I began tracking the social media presence of free-market think tanks three years ago and shared the results in this column in 2014 and 2015. This past year once again showed growth in most areas, with the exception of website traffic. Think tanks are attracting more followers on their Twitter, Facebook, and even LinkedIn accounts but those who follow them on these social media platforms do not always go to their websites.
The Heritage Foundation ranked first among free-market groups. It ranks ahead Brookings in every social media platform except in its use of LinkedIn. Indeed, while themost recent think tank ranking list Brookings as the top think tank in the world, in the use of social networks, Heritage consistently edges out Brookings.
Below are the winning free-market think tanks in the U.S. and from around the world:
As is natural in such a dynamic and changing social media scene, think tanks are trying different strategies. Some are posting their promotional and advocacy videos on Facebook, rather than on YouTube. For instance, the Mises Institute in Brazil has more than 164,000 views of their video promoting their Master’s Program in Austrian Economics on Facebook, while their most popular video uploaded to YouTube has less than 5,000 views. Videos on Facebook, however, tend to be much shorter than on YouTube, which has no length limit. Fundación Libertad y Progreso, from Argentina, produced a very popular short video against Latin American populism, which starred young Guatemalan libertarian activist Gloria Alvarez. It was viewed close to one million times, and helped boost the number of subscribers to their You Tube channel to over 13,000. It defeated all the 2015 pro-free society promotional videos around the world.
In countries where freedom of the press is under attack, Twitter has become the premiere media outlet for think tanks. CEDICE, the courageous think tank in beleaguered Venezuela, continues to be the best example of this phenomenon. With 77,000 Twitter followers, CEDICE ranks first among foreign think tanks.
Unlike other social media platforms, which have gained significant traction over the past decade, LinkedIn has yet to leave its mark regarding Latin American think tanks. At least in the world of think tanks, LinkedIn is still primarily used as a tool for recruiters rather than as a platform for the dissemination of research or advocacy papers. Yet over the past few years, the number of LinkedIn followers has grown more than other social media platforms.
The leading free-market think tanks have seen their followers increase by over 50%. Heritage’s followers increased by 61%, Cato’s by 52%. The Mises Institute (U.S.), which lags behind the others in number of followers, grew at 77%. Among foreign think tanks, the Fraser Institute saw a 72% increase. I only recently began tracking American Enterprise Institute’s growth, so I do not have their year-to-year numbers, but with over 7,500 followers, they have surpassed Cato among market-oriented institutes to reach second place (after Heritage).
During the past year, I estimate that leading free-market think tanks attracted, on average, 20% more Twitter followers and on average, 20% more “likes.” (Facebook “likes” is a cumulative figure; very few people “unlike” a Facebook page). Foreign think tanks saw 50% more “likes.” Something similar happened with YouTube subscribers, which grew 20% on average for the leading U.S. think tanks and more than double that percentage for foreign groups. Yet, as stated above, this growth on social media platforms has not translated into an increase in web visitors. According to SimilarWeb traffic numbers most organizations saw their website traffic stagnate or go down close to 10%.
When it comes to LinkedIn, free-market think tanks are far ahead of their competitors in the academy and in media.Mercatus continues to lead in followers among academic-based think tanks, and National Review among on-line magazines, but they all ranked much lower than Heritage, Cato, or AEI.