As social media has reached critical mass, there is a core group of frequent users that is driving its growth. Knowing who they are will drive your marketing approach.
About 150 million people in the U.S. have a Facebook page. Signing up is easy and confers a sense of status on the proud owner. However, "having a page" and "using" social media are two very different things.
These behaviors are consistent with the pattern of how innovations grow and sustain themselves.
Decades of research on the diffusion of innovations - from the use of farming methods to birth control and technology - describe how early adopters show the way for others.
Once an innovation has reached a level of size, interest and momentum - typically referred to as critical mass - it often becomes a mainstream phenomenon.
Social media has reached critical mass. And with this distinction, it is now possible to learn more about these frequent users.
This is critical to nonprofits that are investing time and energy in this medium and either expecting or hoping for success.
Edison Research, a division of one of the nation's leading media research companies, published a report last month on its benchmark findings about frequent users.
Practically applied, these learnings can have a significant impact on how nonprofits employ social media.
Who are frequent users?
Edison describes frequent users as those who "use social media several times per day." As such, there are 39 million people in the U.S. who fit this description, and this group has more than doubled in size over the past year.
Frequent users are young - almost two-thirds are under the age of 35. In contrast, only 18 percent are over 45. And 57 percent of frequent users are female.
How do frequent users behave?
1. They post updates. Not only do frequent users check their pages several times a day, 72 percent of them also are continuously adding updates about their activities and their networks.
2. But their focus is "social," with only 25 percent following companies, brands or organizations.
3. Facebook is the site of choice - 87 percent of frequent users have a Facebook presence. By contrast, only 19 percent have a Twitter account.
4. They use traditional media. Frequent users spend almost as much time with television, radio and newspaper as the general population.
Implications for nonprofit marketing
Frequent visits means frequent posts. Social media is a habit, and frequent users are always looking for something new - new information on their friends and groups, and new information about their interests.
Once posts begin to decline, so does interest. And with waning interest, there is a higher likelihood that your organization's efforts will begin to lose traction.
The key to successful social-media use is to give your friends consistent and relevant information, which increases the probability of action or of referring you to one of their friends.
Younger users are good, but do they match your profile? Case in point: Look at the typical profile of the generous arts patron. They tend to be older (45 and over) and less digitally involved. Efforts to reach these people, who represent a significant percentage of ticket holders and donors, may be limited.
On the other hand, younger enthusiasts - single ticket buyers, social group joiners, the future of your organization - could be well served through this medium.
Consider a separate messaging strategy, along with appropriate offers for this segment.
Your cause needs to work harder. This is a tough one. Despite all the anecdotes about successful corporate social-media campaigns, the majority of frequent users see social media literally - as a tool to connect to other people.
Your campaign needs to embrace this barrier - by being more selective, more creative and most consistent in your posts.
Pick your horse. Most nonprofits do not have the resources for a full-time social-media writer who can post daily across an array of sites.
Even with tools like bit.ly and post aggregators like reddit.com, posting is sweat equity - research, writing, image creation, editing. Pick the social site that best matches your cause, stick with it and measure the growth and results before expanding.
Don't forget your media mix. It's all about content, regardless of the delivery medium. Make sure the time and effort you are investing in message strategy for digital media also reaches patrons who are more comfortable with traditional media.
John Klein is president of Trilithon Partners, a marketing consulting agency based in Cary, N.C.