus group in Washington, D.C. with eight participants. If we were to sum up the findings in a single sentence it would be that social media use is maturing; organizations are less afraid of social media, they are examining outcomes not just outputs and using this knowledge to deploy social media tactics more effectively and efficiently.
While organizations are expanding their digital footprints through additional channels such as Instagram and paid digital ads, the time that staff spend on social media activities has not increased dramatically. Three-quarters of US associations that manage the function using internal staff spend ten hours per week or less on social media activities.
How are they doing more with the same investment of time? Increasingly, associations are tapping their members to lead the social dialogue. Doing so means giving up some control but they’re not just handing over the keys to the car without a bit of driver’s education.
“Our organization developed a social media educational platform to show our members how to use social media effectively. We did this via webinar,” said Jerrica Thurman, Director of Marketing and Communications at the American
Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. “They were able to connect on how to use social media to communicate with their target audience – students and faculty. The series was awesome. We had people in the field give the webinars and we saw an increase in engagement with our members.”
Creating suggested content and distributing it to members for posting helps organizations retain some control over the messaging while also making it easier for members to post. The International Economic Development Council developed a robust social media toolkit for its annual conference.
“We created a Celebration Guide and provided templates and communications tools that members could modify for their cities,” explained Akia Ashmond Brew, Director of Marketing for the International Economic Development Council.
“We were able to capture broad and exciting participation on social media, most of it on Twitter. It took on a life of its own. It was the first time I’ve seen members take control of our organization. It showed me that we can engage our communities socially and amplify our brand, but it’s important to provide help by creating a communication channel and messaging.”
Not all social media activity is cause for celebration, however. Associations that have been slower to engage in social media activities are concerned about opening a potential channel for attacks on their organizations, industries or professions. Several focus group participants said their association is using third-party online influencers within their fields to rebut attacks.
“We have identified influencers, people who are up on the issues and have a strong online presence and they get involved,” said Kate Kennedy, Media & Public Affairs Manager for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). “They do this because of their relationship with us and because they are proud of their membership.”
Melissa Zinder, Manager, Social Media & Online Initiatives for the National Business Officers Association (NBOA) and Ms. Ashmond Brew agreed that there are people who are proud of their professions and will defend them without being asked to do so. Ms. Ashmond Brew advises organizations not to expend energy on the back and forth with negative commentators, but to put that energy into generating positive impressions.
For other organizations, changing the conversation can be more challenging. The North American Meat Institute (NAMI) has an established YouTube channel, “Meat News Network,” which contains an extensive library of videos ranging from cooking tips to processing plant tours.
“We get the most negative comments on YouTube,” said Eric Mittenthal, Vice President, Public Affairs for the North American Meat Institute. “We have developed a policy for handling comments. If the comments include foul language or personal attacks, we delete them. If the comments are on topic and within our policy guidelines, even if they are critical, we will keep them posted.”
Mr. Mittenthal added that NAMI promotes its video series, “Meat Myth Crushers,” extensively via social media to correct misperceptions of its industry.
The association participants at our Washington, D.C. focus group said they have been exploring the use of live social media video platforms, such as Periscope. The Society for Human Resource Management allowed members to stream
breakout sessions at its conference on Periscope, provided that SHRM had secured the speakers’ approvals. In general, according to Ms. Kennedy, the reception from the presenters was positive. Overall though, there was uncertainty within the focus group about whether anyone watches.
Kellen’s survey results showed that website content creation was one of the aspects of social media programming that associations are more likely to outsource to an agency. Our US focus group discussion confirmed that, with several associations saying that developing sufficient quantities of newsworthy content is a challenge. All participating organizations use content calendars to aid in planning, but creating posts for four or more social channels, keeping it fresh and maintaining the flexibility to jump on timely topics remain a weekly struggle. Several associations said they use outside writers or PR consultants to author their blogs.
Our 2016 US results showed emerging best practices that are being used more widely. These include increased social media listening and digital media analysis, content planning tools, outsourcing content development, and greater reliance on members to help lead the social conversation.
Four years ago, the results of Kellen’s first social media survey in Europe indicated that many associations were tentative about online engagement and some were fearful that the risks outweighed the benefits. In 2016, we see that associations are fully immersed in social media and consider it to be an important and significant component of their marketing and communications strategies.
EU: An Essential Element for Strategic Communications
For the fourth consecutive year, Kellen Europe conducted a survey and focus group with association communication executives to gauge their organizations’ utilization of social media. In 2016, four European trade associations participated in our Brussels focus group and shared their thoughts on our 2016 survey results as well as insights and best practices related to their organizations’ experiences with social media.
Based upon our research we know that social media use by EU trade associations has increased significantly over the past four years. As association leadership appears to have become more aware of the possibilities and opportunities social media creates, social media has earned a more stable and important role in associations’ communication strategies and been assigned more resources to support social media initiatives.
Implementation of social media tactics has become more organized and defined in recent years. Most EU trade associations have clear objectives for social media, which align with the overall communications strategy. More associations have established guidelines defining the type of content, the tone of messaging, the frequency of engagement and the expected deliverables.
As the survey results indicated, the majority of EU associations use social media to increase their profile or to distribute key messaging to members, stakeholders and policy makers. EU trade associations are more likely than US organizations to use social media to take part in the online debate on industry specific issues.
“The shift towards more active social media follows a wish to proactively position our organization in broader debates. We want to take the discussion further than the usual exchange of views and positions on regulatory initiatives,” said Florence Ranson, Communications Director at FoodDrinkEurope.
In past years, survey results indicated it was mainly communications department heads who handled social media; however, a shift is occurring and we now are beginning to see that social media management is becoming a shared responsibility between the communications and the policy departments.
“Nearly each AmCham EU policy department has a dedicated Twitter account because of its important role in advocacy. Social media is not the sole responsibility of the communications department anymore,” said Elizabeth Hartman, Communications Officer at AmCham EU.
LinkedIn and Twitter remain the channels that are used most by EU trade associations; however, they are used more effectively and professionally in 2016, as compared to previous years.
On Twitter, associations are more closely monitoring what stakeholders and policy makers say and then seize opportunities to respond with facts and updates about their industries. This engagement increases associations’ credibility and helps them to influence and interact on policy topics. Several associations, mainly in specific industry sectors, told Kellen they prefer to provide information and make their position clear rather than enter into lengthy discourse on social media.
Associations in EU prefer LinkedIn for member engagement. “Our [LinkedIn] account is the fastest growing of our social media channels. We use it to market publications and videos, connect with staff alumni, promote events both before and after, and make special announcements, like when a member has assumed a committee chairmanship. Our members are very active on LinkedIn and for AmChamEU it is a great tool to respond to their specific needs,” said Hartman.
Facebook is used by EU trade associations more for event promotion and registration, than overall member engagement. According to professional societies in our focus group, Facebook has proven to be a great tool to strengthen the community and keep the members and/or chapters informed about industry sector activities or events.
For example, when the International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD), opened its Europe office in Brussels about two years ago, its goals included creating awareness about the lighting design profession and increasing engagement with European members to better anticipate their specific needs. Facebook proved to be an effective tool to achieve those goals within the European lighting design community. Currently, IALD Europe uses the platform to announce and promote events, share content and connect lighting designers throughout Europe. The organization focuses its Facebook efforts focus on community building, posting content that is broader than just its own information, an approach that has been very successful.
Furthermore, Google+ is used by some organizations, but by a smaller proportion than those that use LinkedIn or Twitter. Despite growing popularity in the global community, few associations Kellen spoke with use Instagram or Snapchat.
Among associations that have a specific objective for their use of social media, the effectiveness of social media is generally more accepted by association leadership than in previous years, however, a growing number of associations are
investing more in measuring and analyzing their social media outreach and engagement.
Kasper Peters, Communications Manager at the European Automobile Manufacturer’s Association (ACEA), confirmed this increasing trend of measuring the results of social media efforts. “At ACEA we closely monitor our activities on social media, as well as those of other relevant stakeholders. On a weekly basis we share an overview of relevant coverage and engagement with the association’s leadership and members,” Mr. Peters explained.
The use of specific measurement tools such as Google Analytics is now common. These tools provide associations with valuable insights and are typically easy to understand.
Organizations that deal with cross-sector topics tend to set up topic-specific social media accounts. AmCham EU for instance, represents a variety of sectors and industries and in order to not monopolize the discussion and draw away the attention from other relevant topics on the general fora, they redirect the debate on specific topics to dedicated accounts.
This can be industry related or topic-driven when a topic is highly discussed in the media or relevant, one current example would be Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
The use of visual elements in association social media is increasing, creating a more attractive mix of content that helps to spark engagement. Followers like to view pictures of events they attended and may tag themselves. Content in context is still king; adding supporting photos or graphic elements continues to be effective in enhancing the impact of a message.
The use of video on social media has gained traction over the past year among European associations. Organizations use video to increase engagement and raise their visibility on a larger platform. Some groups even provide their members with toolkits on how to best use video. One association interviewed posts a monthly video statement that is shared with the membership and put on the association’s website. Video updates can replace a monthly newsletter and offer a more personal connection between leadership and members. Unfortunately for most, the financial investment to create a video can be slightly higher than other social media tools but through strategic shooting and editing, the video can serve multiple purposes.
Associations in Europe are trailing behind US counterparts in the use of digital tactics beyond fundamental social media channels. US organizations are more likely to offer mobile apps for conference and tradeshow purposes, or to use paid digital advertising. This is consistent with the behaviors that Kellen’s research has shown in previous years, wherein EU
organizations tend to be strategic and cautious and US associations more experimental.
Social Media in China: The WeChat Revolution
Back in 2013, McKinsey reported that social media was exploding worldwide and that China was leading the way, with by far the world’s most active social media population. With many popular international social media channels not accessible in China – including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube – China’s social media landscape has been distinctly different from other parts of the world.
In recent years, the local social media ecosystem in China has been revolutionized, redefined and reshaped by the rise of WeChat. WeChat, which fundamentally is a messenger app, essentially also takes on the many functions of other social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, PayPal, Uber and more. WeChat has penetrated the daily lives of mobile device users across China. In fact, the app is used to pay rent, locate parking, invest, make doctor appointments and even engage in online dating. The proliferation of the app was noted in a Bloomberg report called “Life in the People’s Republic of WeChat.”
Ninety percent of internet users in China connect online through a mobile device, and those people on average, spend more than a third of their internet time on WeChat. In absolute numbers, WeChat had 762 million users globally as of March 2016 making it one of the most popular chat apps in the world. Close to 93% of its global user base is in China, roughly 706.7 million users, giving it a dominant lead in the Chinese social media landscape. Moreover, usage of the app keeps rising with 36% of users engaging the app more than 30 times a day, compared to only 25% last year.
The app at a first glance, looks simplistic and somewhat pragmatic, not displaying complex designs. The main screen shows individual and group chats, and a menu at the bottom of the app provides access to other features, such as WeChat Moments, which is similar in functionality to the Facebook timeline; WeChat Wallet, which offers online and offline payments, money transfers and investment options; Card Holder, which collects discount coupons and membership cards; and platforms providing games, online shopping and taxi hailing functionality.
Organizations, media and celebrities also host official accounts, which can be followed by individuals to obtain news and promotions. In addition, the official account may provide direct services, such as customer communications or product and service sales. For example, your travel agent may push out personal flight updates to you or enable you to handle a request to rebook your flight through the official account; and your local gym may have its class schedule on its official account, allowing you to select and book your class or purchase class packages directly by paying with WeChat wallet.
- Interacting with official accounts functions is similar to interacting with regular friends on WeChat and is directly accessible from your WeChat contact list.
- Companies use the official account to push out news and information, as well as products and service offerings, taking advantage of WeChat’s integrated payment system (i.e. WeChat Wallet).
- WeChat Wallet provides the ability to make direct payments online (e.g. e-commerce and in-app payments), as well as offline (e.g. in stores, and between users). According to the latest WeChat Impact Report, as released by Tencent Pinguin research, if provided with a choice between traditional payment options or paying via WeChat 53.6% of users said they would give priority to, or equally consider, using WeChat payment.