New 2017 Ranking Of Free-Market Think Tanks Measured By Social Media Impact

Por Alejandro Chafuen: Publicado el 8/3/17 en: https://www.forbes.com/sites/alejandrochafuen/2017/03/08/new-2017-ranking-of-free-market-think-tanks-measured-by-social-media-impact/#723a074e70cc

 

Free-Market think tanks continue to expand their efforts to disseminate their work and influence public opinion through diverse social media platforms. In my article last year, I stated that the website traffic at most think tanks was not growing at the same rate as their social media presence. If we focus on unique visitors, the same holds for this past year: most think tanks had negligible growth. SimilarWeb, which provides open access to most of its data, measures total (rather than unique) visits. According to their figures, total visits to the leading free-market think tanks grew by 78%.

When looking at think tank presence in the most popular social media platforms, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram, The Heritage Foundation continues to be ranked first among free-market groups. It also ranks ahead of Brookings in Facebook, Twitter, and web traffic. Brookings leads in number of YouTube subscribers and in its use of LinkedIn. Brookings has subsidiaries in three countries, India, China and Qatar, and many of its scholars and researchers across the globe stay connected through LinkedIn. Both groups are considerably ahead of Chatham House (U.K.), which, despite poor social media presence, edged Brookings as the top ranked think tank in the 2016 Go To Think Tank Index report.

Below are the winning free-market think tanks in the U.S. and from around the world (data compiled during the first two weeks of February 2017):

  • Most Facebook likes (U.S.)Heritage Foundation (2,072K); (Non U.S.): Instituto Mises, Brasil(245K)
  • Most Twitter followers (U.S.): Heritage Foundation (588K); (Non U.S): CEDICE, Venezuela (85K)
  • Most monthly visitors to website (SimilarWeb, U.S.): Heritage Foundation (3,000K); (Non U.S.): Instituto Mises, Brasil (647K)
  • Most subscribers to YouTube Channel (U.S.): American Enterprise Institute(110K); (Non U.S.): Fundación Libertad y Progreso, Argentina (18K)
  • Most views of YouTube video uploaded in 2016 (U.S.): (872K); (Non U.S.): Fundación Libertad y Progreso, Argentina (44K)
  • Most minutes viewed on a You Tube video (last 12 months) (U.S): Heritage Foundation (4,873K); (Non U.S.) Fundación Libertad y Progreso (138K)
  • Most LinkedIn Followers (U.S.): Heritage Foundation (10,8K); (Non U.S.); Fraser Institute, (Canada) (3,6K)
  • Instagram followers (U.S.): Mises Institute (12,400); (Non U.S.): Istituto Bruno Leoni (Italy) (533)
  • Klout (U.S.): Cato (91); (Non U.S.), Adam Smith Institute (U.K.) (80)

The leaders in free-market media, magazines, and news outlets include:

  • Most Facebook likes: com(Media Research Center) (2,114K)
  • Most Twitter followers: National Review (224K)
  • Most monthly visitors to website (SimilarWeb): National Review (15,000K)
  • Most subscribers to YouTube Channel: Prager U (607K)
  • Most views of YouTube video (uploaded in 2016):  CNSnews.com (3,500K)
  • Most minutes viewed on a You Tube video (last 12 months): CNSnews.com (18,650K)
  • Klout: Magazines, National Review (91); Advocacy: FreedomWorks (82)

Among student advocacy organizations, Turning Point USA continued with its growth and ranks first in Twitter followers. It surpassed Students for Liberty in Facebook likes, quadrupling its number of likes from last year. Young Americans for Liberty, the older organization, ranks first in Facebook likes and also leads in YouTube subscribers. Students for Liberty ranks first in monthly web visits (50k) though all the main webpages of these three groups have low traffic.

Among grassroots mobilization organizations, FreedomWorks continues to be ahead of Americans for Prosperity in all social media platforms except on YouTube and Instagram. Instagram is growing among the younger population. In this platform, Prager U (43K) is the leader, followed by National Review, 23K and Mises Institute (US), 12K.

Independent think tanks continue to have much better social media outcomes than university-affiliated groups, such as the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and Mercatus, at George Mason University.  In this subsector, Hoover leads Mercatus in all social media outcomes except on its Klout score and in its use of LinkedIn (82 vs 62 in Klout; 1,420 vs 837 in LinkedIn followers).

In order to analyze and compare use of social media by think tanks and universities, I usually consult with Emma Alvarez of IESE in Barcelona, one of the top ten business schools, which has campuses in 7 cities and 5 continents. Its LinkedIn network has passed 80K.

Alvarez explains that universities, which tend to have more activity in LinkedIn than independent think tanks, had to adapt to an important change: until now, this platform had two sites for each school. One focused on the university and information about it, the other, on the alumni. LinkedIn has now combined these two pages, which helps brand consistency. The network of graduates, the most active users, can now find all the information in only one site. Alvarez adds that, “at the platform level, I have seen a clear trend towards the commercialization of services.” Most organizations that keep an active presence and add content regularly are seeing an increase in traffic but much of it is paid, not organic. According to Alvarez, “organic reach is on decline.”

All platforms continue to revise and test their algorithms, formulas they use to choose which posts to highlight. The last major change for Facebook aimed to encourage institutional accounts, in this case, think tanks and universities, to invest in advertising. It prioritizes content rather than brand (the name of the organization).

Twitter is following suit, and also changed its algorithm. It now gives priority to the “best” tweets, those that attract more impressions and mentions, rather than the latest tweet. The reality is that brands lose priority and reach.

LinkedIn is also reinforcing payment models. Based on the information they pull out of LinkedIn profiles, they enhanced the information available in the institutional profile, however, it is accessible only to Premium users. It has also restricted some other functions, such as sending notes to contacts, so that only Premium members can use it. After the purchase of Lynda.com, they are also getting into the business of distance learning, so the platform is poised for growth.

With the reduction in organic growth and the increase in views due to advertising, it gets harder to calculate how much of the traffic is producing vanity metrics. CEOs of think tanks might be tempted to increase spending in social media advertising in order to look good to donors and their boards. Tracking expenses in social media and their impact on more relevant outcomes (policy changes, budget growth, and others) is a must for good stewards.

Regarding content, Facebook is betting on audiovisual content and livestreaming. The goal is to weaken YouTube’s dominance. YouTube, however, continues to be the leader in social media video communications. Alvarez adds, “as for Instagram and Snapchat, they are growing, but I do not think they will overthrow the big platforms. Instagram, as part of Facebook, will always have a great backing, especially when they implement updates. Snapchat is still focused on a very junior niche.” Think tanks are just beginning to use this platform, so for this article, we did not measure their presence on Snapchat.  At least for those of us working at universities and university-type think tanks, Alvarez recommends continued focus on LinkedIn. She is convinced that after being purchased by Microsoft, it will continue to evolve and improve. LinkedIn is focusing on growing its more junior market and “the added value of its marked professional positioning puts it ahead of the rest.”

Towards a combined social media score 

There is no perfect way to combine all these social media outcomes into one measurement that would allow us to properly rank organizations. Klout tries to do this and their scores show some correlation with actual measurements. We are beginning to test alternatives. For the combined measurement appearing in the first column of the table, we assumed that traffic in all these media platforms feed into each other. We then tried to figure out a relationship between them, e.g. how many Twitter followers, or how many YouTube subscribers, or LinkedIn connections correspond to one Facebook “like.” For lack of sufficient data, we made two separate rankings, with and without LinkedIn data.

Here the results for the groups we analyzed without taking LinkedIn data into consideration.

Combined score of Social Media Ranking = Facebook Likes + 4.333 times Twitter Followers+ 1.479 times Youtube subscribers (in 000's). Data collected during first two weeks of February 2017.

Table by Alejandro Chafuen

Combined score of Social Media Ranking = Facebook Likes + 4.333 times Twitter Followers+ 1.479 times Youtube subscribers (in 000’s). Data collected during first two weeks of February 2017.

We had the unexpected result that the more a group used LinkedIn, the less likely they were to score well on other platforms. This might be because we included some university-based groups, and the more academic the think tank, the higher proportion of LinkedIn activity and the less Facebook presence.

Social media outcomes are only one type of measurement. Think tanks in Canada, especially the Fraser Institute, and several in Latin America, receive a superb coverage in traditional media. But social “electronic” media will continue to become increasingly relevant for most aspects of think tank work. These platforms are changing each year, not only in technology but also in ownership and business model. In order to be more effective and be better stewards of their resources, free-market think tanks need to assess their social media strategy at least once a year, and some of us will continue to evaluate them.

Tarun Vats (Atlas Network) collaborated with data analytics. Sofie O’Mara and Mariana Zepeda helped collect data for this piece. 

 

Alejandro A. Chafuén es Dr. En Economía por el International College de California. Licenciado en Economía, (UCA), es miembro del comité de consejeros para The Center for Vision & Values, fideicomisario del Grove City College, y presidente de la Atlas Economic Research Foundation. Se ha desempeñado como fideicomisario del Fraser Institute desde 1991. Fue profesor de ESEADE.

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