Did Black Friday Shopping Kill Social Media Advertising?

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“Marketers looking to get more the most bang for their buck with […] advertising might skip social media altogether” – Lauren Gores (Mashable)

The words stopped my social media manager heart cold – Facebook barely contributed anything to Black Friday sales and I can already hear the complaints now: Black Friday is the biggest shopping day of the year. Everyone goes shopping on Black Friday. Everyone advertises on Facebook. If Everyone didn’t use Facebook to make purchasing decisions on Black Friday THEY NEVER WILL and we might as well give up now.

I could hear hypothetical red buttons being pushed as non-profits all over the country shut down their social media outreach. I was panicking. But were my fears entirely founded? Could non-profit organizations have a profit-driven relationship with social media, or is it strictly for community engagement?

This matter is irrelevant if non-profits are not using social media. Fortunately, the 2012 Nonprofit Social Network Benchmark Report indicates that nonprofits are extremely present on social media. Ninety-eight percent of the nonprofits surveyed reported they had a presence on Facebook, and 72% maintained a presence on Twitter. This is especially impressive when you consider only 66% of American adults online use Facebook (Brenner) and only 15% of online adults utilize Twitter (Smith). Additionally, nonprofits manage an average of 2.9 pages on Facebook and 1.43 accounts on Twitter (“2012 Nonprofit Social Network Benchmark Report”).

Why are these organizations so aggressively creating spaces for themselves in these realms? The organizations themselves identified marketing and fundraising as the top two purposes for maintaining a social media presence (“2012 Nonprofit Social Network Benchmark Report”). These purposes are separate and not equal, however, as 93% identified marketing as a purpose while only 55% identified fundraising. Most reported that the responsibility for their social media pages fell to the Marketing department in 2012. This was a departure from every previous year, when the task fell to Communications. It is pretty clear that nonprofits feel their social media presences are vital marketing tools in a digital age.

Of course, I should return to the original question – should we panic at the concept of using social media to hawk one’s wares because mega retailers couldn’t hack it on Black Friday? Maybe. IBM reported that Facebook generated only 0.68% of online sales on Black Friday – less than last year’s Black Friday and actually much less than the sales generated on the Friday the week before (a whooping 0.82%) (“IBM 2012 Holiday Benchmark Reports”). Twitter contributed a grand total of 0% of the revenue – that’s not rounding down. That’s just a 0. Additionally, the IBM report also notes that the conversion rate of shoppers was only 4.58%, meaning that less than 5% of Americans who visited a webpage actually purchased anything on Black Friday.

Before anyone actually gives up hope for internet commerce, let’s consider these mysterious Black Friday shoppers. Marketers would have you believe it is Everyone who shops on Black Friday, as a matter of American tradition. This falls a bit short of the truth. A Gallup poll conducted before the actual day shows that only 18% of respondents planned to do any shopping on Black Friday (Newport). The majority of these respondents, 95%, listed the good sales/cheap prices as an “important reason” for their decision to shop on Black Friday. This is consistent with such a low conversion rate – potential shoppers visited webpages to search for deals and if they could not find them, simply left. So the idea of social media advertising being a failure is less true than it first appears: only a small percentage of Americans shop on Black Friday, most who visit a webpage do not purchase anything, so social media could not play a huge role in these sales because there was no huge role for it to fill. Additionally, as a Mashable article on the story pointed out, social ads “are a part of a larger strategy” that move people off their computer and into stores (Mashable).

Which brings me back to the question of whether or not social media should be used to sell things. The non-profits arts community has been considering this question recently as well. The past National Arts Marketing Project Conference (NAMPC) featured a panel on the subject. “Meet Your Customers Where They Live: How to Harness the Sales Power of Facebook” generated a lot of buzz on Twitter as attendees livetweeted the core messages of the panel. Twitter user Katy Peace (@katymatic) suggested the panel “has finally made a compelling case for this FB ticketing app.” Nella Vera (@spinstripes) quoted panelist Lisa Middleton in her tweet, “Lisa Middleton: FB sales for arts will succeed for same reason it failed for other retailers. Buying tix to cultural event is SOCIAL. #NAMPC”. Reinforcing the social element, Facebook profile pictures appear in the seat the user has purchased, creating a holistic, engaging experience.

“Tickets purchased on Facebook show Facebook profile pics in the seats purchased by that person. Brilliant. #NAMPC” - @ASC_CathyB

For me, that’s the rub. Social networks are called “social” for a reason. Social media marketing creates engaged online communities, and engaged communities will support a nonprofit. Only one third of the nonprofits who use Facebook to fundraise utilize individual giving (“2012 Nonprofit Social Network Benchmark Report”). I think there is a real missed opportunity for non-profits to use social media as something more than marketing, and it lies with the few people who are willing to shop on Black Friday.

There is an interesting correlation between the users of social media and Black Friday shoppers. The largest group of respondents (34%) who indicated they would go shopping was ages 18 to 29 (Newport).  Social media usage tends to skew towards younger users as well; half of Facebook and Twitter users fall between the ages of 18 and 35 (49% and 60% respectively) (Hampton). These users fall within the age range of the Millennial generation. Millennials know what they want and are interested in advancing a nonprofit’s mission. The majority (55%) prefer to learn about a non-profit organization through social media and even more (67%) have interacted with a non-profit on Facebook (“The Millennial Impact Report 2012”). Millennials prefer to give donations to non-profits, and an incredible 75% of them gave a financial gift to an organization in 2011.

In theory, this seems like a perfect recipe for success. We have a large population (the Millennials), who likes giving to organizations, and we know how/where they would like to send their contribution. And yet, only about half of non-profits actually fundraise on social media and these efforts are coming from Marketing, not the Development department (“2012 Nonprofit Social Network Benchmark Report”). Where’s the disconnect happening?

Perhaps it correlates to the size of the gifts: Millennials tend to give less than $100 to any single organization (“The Millennial Impact Report 2012”). Many small non-profits may not have the time or resources to invest in cultivating such small gifts. These organizations have to consider the future investment of these individuals, however. Seventy percent of Millennials did give online last year, they prefer to give online, and that probably won’t change any time soon.

At this time, a profit-driven approach to social media is still a fringe idea within the non-profit world. There are options for organizations who want to be on the cutting edge, like ticket sales and fundraising through social media platforms. These ideas, while nascent, have been used to a degree of success by the organizations brave enough to adopt them. For the rest of the non-profit community, utilizing social media as a marketing tool is still a good strategy. And, while it’s disheartening that social media contributed so very little to Black Friday sales, it probably is not relevant.