A 10% Audience: Social Media’s Bad News…and Good News

My 4th of July post included links breaking out social media consumers. With this foundation, let me suggest the following:

Your effective social media audience is about 10% of your potential customers.

First, let me clear about “effective”. One of the problems looking at social media is that “everybody” has an account. But that doesn’t mean you can reach “everybody” through social. The only people who are reachable are those who rise above a certain level of activity and who pay attention to/pass along commercial messages.

So in these terms, “effective” means those people you can actually get in touch, motivate, or otherwise influence with through social media.

Secondly, the lessons taken from this numbers seem pretty solid. About half of the US has a social media account and about 20% of those are active enough to be reached commercially (posting, checking in). Hence, 10% seems a smart choice.

This number is postulated as a planning estimate – realistic, even slightly aggressive, without being curmudgeonly. It’s not intended as the be all and end all of counting social media impact. Even better, the lessons it tells us seem resilient. Double the number. Does it change the role social plays in your marketing? Not really.

But Aren’t There Hundreds of Millions of Facebook Accounts? Yup. There are. Many are duplicates and a great many are foreign. And of the remaining, are they active enough? To reach someone commercially they need to be active enough that your messages don’t scroll below the page break on the social media screen.

So new data finally helps us see through the outsized claims from the social media companies, the research manipulation by VC funded PR efforts, the gaga news coverage of Tweets (where you reach far fewer than 10%), and hip new ad agency claims to have bred a new type of man who populates this Brave New World.

Some might suggest the number will grow in the future. I’m not so sure. Because the way social media works a consumer has to sort through a tremendous information load. And that suggests that it may be limited to 10% for quite some time to come.

Isn’t This Bad News? No larger company can survive communicating to only 10% of their market. So if you can’t reach any more than 10% of your target through social media, then it cannot be the core of your marketing.

Taking it one step further, it’s my experience that many of your most valuable customers probably aren’t reachable on social media. I’m close to three “enthusiast based” social communities for very high end craftsman topics. Social media plays a strong role for companies marketing to all three. And specialty topics like these are predicted to attract experts.

The truth is, I’ve found that the best craftsman aren’t socially active. And, that many of the most socially active are NOT great craftsmen. (Showing how mere social activity doesn’t guarantee that someone has significant influence.)

But while SoMe isn’t going to take over the world, it isn’t all bad news.

The Good News: 10% Is Pretty Good. Think about radio. If you can find a radio show that reaches 6% of the audience, you’ve got a VERY large shows. What about TV shopping? QVC and HSN used to proudly talk about having around 8% of TVHH’s as viewer/shoppers. Traditional TV? Except for the absolute biggest of primetime shows, 6% of the population is a very nice number.

That comparison isn’t really fair. Hedging for viewing activity, “TV” in all forms reaches probably 70% of your potential audience even though a single network show is unlikely to get more than 2% or 3%. Hedging for listening activity, radio in all forms probably reaches 60% while a single show typically reaches less than 1% of a market.

Still, all-in-all a 10% potential (after a LOT of spending and hard work) is a pretty decent number. There is one qualitative difference that is important.

When you buy a TV show, you buy a direct connection with a known audience. But when you attempt to market through social media, you probably need to figure that each endeavor gets little audience pieces whose size is unknown until after the effort is complete. That means it’s difficult to set a goal and know what it will take to meet that goal. How much effort does it take to get 10% of your market to see your message with social?

C’mon, You’re Ignoring Lady Gaga. Someone might point to the hundreds of millions of Lady Gaga video views on Youtube. But big numbers aren’t the same as meaningful numbers.

First, those views are driven by huge traditional media coverage – Gaga is brilliant in her ability to drive “buzz” with outrageous actions.

And, of course, Youtube isn’t social media. Those views are driven by massive TV and Magazine coverage. So what is social media’s contribution here? I think it’s that social media raises her latest antics to the awareness of the traditional media.

This is, in fact, a very solid use of social media – showing that the buzz is high enough that it is picked up in the traditional media. And it makes sense that it’s effective with the 10% number.

Only A Starting Point I don’t think this is, in any way, the last word on social media. Rather, it’s a starting point. And I hope that there continues to be quite a bit of conversation in three areas:

– Can we get more accurate on this general number?
– How can we develop estimates for specialized markets?
– Assuming the number is below 25%, how should we use social as part of our mix?

And THIS discussion will be much more productive for marketers than the hype we’ve endured for the past few years.

Copyright 2011 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved

About Doug Garnett
Growing retail based businesses through television, DRTV, and all forms of video. Doug is a strategist, executive producer, director, author, & teacher.

2 Responses to A 102 Audience: Social Media’s Bad News…and Good News

  1. Very interesting post! A few thoughts as I read your post:

    1) It’s important, albeit common sense, to think of SM as an additional advertising opportunity, but not as a replacement for TV, magazine, etc. It works harmoniously with them to create deeper relationships, more user engagement, long-term interaction. Clearly SM can’t do what TV can as far as rich video content on the big screen with minimal effort… but that’s not the true story of SM.
    2) SM ensures that the company/customer relationship extends well beyond the day of the sale. You don’t just advertise to them and then say goodbye and good luck… you engage with them regularly, provide them with useful information, tips, tricks, etc. to help them squeeze more value out of the product/service you provide. It’s more about listening as it is pushing a message.
    3) YouTube is definitely social media. Put a new product video on your website and a company may get a thousand views in a month. Put the same video on YouTube and that number could very well be 10x that amount, and will only increase with YouTube’s social features allowing users to share videos they like, and populating the ‘suggestion bar’ with similar videos to keep them watching. Lady Gaga is the exception, not the rule IMHO.
    4) SM is relatively inexpensive. All you need is a person to keep it up to date and engage. There are no time-slot costs, low production costs, etc. But again, it’s not an alternative, it works in conjunction with traditional advertising.
    5) Individuals engaged in social media who have a lot of followers online, are often the thought-leaders of that particular industry. Failure to engage with these thought-leaders is done at a company’s peril.
    6) TV doesn’t cover all niches efficiently. SM lets advertisers experiment with much smaller niches at a low cost, with incredible metrics, and extremely limited risk.
    7) SM lets you simultaneously engage with large groups of people as well as individuals. Unlike TV where you are limited to pushing one message to a broad group, with SM you can switch over and converse with individual customers on a more intimate level.
    8) SM’s influence is growing fast. Facts: 96% of GenY’ers are on SM. The fastest growing segment of Facebook users is 55-65 year olds. YouTube is the 2nd most used search engine in the world. Google is not integrating Twitter info into search results so social media will start effecting search results and what your friends think will matter even more. 78% of consumers trust peer recommendations more than any other source, compared to 14% trusting advertisements.

    • Doug Garnett says:

      Derek –

      Good points. A few thoughts:

      – The Pew study found 80% of GenY’ers were active on social media.
      – What my “10%” attempts to express is a realistic the “reach” number for social. Using classic communication theory, it’ s not merely the opportunity to reach someone, but the practical reality of reaching them. The big social media problem is it suffers far, far more than TV or radio from lapses in viewer attention.
      – So on social media, if we’re to have any chance of reaching someone, they have to be social media active above a certain level. The Pew study suggests that around 20% are active enough for us to reliably reach them.
      – So if we assume 80% of GenY’ers are there, then 16% of GenY’ers are reachable using my logic.

      And that still arrives at the same conclusion: great medium for certain things. But, if you have a large market goal, then it’s not sufficient.

      Some companies do fine as, for example, direct mail only companies. They have chosen to live within that niche. Same can be true for social media – but I wish the broad world was more honest that choosing to live within social media as primary communication is purely a way to seek out a niche market. Good for some. Wrong for many.

      I saw your note that “78% trust peer recommendations” vs. “14% trusting advertisements”. Consumer behavior suggests these survey answers aren’t accurate. This has been studied for nearly a century. And people have always given those answers in about those percentages – including far back in time before social media arrived.

      When they vote with their pocketbook the situation is much more complex – trust is only 1 part of the equation. For example, they”ll never seek out peer recommendations if they don’t know (a) what the product is and (b) why they should care about it. So they may not fully “trust” an ad, but the advertisement’s role it to get them aware of what the product might do for them. If what a consumer is looking for is confirmation in their leanings about which brand they should buy, then people tend to turn to peers – and I think people they know is the first line of action followed secondarily by online comments.

      A thought about YouTube. I understand what you’re suggesting. But fundamentally, from a marketer’s point of view, YouTube remains mostly a repository of video work to which we can drive consumers and where sometimes they’ll find it on their own. In a way, I look at it as a great target to circulate in social media, but don’t agree that it’s an actionable social media on it’s own – no matter what Google might want us to think. 🙂

      And now the big question: What strikes me in planning media is that one challenge in social media is that it’s not controllable in the way that most advertising is. Whether I go to banner ads, print ads, radio ads, or TV, I am buying an audience and have control of my own destiny. If the ads are wrong, then it’s my fault.

      But with social, “chance” has a big impact in exactly how far and fast a message will travel – meaning that two identical messages might reach effective audiences where one is 100x bigger than the other – even when you do the same things. How far your message goes is heavily swayed by other social media action at that time. All this means is it takes different planning – not that it’s wrong. Obviously this means social has to be an area of constant change, evolution, and activity in order to generate enough message-lets to get the impact you want. 🙂

      Have a great weekend…


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