Buffett’s Op-ed, more than a trending topic?

Jackie Titus

It’s safe to say Warren Buffett’s New York Times op-ed caused some chatter yesterday. This first became apparent when a few of my colleagues and I noticed the amount of people in our own peer networks passing the article over Facebook and Twitter. It has clearly raised opinions both in support and against Buffett’s proposal to congress. Living in the world of digital strategy, as we do, we decided to do a quick poll on PoliPulse to understand the conversation and see what people are saying.

The initial analysis shows the article received a healthy amount of traction across social platforms, indicating that a high volume of people view it as “shareable content”, but I am left to wonder: Is this just another piece of content that reached trending status and is gone tomorrow? While close to 60% of Tweets and Facebook posts on the subject favored Buffett’s proposal, with some even calling for Buffett to run for president, only about a fifth of posts actually called on Congress to take action in light of Buffett’s words.

We are often challenged to answer the question: Can social media really be a vehicle for social change? Critics of social media activism argue that this sort of faux civic engagement is all the Internet provides us. In his much discussed New Yorker article Small Change, Malcom Gladwell argued that social media "makes it easier for activists to express themselves, and harder for that expression to have an impact."

We believe the Internet is a powerful tool for organizing and not just spreading news and opinion. As we saw during the Arab Spring, the Internet provides useful tools for action — but it requires people to step up and organize their networks. Mass expression on social media provides an atmosphere for change but it requires a catalyst to move from words to actions. While Buffett has the profile to speak directly to policy makers through the media he could have taken it beyond just a conversation and sparked a movement had he included a call to action.


The quest to measure influence

David Leavitt

There’s no perfect way to determine someone’s social influence.

Sure, many tools promise to crank out a score that measures each person’s ability to influence others online. Using a service called Klout, for instance, I discovered that my influence score peaked at 44.91 on June 29 and has since fallen to 43.0.

Klout began as a service to measure influence on Twitter, but its algorithm has since expanded to examine activity on Facebook and LinkedIn. This week, Klout branched out further into the social media landscape by factoring a person’s YouTube activity and Foursquare engagement levels into each influence score.

It’s an inexact science at best, and Klout scores should be seen as only one indicator and not the end-all-be-all of who is important.

Still, some businesses are signaling they believe the scores to be a reasonable indicator of influence. For instance, European music service Spotify launched in the United States last month by offering access primarily to people with high Klout scores, calling them “U.S. Spotify Ambassadors.”

At Powell Tate, we are versed in the best in breed analytics tools, but our greatest value-add lays within our experience distilling the ocean of data to help drive your strategy.

Besides, the important thing isn’t the “influence score” but rather how you engage those influencers to maximize your outreach and deliver on your strategy.



Google Plus: What it is and what it means for businesses and nonprofits

David I. Leavitt

So. What does everyone think about Google Plus?

If you’re like most people, you haven’t joined it or played around with it too much. Still, when a $190 billion digital company starts a social networking platform, we should all take notice.

To start with, Google did a great job by redefining what it means to be someone’s online “friend.”

Over the years, the term “friend” on Facebook has come to mean just about anyone we’ve ever met or done business with. However, all friends are not equal, and the sort of thing I want to share with my family is different than what I discuss with my college friends or work colleagues.

The entire Google Plus platform is based on that premise.

(Yes, there are ways to set up different categories in Facebook to share things with only certain people, but most people find that process overly complicated and neglect to do it.)

On Google Plus, you see discrete streams of the “circles” you create. Just your family. Just your high school pals. Just your buddies who like baseball.

Given Google’s product portfolio (Google search, YouTube, Gmail, Picasa, Maps, Docs, Calendar, etc.), chances are that if you’re looking to do something online, Google can help make it happen.

Will it work?

With Facebook’s 750 million users, half of whom log in every day, it’s likely that most people you know are regular or occasional users. The fledgling Google Plus has a long way to go to reach the critical mass it will need to become a go-to sharing tool.

On the other hand, Google’s search page gets more than 1 billion visitors per month, and it features a new toolbar across the top of the page with a Google Plus "notification window" similar to Facebook that will bring a lot of attention to the new service. Suddenly, anyone doing a simple Google search will be reminded that there are new things to see on Google Plus.

What about business and nonprofits?

On Facebook, brands have set up shop. Nonprofits collect donations. Activist groups collect letters to policymakers. Stores can sell their products. Consumers can even buy plane tickets on Delta’s Facebook page.

The landscape is different at Google Plus. For now, brands will have to stay on the sidelines.

Google writes: “We are discouraging businesses from using regular profiles to connect with Google+ users. Our policy team will actively work with profile owners to shut down non-user profiles.”

We’ll check back with updates as the situation changes.


At age 7, Facebook has matured

David I. Leavitt

Flickr Creative Commons photo by birgerking.

By now you’ve seen the mind-boggling numbers: Facebook has over 500 million users in 190 countries, half of whom log into Facebook every day.

It seems like every time I look up the numbers, they’ve grown exponentially.

Until now.

Facebook lost 6 million U.S. members last month, according to the Wall Street Journal. Facebook has always lost members, either when people quit or when the company deletes duplicate and fake accounts. But until now the high growth rate had masked it.

What happened? Have people in the United States finally stopped flocking to social networking sites?

No, that’s not it. In fact, Facebook’s Internet domination is just as intact as ever. More than 2.5 million websites use “Facebook Platforms,” meaning that people commonly engage with Facebook even when they’re not on Facebook’s website. And an average of 10,000 new websites integrate with Facebook Platforms every day.

What’s happening is that Facebook has reached a membership saturation point in the United States. As Slate’s Farhad Manjoo points out, this is common for Facebook once it hits 50 percent market penetration within a country. Manjo adds: “Facebook is now experiencing something unprecedented in the short history of social networking—it has captured every plausible user.”

Remember, a third of Americans don’t have broadband — there’s a large swath of our country for whom joining Facebook is more complicated than it sounds.

This situation isn’t likely to change radically, either. After all, more than half of Americans disagree with federal government efforts to expand broadband connections around the nation, saying those projects are not important, according to a Pew Center survey.

For now, Facebook must focus on entertaining the U.S. members they have rather than continuing to expand and grow their American user base.


Going viral: Celebs, sex and kittens

Amil Husain

This week, YouTube celebrated its sixth birthday and reported that the video service is amassing over 3 billion views per day. That's a 50 percent increase from last year.

The shear volume of videos and views on YouTube makes it an obvious choice for posting videos as opposed to other video hosting sites that offer similar features. However, it also creates a incredibly crowded marketplace, which is often difficult to crack. Many nonprofits and foundations want to create the next "viral video," but with an oversaturated market, this may not be the best strategy?

Let's look briefly at the kind of videos that go "viral." In general, the most popular videos on YouTube contain either animals, babies, sexuality, violence, celebrities or a combination of those elements.

The top 10 YouTube videos of all time are a good indication of the trends. The top four videos are all music videos with global celebrities, each with over 300,000,000 views. The fifth most viewed video of all time? “Charlie Bit My Finger Again,” featuring a baby who bit his brother's hand.

Does this mean that everyone should hire Justin Beiber and a baby to star in their next video? Probably not. Most companies and organizations would be better served with a more narrowcasting strategy.

You don't need everyone and their mother to watch your video anymore to be effective, you need your target audience to watch your material.

Video success will be better served when we stop hyper-focusing on total views and begin to look more into what we want the videos to accomplish.

Are you looking for more traffic on your site or engagement in a campaign? Videos that are targeted for a specific audience with clear, measurable goals in mind can be more effective than a million people watching and ignoring your next viral video featuring a cat riding a motorcycle on top of a dramatic chipmunk.



Twitter Resonating With Nonprofit Health Organizations

Lindsey Ellerson

For nonprofit health organizations, Twitter is emerging as an online communications vehicle of choice for reaching target audiences and making a lasting impact. A study released this month finds that nonprofit and community health organizations are more actively engaged in posting information on Twitter than any other health-related institution.

“It is likely that nonprofit organizations and support groups recognize the rapid growth of Twitter and its value as an inexpensive but highly effective communication tool,” says Hyojung Park, doctoral candidate at the Missouri School of Journalism and author of the study. “Unlike business organizations such as pharmaceutical companies, nonprofit health organizations and advocacy groups may suffer from lack of funding, staff, and other resources in developing and implementing communication strategies for health intervention and promotion programs.”

The study, which examined nearly 600 tweets from organizations focused on health, found that 30 percent of the tweets were re-tweeted by other readers, further extending the reach of the messaging and promoting what Park calls “health literacy.”

Organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association (@alzassocation),  Susan G. Komen for the Cure (@komenforthecure) and the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (@CeliacAwareness), are setting a precedent for how Twitter can be an effective communications tool. For example, on Tuesday evening the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness held its second in a series of hour-long chats on Twitter with two dieticians answering questions about how celiac disease can affect women's health.

While Twitter’s 200 million users offer an engaging community for effective nonprofit outreach, Facebook recently established a strong stake in the game with the launch of a resource center geared toward aiding nonprofits in social media use. The resource center offers educational materials, video tutorials and discussion boards, as well as highlights current success stories in the space. The social network says it built this center to “bring positive change to the world.” According to Facebook, there are more than 30,000 nonprofits using Facebook pages.


What to believe about Twitter and its role in the evolving media landscape

You may have noticed that the news around Twitter’s role in mainstream media has become a little confusing over the past two weeks.

Last Monday, Twitter was given credit for breaking the news of the death of Osama bin Laden.

The following Monday Twitter was knocked down a few pegs by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism when it concluded that the traffic driven to mainstream news sites from Twitter was basically negligible.

Confused? Well, let me help you (maybe) by saying both are a bit misleading.

Let’s tackle both arguments separately:

Sohaib Athar, an Abbottabad resident who unwittingly live
tweeted the Osama Bin Laden mission.

Did Twitter break the Bin Laden story?

Twitter certainly played a role in spreading the news that night, but it is by no means a replacement for the news media. Both Twitter and major news sources played an instrumental role in breaking and covering the story in the first hours and days.

Twitter is a word-of-mouth technology, and the viral nature of it absolutely helped spread the word quickly. What once took hours, took seconds. There were 4,000 tweets per second throughout the evening about the Bin Laden news. This chart shows how quickly a news story now evolves.

We also know that 50 percent of the links on Twitter go to trusted media outlets. People useTwitter to spread information, but they want to spread information from trusted sources.

This leads us to our second story.

Is DrudgeReport more important than Twitter?

According to Pew, the three major referrers to major news sites are Drudge, Yahoo! and Google with Twitter accounting for less than 1 percent.

The problem with this story is that Pew is (admittedly) just counting referring traffic from and not the many different third-party apps that most heavy Twitter users use (Tweetdeck, CoTweet, etc). By some estimates, only 30 percent of users actually use the Web version of Twitter, which would mean Pew left out some 70 percent of the sample.

They claim that even if they had included the data from third party apps, Twitter traffic would still be smaller than the amount that “comes through Google or to the news site directly.” So, their defense is since including third party data wouldn’t put them on the top of the list it was ok to bury them at the bottom. This is an absurd argument coming from such trusted researchers.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project even told us last year that 75 percent of those getting news online get it from their networks either through social channels or email.

Twitter has not replaced any form of media. It is an increasingly useful tool for people to share information with our friends, family and colleagues.

And many of us rely on these networks to help us filter the deluge of information on a daily basis to find the important stuff. Like when to tune into mainstream media with 56 million other people in order to hear the president deliver special news.


Royal Wedding: U.K. burned out while Americans can’t get enough

John Scott

Since World War II, there has been a British royal wedding roughly every thirteen years. While experts say more than 1 billion people are expected to tune into tomorrow’s nuptials, some people on Twitter have had enough of the fuss being made about each intricate detail of the ceremony.

The location of the people who are most annoyed about the event might surprise you.

By and large, it is our good friends in the United Kingdom who are complaining about the event.

According to Powell Tate’s Polipulse project, about a third of tweets on the royal wedding from British people express feelings of frustration with the amount of attention the event is getting. Here in the U.S., fewer than one fifth of the comments share that sentiment.

A third of U.S. conversations are about rumors about the royal bride and groom, compared to a mere 12 percent of mentions in the U.K.

How are Twitter users planning to commemorate the event? The U.K. audience appears to be planning boozy street parties, while Americans say they’re looking for a special souvenir to commemorate the event.


PoliPulse Nominated for Webby

It’s not likely anyone from this office will ever have the opportunity to be nominated for an Oscar. Of course, we’ll never say never, but who needs an Oscar when you’re up for a Webby Award?

Powell Tate’s PoliPulse project has been nominated for the 15th Annual Webby Awards in the “politics” category for a website. The award was established in 1996 during the Web's infancy and is the leading international award honoring excellence on the Internet. Past winners include, Google, BBC News, Twitter and Wikipedia.

We’re extremely excited about this award as no other public affairs or communication firm made it this far in the “politics” category. We’re in good company as nominees for this award — we’re up against the New York Times, Politico, NPR, and

PoliPulse is our unique data visualization tool that presents a daily graphic summary of the topics driving online conversation to spot trends around concerns of current events. For example, our most recent topics are about a potential government shutdown, the debate around whether college athletes should be paid and the opinions of nuclear energy in light of the situation in Japan.

Here’s the best part about The Webbys: The winners - at least in part - are up to you. While the official Webby Award is decided by the Members of The International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, The People’s Voice Award is decided by you - the online community.

We encourage you to vote.



Androids and iPhones

David Leavitt

Flickr Creative Commons photo by Yukata Tsutano

It’s a fact: more people have Android-based smartphones than iPhones.

Overall, about 75 percent of the smartphones sold today are not iPhones (and are instead Blackberrys, Androids, Windows or Palm phones). For that reason, creating only iPhone-optimized content isn’t ideal for marketers trying to reach the masses.

So why does the iPhone get so much attention?

The answer has little to do with market share and more to do with who iPhone users are.

iPhone users are more likely to have high incomes and more likely to pay for digital content. About 40 percent of iPhone users earn over $100,000 per year, compared to 28 percent of Android users, according to Nielsen.

That’s what makes the iPhone an ideal platform for marketers trying to reach an elite audience that is often in the purchasing mood.


Disaster donations

Bradley Portnoy

The outpouring of support for Japan in the wake of the recent disaster there has been incredible, whether through social media, SMS donations, or simply general statements of support. But is it possible that technology has made it too easy to donate funds in the wake of a disaster?

The effective-giving experts at the GiveWell Blog posted over a week ago that aid being offered to Japan has far exceeded the aid requested, and likely exceeds Japan's final need. With millions being pledged to the Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations, we must question whether today's tools has made it too easy for well-meaning citizens to donate in the face of a disaster.

I know that in recent days my own Facebook newsfeed has been full of friends donating through LivingSocial's donation match, which raised $2.3 million. Almost immediately after the disaster, the Red Cross announced it had raised $8 million, surely assisted by their excellent SMS (text) message program, which allows people to easily donate $10 simply by texting their short code. Global Giving's Earthquake and Tsunami Relief Fund page has over 33,000 likes, indicating a tremendous viral spread. And I personally made a donation to Direct Relief International, and appealed to friends on Facebook and Twitter to do the same. Now I think that that may have been too easy.

The unintended consequences of an excess of funding can be both surprising and frustrating. Annie Lowrey wrote for Slate that after the 2004 Asian tsunami, Indonesian groups found themselves with an excess of funding for orphanages. When parents decided they could no longer reliably feed and clothe their children, they abandoned them. If the organizations had been able to spend the money freely, perhaps more would have been allocated to food and clothing than to orphanages.

Luckily, there is a solution. Organizations such as the Red Cross can easily raise money after a disaster, but are chronically underfunded in normal times, despite continuing critical work. If you donate during a disaster, don't earmark your funds. Relief organizations can then distribute the money across issues as needed - including to disaster relief, if warranted. And these organizations can do their part to increase donation efficiency by more prominently requesting that donors not earmark their funds.

The tragedy in Japan is ongoing, but there is no reason to compound it by misallocating aid dollars that are needed around the world. I know that when the next disaster strikes, I'll make sure to think twice about where my money can best be used before opening my wallet.


Small Groups + Strong Ties = The trend toward deeper engagements and offline action

Several members from the Powell Tate team are down at the South By Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas. They'll be sharing their insights from the festival here on this blog.

I was squeezed into a crowded shuttle the other morning with a dozen or so other bleary eyed SXSW conference goers when I noticed a small group of friends sitting around me, all silently playing the same mobile game together.

This new blurred dimension is the reality for an increasing number of people. We adeptly straddle the online and offline worlds like seasoned gymnasts.

For those of us who are fans of civic participation and actual human interaction, this form of purely virtual communication can be a little scary.

That's why I was excited to see that the standout technology platform at this year's SXSW interactive festival was not only something simple that we're already familiar with, as my colleague David Leavitt points out, but something that encourages and organizes physical world engagement.

GroupMe is a group messaging app that helps you set up mobile chat groups so you can quickly and easily communicate and organize people in your networks – for example, coworkers, family or your bowling teammates. GroupMe, the most buzzed about platform at SXSW, and joins other similar SMS apps such as Beluga (acquired by Facebook) and Fast Society to help us find ways of communicating with smaller, targeted groups within our vast and disparate networks.

This is all a part of a growing trend of nurturing our connections more deeply. Chris Perry, Weber Shandwick's President of Digital Communications summed it up in his post from SXSW when he says, "Intimacy, not surprisingly, is looking to be the killer app."

This is great news to those who are looking to organize people around events and causes. Social Media has been an invaluable tool in reaching vast numbers of people and networks, but we have been longing for ways to leverage the strong ties within our networks. Those of us who help clients rally thousands of people within grassroots networks around causes in the hopes that we get 50 committed people to show up somewhere in person can take solace in the fact that the social space is trending in our direction.

GroupMe took off so quickly at SXSW because people found it useful in using the virtual world to coordinate actual physical meet ups. It allowed people to seamlessly stay in touch from afar and more quickly come back together. I talked to one person on the plane back home who said that everyone in the group they were with -- except one person -- was on GroupMe at SXSW, and they never actually ended up seeing that person.

So, don't be left out. Get on board and start using the power of the virtual world to organize people in the physical world.


Texting is the new texting

David Leavitt

Several members from the Powell Tate team are down at the South By Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas. They'll be sharing their insights from the festival here on this blog.

Most innovation in the digital communications space is about speed and size. Faster computers. Smaller computers. Mobile phones that give users access to a library of hundreds of thousands of programs.

But sometimes it's the simplest ideas that prove to be the most transformative.

The most useful products coming out of SXSW this year are among the most basic and (for the most part) use technology that was available years ago: group texting apps for mobile phones.

GroupMe, GroupedIn, Beluga and other group messaging apps, the hot trend at SXSW this year, let people create groups of friends/colleagues/family. Users can instantly share text messages, photos and even call all members of their customized group at once in a conference call.

Yes, that's it.

Sure, email accomplishes many of the same things (you can start an email conversation with multiple people, each of whom can "reply all" to the group). And email has no word-count limits or photo restrictions.

But when you're on the go and meeting friends, nothing is more convenient than texting. Especially in crowded areas with weak cell phone reception. Your message is also more likely to be read immediately via text than email – a text message is read within 4 minutes while an email could take up to 48 hours, making texting 720 times faster.

Among the youngest mobile phone users, text messaging is the mostly widely used digital communications tool. And older users are texting more than they ever have.

As a result, it's only natural that the latest trend is to nurture that love for texting with apps that help us do it more efficiently and with a richer experience.


Are QR codes the next big thing?

David Leavitt

Several members from the Powell Tate team are down at the South By Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas. They'll be sharing their insights from the festival here on this blog.

The interactive portion of South By Southwest is under way, which means the inevitable discussion of what "next big thing" will make a splash here. After all, this festival is widely credited with introducing Twitter (2007) and Foursquare (2009) to the masses.

By now, you've probably heard plenty about QR codes, the matrix barcodes that store data (text, a URL, etc.) for camera phones to read. For example, a magazine ad that doesn't have room to give all of the information about a product can include the QR code for people to scan and learn more. But has this type of marketing hit the mainstream?

Not even close.

True, they're prevalent here at SXSW in the form of flyers, posters, billboards and even t-shirts. But even among the crowd here -- the most digitally plugged in slice of America -- there does not appear to be broad QR usage.

That said, things will change quickly. At the moment, 234 million Americans 13 and older use mobile devices and 65.8 million have smartphones. Surely the smartphone numbers will continue to climb. Have you been to a cellphone store recently? They barely even sell non-smartphones (called "feature phones") anymore.

It will take a couple more years for people to cycle through their feature phones and become equipped with the type of device that could read QR codes.

Only when we've reached that point can we can finally address the question of whether people want to scan an advertisement for more information.


The evolution of blogging

David Leavitt

Two Bloggers, after Norman Rockwell

Young people appear to be abandoning email.

People aged 12 to 17 use Web-based email about 24 percent less than they did in 2007, according to comScore. “Younger users have so many communication channels that e-mail isn’t their first option,” Andrew Lipsman of comScore told the New York Times. “At this stage in their life, many of them are communicating through Facebook and texting.”

What about blogging? Is the blog — Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year in 2004 — dying out among teenagers? Well, it depends on how you define the word "blog."

The Pew Research Center says that blogging among people aged 12 to 17 fell by half from 2006 to 2009.

However, a closer look shows that young people have not abandoned what we typically define as blogging: visiting an online site to read and post photos, videos and stories and participate in healthy back-and-forth discussions.

For example, the New York Times discovered that many people do not consider Tumblr to be a “blogging service” even though it features each of those elements.

Given Tumblr’s rise in popularity, any study seeking to measure the number of bloggers that doesn’t count that platform is going to paint an inaccurate picture of online activity.

Users are deserting LiveJournal and Blogger, but they’re more active than ever on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. That is, it’s not that young people are moving away from blogging, but rather that blogging itself is evolving.

Rather than pronounce the days of blogging to be over, let’s celebrate the increase in user-generated content on other sites and become less focused on the word “blog.”

Creative Commons Image by Mike Licht,
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