The state of social media use in non-profits in Australia

The state of social media use in non-profits in Australia

HIV Australia | Vol. 10 No. 1 | June 2012

Bianca Wirth provides a preview of new research that surveyed almost 600 Australian non-profit organisations about their use of social media; 65% of the organisations examined were health and human services based. The survey report aims to generate a reflection of how non-profits are using social media specific to the Australian context.

Let’s pretend we are at a party. At this party there are people milling about chatting, establishing relationships, relaxing with a cool beverage or partying on the dance floor.

The party is called ‘Social Media’.

At this party there are some well-known celebrities and high flyers, people you have seen at other parties, people you know well and other people you wouldn’t have a clue who they were.

You weren’t going to come to this party but a friend called you and said you absolutely have to be in on this. It’s the latest thing. Everyone is doing it. Haven’t you been yet? Gosh, you need to get with it!

But you still didn’t know if this party was for you. Wouldn’t it be great if you knew before you arrived what everyone was wearing, who would be there and how popular they are, where they are from, if they are going to talk to you and how to make a fast exit?

Let’s get the intel before we get dressed in our party gear.

Prepping for the party

When this research project commenced it did so with the knowledge there were questions that were repeated over and over again whenever we presented on social media to community groups, to small business, to non-profits, and even to big corporates. Questions we couldn’t answer specifically for Australia. Oh sure, we gave them the latest statistics from overseas but it’s kind of like a party that you hear about, but never attended – it sounds great but maybe not your kind of scene.

Similarly, there is plenty of social media research based on international organisations but Australia seemed to be lacking some real proof on how social media was actually being used by non-profits.

After starting with a long list of questions, they were narrowed them down to just four that encompassed answers to the most important:

  • Is social media use really prolific in the Australian non-profit sector?
  • Which social media technologies have the strongest use?
  • How do non-profits typically use social media?
  • Who are the top ranked non-profit organisations using social media in Australia?

Who is at the party?

Over the course of a few months data was collected, statistics were analysed, and pretty graphs were created.

First, let’s take a look at the technologies covered and the high level results.

Social media as a whole covers thousands of technologies, tools and websites globally. Different social media websites and technologies are more popular in certain countries and locales.

For example, Qzone is a Chinese language social media site with over 530 million users. Habbo in Finland has over 230 million users. Warning, warning Facebook: you’re not the only one out there!

If you search on the internet for a health industry term such as ‘HIV social media’ you’ll find thousands of results including social networks for HIV-positive singles, organisations using social media to promote their specific cause and mobile applications designed to help promote positive health awareness.

With such a huge scope to work from, it was important to select those most likely to be in use in Australia. As such the research focused on:

  • Website presence
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • YouTube
  • Twitter
  • Blogs
  • Flickr
  • Google+
  • Vimeo
  • MySpace
  • ‘Other’

An international snapshot

Before we delve into the specific nonprofit statistics, a brief review of some of the global statistics will help put them in perspective.

Let’s start with Facebook. As of April 2012, they had over 901 million user accounts globally and an estimated 13 million unique visitors to the Facebook website in Australia. Facebook advertising indicates there are almost 11 million registered users.

But, as with any statistics, you need to take these numbers with a grain of salt – people create multiple accounts so the actual registered users figure is like to of frequency of use or how engaged users are.

Moving on to Twitter with over 500 million registered users – Twitter themselves admit there are only 140 million active users. In Australia, the Twitter website receives around 1.8 million unique visitors a month.

LinkedIn is in a similar sphere with around 2 million registered users in Australia, and 96 million worldwide.

Newcomer Google+ recently announced they have 170 million registered users globally however like each of the others, the real figures in terms of actual use could be considerably lower.

Report findings

Our report, The State of Social Media Use in Australian Non-Profits, analysed just under 600 Australian non-profit organisations, with the majority (65%) being health and human services based.

Organisations were classified into annual revenue streams of up to $253 million and employed anywhere from zero to almost ten thousand staff.

The research, due for official release in June, used mainly secondary data sources to collect information about almost 600 non-profit organisations and how they used social media including posting frequency, customisation, fans and follower statistics and their presence, or lack of it, across multiple popular social media platforms.

Based on usage tendencies, the report also identified and ranked the top 19 non-profit organisations that utilise social media the best, in comparison to the remainder.

The research found that 97% of non-profits have a website presence. Being an established online marketing medium, this wasn’t really a surprise.

Neither was the fact that LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter were the four social media technologies that ranked next highest in use.

What did come a surprise is that non-profit organisations earning between $100,000 and $250,000 were the least likely to use social media, where organisations earning less than $100,000 or over $5,000,000 were the most likely to use social media.

However, organisations with more than one thousand staff were least likely to use blogs than any other classification of employed staff.

Where are they from?

Many social media platforms allow audience targeting through location based advertising, searches and/or posts. This allows organisations to better segment their audience through techniques such as location specific posts, offers, competitions or promotions. But did the location of the organisation’s head office affect which social media technologies they chose? Apparently so.

The location of most organisations’ head offices in this study were Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.

Queensland topped the highest use of Twitter, while NSW won out on YouTube and Google+ and came head to head with Victoria on Facebook use. Victoria took out first place with LinkedIn use and blogging.

What are they wearing?

Most social media platforms provide the ability for organisations to customise their page or mini-site with their own branding and tools. For example, Facebook allows imagery, logo and a custom URL for pages, as well as the ability to embed custom applications such as polls, donations, e-commerce, games and competitions, to name just a few.

Twitter and YouTube are more limited as their platforms aren’t currently built to accommodate on-page third party applications, however they do allow customisation of the background, colours and logo. Customisation is an important aspect of online media to reinforce an organisation’s core message, allow instant recognition, and generate credibility through the consistency and commonality of the organisation’s branding across dispersed platforms.

Customisation on the Facebook platform in particular with applications allows the organisation to bring together the disparate social media platforms into a ‘mini-website’ by enabling website, Twitter and YouTube integration for example.

The research found that almost 50% of Twitter and YouTube accounts were customised, with Facebook sitting lower at 32%.

Within Facebook Pages, 15% integrated YouTube, 12% of organisations integrated their Twitter accounts, and only 5% integrated their website in some form (for example RSS streaming of blog posts) indicating many organisations are failing to optimise the potential integration and subsequent increase in visitors and engagement across these sites.

Are they going to talk to me?

One of the most often asked questions we are asked in any seminar, workshop or training is ‘how often should I post to social media?’

The reality is that posting to social media is often more trial and error than a definitive science.

Organisations setup social media accounts for different reasons and with varying focus. Their goals differ and so do their audience demographics.

With this come differences in the acceptable number of posts before overwhelming (or underwhelming) visitors. This is all complicated by general lack of data around how often and when individuals actually log on and engage on each of these platforms.

These are the reasons why testing is your best answer.

Broadly though, our research found that on average organisations posted to Facebook around three times a week versus eight times on Twitter.

Facebook also had a higher average number of fans at 2,500, versus Twitter

at 570 followers. However, the fact that Twitter had a higher number of posts per week also alludes to the fact it is a more dynamic and fast paced online communications medium.

Within the research, we also analysed some of the top posters in the nonprofit sector. ACON topped everyone with 108 Facebook posts in a month, while the University of Adelaide gets a blue ribbon for tweeting more than 890 times in a month.

Making a fast exit

One of the most interesting areas of the study was learning which social media platforms had the highest abandonment rate.

We would all know at least one organisation which tried social media and gave up on it because it didn’t attract an audience (or the right audience), the engagement was low or non-existent, or the organisation simply underestimated the amount of time and effort that needs to go into social media to make it a successful marketing tool.

So which platform had the highest abandonment rate? It was the tool that has the potential to bring in the highest organic search engine optimisation (SEO) rankings, but also the one that would be most likely to require a greater investment in writing time – blogs.

31% of all the blogs analysed had no posts in the past three months. The figure dropped down to 6% for Facebook and 3% for Twitter.

Google+ was 14%, however, as it is less than a year old it is likely much experimentation is still happening with this platform.

The video sharing platforms were considered ‘abandoned’ after two years as videos tend to require a higher initial time investment than text-based content and aren’t created as often. As a result, YouTube had a 20% abandonment rate, followed up by 7% for Vimeo.

Given the data was collected based on what wasn’t already in the taxi heading home at the time, it should be kept in mind that social media tools like Twitter and Facebook may have a higher abandonment rate and they are simply closed down once it is recognised they are not working as a communications medium for the organisation.

The morning after

Throughout this research, the goal was to provide some intelligence to the non-profit sector about what other organisations are doing in the glittery, music pumping, fast-paced party known as social media.

Based on the results of the research, we have three morning after coffee shots to choose from:

  1. Test your conversation starters – you have some baseline statistics to work from, now test the frequency and messaging – even changing punctuation or asking a question will bring different results in posts, video descriptions and titles.
  2. Go matchy matchy – yes it’s a terrible fashion faux pas in the real world but at the social media party, consistent branding will help further your online goals and reinforce your brand.
  3. Seek to meet your target market – don’t just go to the party where are the popular people are going. Go to the one where the people you want to reach are hanging out.

Have fun!


Wirth Consulting, Google Ad Planner, Facebook, Google Blog, Twitter, LinkedIn Blog

Bianca Wirth is the Director and Lead Consultant at Wirth Consulting, a company that specialises in online technology research, analytics, development and training. If your organisation would like to obtain a copy of the complete research report or participate in future online technology research, please contact Bianca Wirth.