David Leavitt's picture

David Leavitt

Senior Vice President, Digital

David likes to brag about that one time when he was invited to give a speech at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. At Weber Shandwick, David uses his journalism background to create digital content strategies. He served for seven years as an editor at the online news service Greenwire and two years at the National Journal, where he edited the daily syndicated news feed for MSNBC.com and Fox News. Tucked away in a box in his basement is a diploma from the University of Rochester in New York, where David graduated cum laude, majoring in media studies and minoring in journalism and history.


Member for
6 years 20 weeks
Jun 15

At age 7, Facebook has matured

David Leavitt

Flickr Creative Commons photo by birgerking.

By now you’ve seen the mind-boggling numbers: Facebook has over 500 million users in 190 countries, half of whom log into Facebook every day.
It seems like every time I look up the numbers, they’ve grown exponentially.

Until now.

Facebook lost 6 million U.S. members last month, according to the Wall Street Journal. Facebook has always lost members, either when people quit or when the company deletes duplicate and fake accounts. But until now the high growth rate had masked it.

What happened? Have people in the United States finally stopped flocking to social networking sites?

No, that’s not it. In fact, Facebook’s Internet domination is just as intact as ever. More than 2.5 million websites use “Facebook Platforms,” meaning that people commonly engage with Facebook even when they’re not on Facebook’s website. And an average of 10,000 new websites integrate with Facebook Platforms every day.

What’s happening is that Facebook has reached a membership saturation point in the United States. As Slate’s Farhad Manjoo points out, this is common for Facebook once it hits 50 percent market penetration within a country. Manjo adds: “Facebook is now experiencing something unprecedented in the short history of social networking—it has captured every plausible user.”

Remember, a third of Americans don’t have broadband — there’s a large swath of our country for whom joining Facebook is more complicated than it sounds.
This situation isn’t likely to change radically, either. After all, more than half of Americans disagree with federal government efforts to expand broadband connections around the nation, saying those projects are not important, according to a Pew Center survey.

For now, Facebook must focus on entertaining the U.S. members they have rather than continuing to expand and grow their American user base.

Apr 5

Androids and iPhones

David Leavitt

Flickr Creative Commons photo
by Yukata Tsutano

It’s a fact: more people have Android-based smartphones than iPhones.
Overall, about 75 percent of the smartphones sold today are not iPhones (and are instead Blackberrys, Androids, Windows or Palm phones). For that reason, creating only iPhone-optimized content isn’t ideal for marketers trying to reach the masses.
So why does the iPhone get so much attention?
The answer has little to do with market share and more to do with who iPhone users are.
iPhone users are more likely to have high incomes and more likely to pay for digital content. About 40 percent of iPhone users earn over $100,000 per year, compared to 28 percent of Android users, according to Nielsen.
That’s what makes the iPhone an ideal platform for marketers trying to reach an elite audience that is often in the purchasing mood.

Mar 17

Texting is the new texting

David Leavitt

Several members from the Social Impact team are down at the South By Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas. They'll be sharing their insights from the festival here on this blog.

Most innovation in the digital communications space is about speed and size. Faster computers. Smaller computers. Mobile phones that give users access to a library of hundreds of thousands of programs.

But sometimes it's the simplest ideas that prove to be the most transformative.

The most useful products coming out of SXSW this year are among the most basic and (for the most part) use technology that was available years ago: group texting apps for mobile phones.

GroupMe, GroupedIn, Beluga and other group messaging apps, the hot trend at SXSW this year, let people create groups of friends/colleagues/family. Users can instantly share text messages, photos and even call all members of their customized group at once in a conference call.


Yes, that's it.

Sure, email accomplishes many of the same things (you can start an email conversation with multiple people, each of whom can "reply all" to the group). And email has no word-count limits or photo restrictions.

But when you're on the go and meeting friends, nothing is more convenient than texting. Especially in crowded areas with weak cell phone reception. Your message is also more likely to be read immediately via text than email – a text message is read within 4 minutes while an email could take up to 48 hours, making texting 720 times faster.

Among the youngest mobile phone users, text messaging is the mostly widely used digital communications tool. And older users are texting more than they ever have.

As a result, it's only natural that the latest trend is to nurture that love for texting with apps that help us do it more efficiently and with a richer experience.

Mar 14

Are QR codes the next big thing?

David Leavitt

Several members from the Social Impact team are down at the South By Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas. They'll be sharing their insights from the festival here on this blog.

The interactive portion of South By Southwest is under way, which means the inevitable discussion of what "next big thing" will make a splash here. After all, this festival is widely credited with introducing Twitter (2007) and Foursquare (2009) to the masses.

By now, you've probably heard plenty about QR codes, the matrix barcodes that store data (text, a URL, etc.) for camera phones to read. For example, a magazine ad that doesn't have room to give all of the information about a product can include the QR code for people to scan and learn more. But has this type of marketing hit the mainstream?

Not even close.

True, they're prevalent here at SXSW in the form of flyers, posters, billboards and even t-shirts. But even among the crowd here -- the most digitally plugged in slice of America -- there does not appear to be broad QR usage.

That said, things will change quickly. At the moment, 234 million Americans 13 and older use mobile devices and 65.8 million have smartphones. Surely the smartphone numbers will continue to climb. Have you been to a cellphone store recently? They barely even sell non-smartphones (called "feature phones") anymore.

It will take a couple more years for people to cycle through their feature phones and become equipped with the type of device that could read QR codes.

Only when we've reached that point can we can finally address the question of whether people want to scan an advertisement for more information.  

Feb 14

Tweeting with a purpose

David Leavitt

Social Impact is a sponsor of Social Media Week. We'll be sharing some insights from the conference here on this blog.

There seems to be a backlash about the important place social media has in our lives. People such as Malcolm Gladwell have written extensively that the value of Facebook and Twitter is overblown when it comes to creating social change.

Much of Gladwell’s reasoning is flawed, but his pessimism does force us to be clearer about our goal with social media. For those of us looking to make a difference though activism campaigns, Gladwell is right that the challenge is to build and mobilize online communities rather than simply make noise.

During a Social Media Week event, The Yes Men co-founder Andy Bichlbaum compared social media tools to the phone trees that spurred people to action in the 1960s. The telephone has played a big role in information sharing over the years, but we don’t hold the telephone accountable for the lack of social activism the way Gladwell and others blame Facebook for societal apathy.

In real life it can be our nature to be passive, and it should come as no surprise that we can be the same way on Facebook. That is, it’s easy to “like” a cause on Facebook, but it is a much bigger lift to donate money, show up at a rally and vote on Election Day.

As Naomi Hirabayshi of DoSomething.org put it, real change in social entrepreneurship takes place offline, but word of mouth (and its online equivalent, which is social networking) is the best way to share trusted information.

Feb 11

Using maps to tell a story

David Leavitt

Social Impact is a sponsor of Social Media Week. We'll be sharing some insights from the conference here on this blog.

You may not know it, but you’re familiar with geographic information systems (GIS). After all, GIS has been in the mainstream for about 20 years ever since people began accessing maps on their home computers.

You likely use GIS through online mapping tools such as MapQuest or Google Maps.

These days, geospatial librarians and historians (yes, such people exist) study human behavior through maps.

By overlaying historical maps on present-day maps, “we can get into digital time travel,” historian Jack Eichenbaum told a Social Media Week gathering.

To Matt Knutzen, geospatial librarian at the New York Public Library, maps aren’t about geography. They’re about relating all kinds of human experiences through spatial information in the form of photos, newspaper mentions or just about any other form of data imaginable. And they’re about providing real-world context to huge data sets through visualization.

Foursquare users, who “check-in” to locations they visit and leave tips for their friends, are leaving behind a trove of information. As Foursquare’s Alex Rainert points out, historical data becomes a master key to help connect through time.Using foursquare and other GIS applications, our world is creating an enormous amount of personal historical data.

For historians in the future, a world with decades of Foursquarecheck-in data and geo-located Tweets could prove useful when studying our social habits.

But for now, there’s plenty of information for us to study.The New York Public Library has digitized about 10,000 historical maps, and sites such as http://oasisnyc.org/ collect publicly available GIS data. There are even tools such as http://IssueMap.org/ that will help you create thematic maps.

Every organization has an important message. Can maps help tell your story?

Feb 11

Don’t forget to act like a human

David Leavitt

Social Impact is a sponsor of Social Media Week. We'll be sharing some insights from the conference here on this blog.

An important theme from Social Media Week is acting like we’re human. It’s hard to believe we need this reminder, but when nonprofits and other organizations create social media profiles, they need to keep this in mind.

Organizations need to ask themselves, “Who am I?” recommended Benjamin Palmer of the Barbarian Group.

Rather than simply asking people to “like” you on Facebook, share what you yourself like, he said. “Nobody likes a one-sided relationship.”

After all, Palmer noted, would you want to hang out with a person who talks only about himself all day long? Probably not.

Watch the rest of Palmer’s speech here:

Feb 10

The glass is half full

David Leavitt

Social Impact is a sponsor of Social Media Week. We'll be sharing some insights from the conference here on this blog.

We hear a lot about social networks dominating the Internet landscape. And indeed they do – Facebook alone is nearing 600 million users, half of whom access the site every day.

Martin Green, Meebo COO

But where does that leave the rest of the Web? Is there room for sites offering original content? News and information? Gaming? Commerce?

You bet.

If social network sites account for 35 percent of total Internet traffic, which is a stat cited several times here at Social Media Week, then the “rest of the Web” accounts for about 65 percent of total traffic.

Speaking to a Social Media Week crowd, Meebo’s Martin Green advised nonprofits to build deeper relationships with their advocates and website visitors. For example, Pandora and Netflix tailor their experiences to each user. "Pandora knows more about your music preferences than your friends do,” Green pointed out. “What if browsing the Web was like that?"

Watch the rest of Green’s speech here:


Watch live streaming video from smw_newyork_jwt at livestream.com
Dec 14

Integrating the online and offline worlds

David Leavitt

The New York Times made waves last year by becoming the first major newspaper to hire an editor-level position dedicated to new media. By creating a position for Jennifer Preston called “social media editor,” the paper appeared to be placing a high priority on expanding the new operation’s social platforms.

When I met Preston during Social Media Week earlier this year, she echoed the sentiment she told reporters after being hired: “Everyone recognizes that there is tremendous opportunity with these social media sites to use them to make our journalism stronger.”

At first, I was surprised to hear the news last week that the New York Times plans to eliminate the social media editor position. After all, hadn’t the newspaper made a commitment to social media?

After reading the news account from the Poynter Institute, it turns out that the decision shows an even stronger commitment to social media by fully integrating it into the rest of the news operations rather than leaving it as a separate unit.

“Social media can’t belong to one person. It needs to be part of everyone’s job,” Preston told the Poynter Institute. “It has to be integrated into the existing editorial process and production process. I’m convinced that’s the only way we’re going to crack the engagement nut.”

That’s exactly our point of view at Weber Shandwick — I’m proud to be part of the Social Impact digital team, but the truth is that in one way or another digital is part of everything we do for Social Impact.

After all, we don’t have online-only or an offline-only lifestyles. We move between those worlds seamlessly, and our work with nonprofits and foundations should reflect that.

UPDATE: 4:45 p.m. EST, Dec. 16

Advertising Age has much more on this topic, including an explanation in Preston's own words about why she approached the New York Times about decentralizing the responsibilities associated with her position.

Nov 30

Our Thoughts: New social network for nonprofits goes live

David Leavitt

Chris Hughes, the Facebook co-founder who served as director of online organizing for the 2008 Obama campaign, turned 27 last week. Not one to rest on his laurels, the young entrepreneur launched his newest project today: a social media site to “connect individuals and organizations working to change the world.”

The new venture is called Jumo, which means “together in concert” in the West-African language of Yorùbá. The goal is to inspire engagement around nonprofits and foundations — users can donate money, ask questions and chat about a nonprofit’s work.

Already, over 3,500 nonprofits and NGOs have pages within the site.

The question for me is whether this fills a void in the social media world. Did the world need another social media site to follow the likes of Facebook Causes, Causecast, Razoo, Firstgiving and JustGiving?

Of all people in the world, Chris Hughes knows a thing or two about creating a social network from scratch, having had a hand in creating two of the world’s most successful social media platforms: Facebook and the My.BarackObama.com network.

I’m looking forward to seeing whether Jumo can do for nonprofit community what Facebook did for the larger social networking crowd and My.BarackObama.com did for political organizing.

UPDATE: 5 p.m. EST, Nov. 30

I asked my colleague Jackie Titus for her thoughts on this new site:

Jackie: It’s safe to say we’re all eager to see what’s to come of this new site, though gauging from online chatter and personal experience the site is not ready for high traffic demands. While I wait for my account to activate we can certainly acknowledge that Jumo will have to first iron out some performance issues. Putting this aside, David raises an important point by asking if this new platform will offer a new or different experience from the sites that are already out there.

I think Jumo can offer a different experience because it is prioritizing the individual’s interest in an issue as the first step in joining the network. From the start, you define your engagement with the platform by the causes you care about and then connect with like-minded organizations. It is a shift from the Facebook approach in which you find your friends first and can then be influenced by your social network on what causes you support.

The Jumo platform offers some great opportunities for organizations themselves. I am most interested by the ability to pull multiple social streams into once place. As a user, I prefer the experience of clicking on one page to see recent blog posts, Twitter updates, and interactions from other followers of this organization. If Jumo delivers on its intended purpose to “deepen the ties between its users and their favorite causes” creating a social hub for the organization could be a step in the right direction.

It will be interesting to watch how the 3,500 nonprofits who are already a part of the network continue to use the site.

Do you think it offers a unique enough experience for organizations to invest the time and effort?