Current trends in social media use

This past week I came across two interesting items while getting ready to deliver a presentation on social networking to a marketing group. According to a report from Nielsen, time spent on social media sites has tripled when you compare user numbers from August 2008 to August 2009. 17% of all time spent on the internet is being spent on social networking sites.

 

This echoes another trend that I find fascinating: Six years ago, the primary use of the internet was communication. Today, people spend over 40% of their time online consuming content. The internet facilitates our innate desire to connect with others and share.

So, having said that, where does your company or brand fit in? Are you listening to your customers? Are you giving them what they want? Are you engaging with them where they are congregating?

Have you seen yourself online through someone else’s eyes?

As regular readers of this blog know, I devote a lot of time to talking about how social networks are shaping our kids and that we, as parents, need to keep ourselves apprised of what’s going on out there in facebook-twitter-flickrland. The assumption tends to be that we need to keep an eye on our kids because they might do (or post) something dumb that might haunt them forever.

Even President Obama, in his back-to-school speech, explicitly warned kids about posting the wrong kind of stuff on facebook.Young people, the thinking goes, don’t have the benefit of life experience nor do they show sufficient discretion in terms of the things they choose to share online.

Perhaps. But I would argue that the real enemy of discretion is complacency. After you’ve spent a little time and you get comfortable on social networks, there is sometimes a tendency to let your guard down. As the economy continues its jobless recovery, did you know that 45% of HR professionals used social networks to research candidates occasionally? (Google, facebook and LinkedIn being the top three resources they checked, surprising no one.)

So if you were sitting in a job interview right now and the HR person asked, “Hey, mind if we pull up your facebook page real quick?” What would you say?

Now, because I’m a “glass half full” kind of guy, I should mention that the converse is also true: HR pros admitted to hiring because of what they saw on a candidate’s profile, citing “a positive look into the individual’s personality” or because the profile was professional, creative or “showed off the candidate’s skills.”

If you’re looking for a job, make sure you’re in that second group. It’s not just kids who post dumb stuff.

A (perhaps not so) obvious word about social networking

I noticed something in today’s paper that cell phone coverage in the US was now approaching 100%. (It’s already at something like 96.7%). The number of active social network users as a percentage of all Internet users is equally dumbfounding. Pretty soon it will not be hyperbolic to say “EVERYONE” is on fill-in-the-blank social network.

But what is that doing for us?

I think it’s important to remember that social networks are not new. Instant messaging and e-mail can probably vie for the title of “First Social Network.” facebook, twitter and all of today’s updated versions enhance and enrich our online experiences. For me, the intrinsic value of being networked online is to enhance my life offline. (Otherwise known as “real life.”)  My presence on the different social networks has brought immeasurable value, for reasons grand and trivial, business and personal.

It’s been said that facebook is for connecting with people you know and twitter is for connecting with those you’d like to know. I think there is a kernel of truth to that, but they’re certainly not the only two networks out there. (Although when I watch my local Fox sports channel and they tag their promos with “follow us on facebook and twitter,” I know we have crossed some invisible mass acceptance barrier.)

To those who complain of social network overload or to those who have been reluctant to jump in, I would ask if you have considered what your goals might be in joining or not joining. Social networks merely facilitate the primal need we all have to connect, share and interact.

Think of it that way.

Social Media for Your Business- a free seminar

I have to apologize for falling down on the job a bit as far as the podcast is concerned. I had pledged at the beginning of the year to release them more regularly since I noticed, to my delight, that the previous episodes from 2008 had been downloaded in surprising numbers. No excuses- I just have not gotten it done.

SO– to try and make up for some lost ground, I am releasing a slightly longer podcast, but one that I hope will bring some real value for those business owners, PR people and marketers who are looking to figure out the best way to incorporate social media into their overall communications plan. I have been speaking at a lot of conferences around the country delivering this message in one form or another, so I have decided to post it as a podcast for those of you who might be looking for a quick primer. The slides that go along with it can be found at at Slidshare.net and are available as a free download.

Here is the link to the podcast in iTunes. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.

Who uses social networks anyway?

Anderson Analytics has recently confirmed what many of us already knew about the most popular social networks out there, namely facebook, MySpace, twitter and LinkedIn. For marketers looking for good demographic and psychographic information about buying habits and areas of interest broken down by which social network they use, there is some good stuff here.

110 million Americans, which represents about 60% of the total online population, use social networks. That number might be low as the study only counted people who used a social network in the past month. The average social networker spends a LOT of time on them: 5 days a week, 4 times a day for at least an hour each day. 9% stay logged in all day keeping tabs on what’s new.

For brands considering a facebook page or twitter presence, 52% of users had friended or become a fan of a brand, illustrating that people are receptive to this type of engagement. Not surprisingly, 45% say they link only to family and friends, and another 18% saying they will only link to people they had met in person.

A quick breakdown by service:

facebook:

  • 77 million users
  • 40% married
  • 80% white
  • Average income $61,000
  • Average number of connections: 121

facebook showed a tremendous level of loyalty with 75% of users saying it was their favorite site and another 59% saying that had increased their use of the site in the past 6 months.

twitter:

  • Interests skew more towards news, restaurants, sports, politics, personal finance and religion.
  • More likely to use twitter to promote their blogs or their businesses
  • Average income $58,000
  • Average number of followers: 28; average number they follow: 32
  • 43% said they could live without twitter

MySpace:

  • Young, fun, but disappearing. Most said they had used the site much less in the last 6 months.
  • 67 million active uses (nothing to sneeze at)
  • Most joined for fun and are into humor, comedy and video games
  • Not big on exercising but, unexpectedly, they seek out parenting advice more than any other group.
  • Average income: $44,000
  • More likely to be black or hispanic, and 60% are single
  • 23% are students

LinkedIn:

Surprising no one, LinkedIn is all about business. Hey, that’s what it’s there for, right? It’s also the only service that skews more male than female (57%-43%).

  • Average income: $89,000
  • Interests skew towards news, employment info, sports and politics
  • More likely to to be into going to the gym, spas, yoga, golf and tennis
  • They are also into gadgets, although not too much gaming. Digital cameras, High-def TVs, DVRs and Blu-ray players. (So THEY’RE the 16 people who have bought a Blu-ray!)
  • They unwind by gambling online and, wait for it…., going online for soap opera content. (OK, I have NO idea what the significance of that is.)

The full report is supposed to be out now, so check their site for more details.

Moms, kids and social networking

Summertime seems to be ushering in a drop off in facebook traffic amongst the 18-25 set, although they still remain the dominant demographic. The last 30 days has seen a 3% drop in traffic among the college crowd, but it has also produced a bump of 1.5 million users among those over 35.According to some usage figures, active facebook users in the US now total 70 million, with 60% of them over 26.

When I speak in schools and to education trade groups, one of the biggest things I hear from parents is that they are afraid of what their kids are doing online. But a lot of this fear comes from a lack of knowledge. In other words, the parents themselves have not taken the time to jump on facebook or one of the other social networking services to see what all the fuss is about. Well, that might be changing. The popular parenting site Babycenter recently completed a pretty extensive study about the uptake among moms and they say that moms who use social media is up 462% since 2006. As always, these numbers should be kept in perspective since in 2006, the overall usage numbers of social media was nowhere near where it is today.

The more parents, teachers and administrators educate THEMSELVES about social networking, the better chance we will all have to help our kids become digitally savvy adults. Kids might get bummed out being “friended” by their parents or another adult relative. But it’s worth it if the end result is that we, as adults, learn the facts about living our lives online instead of responding to misinformation and negative hype.

iPhone 3GS and online video

Shortly after the iPhone was released a couple of years ago, in very short order it became the number one camera that people were using to upload photos to Flickr. What Apple figured out a long time ago is how to make the overall user experience a simple, intuitive and fun one.

The new iPhone 3GS now shoots and uploads video with just a couple of clicks. The result? YouTube reported that in the six days after the 3GS release, video uploads to the site increased by 400%.  But think about the potential if the phone had been widely available in Iran? What about for retailers who want to post quick updates about new shipments into their stores?

Video is still the most effective way to tell your story and the usage numbers continue to grow. We recently began the deployment of a series of videos for one of our clients and decided to use their facebook fan page as well as 6 or 7 different video sites including YouTube, Vimeo, Dailymotion, Metacafe, Yahoo and Blip. The lesson being you never know where people might be searching for information about your product or service, but you need to research the different methods of reaching them. YouTube is clearly the 800-pound gorilla, but it is important to reach people wherever they might be.

Technology continues to make this easier and easier.

Social Media is STILL Stupid

About one year ago, I wrote a tongue in cheek post entitled Social Media is Stupid. (Click the link to refresh your memory. Go ahead, I’ll wait…it was a short post.)

The inspiration for the post was from the inimitable Sarah Perez of ReadWriteWeb back in May 2008 where she outlined how social media could be used to support social causes such as the victims of the Chinese earthquake, tornado victims in Corvida, charities, social causes, news gathering and social good.

Well, the stupidity of social media is rearing its head once again, this time in Iran. Iranians inside the country, and millions around the world who support those who challenge the recent elections, are blogging, posting to facebook and using twitter to coordinate their protests.  By using the hashtag #iranelection, all tweets on this topic can be organized and searched on a moment’s notice. (Go to search.twitter.com and enter #iranelection to see how it works.) Even though the government has attempted to shut down texting and internet access, enterprising citizens have figured out a way around the roadblocks.

The next time you hear someone who has never used twitter, or any other new media tool for that matter, but who has a fully formed opinion peppered with such enlightened observations like, “Why do I care what you had for lunch today?”, fill them in on what I’ve written about here.

We are in the middle of a worldwide communications revolution, folks. facebook and twitter may not be the standard bearers on into the future, but how much more proof do you need that things have changed forever?

Social networking and automation- Not a great idea

I am going to get up on my soapbox for a second.

At the risk of railing on a topic that potentially no one cares about, here goes..

It is becoming common practice for people to tie their facebook and twitter accounts together so that one update will hit both services simultaneously. I think this is a bad strategy for a few reasons.

1- Not everyone on facebook uses, or understands, twitter. The constant flow of updates makes facebook feel very spammy and creates confusion for those who do not use twitter. They are two VERY different ecosystems that even use their own language. facebook updates and posts have no limit to their length or what media you can use, whereas twitter updates are confined to 140 characters and use a language for communicating that employs all kinds of abbreviations, codes and shorthand. facebook updates tend to be much less frequent, and can be richer in nature with the ability to add multiple photos, video, links, etc.

2- In my case, and I am quite sure I am not alone in this, the people in my twitterverse are not the same as those in facebookland. For that reason alone, it is disrespectful to treat them both the same. Additionally, there are probably things you might tweet about that you might not want, or your friends might not want, on facebook.

3- Social media/social networking adoption is growing at a breakneck pace. Yet one of the core values that define them are transparency and authenticity. The minute you start automating processes, you are a robot who is sending out spam and not honestly participating in a conversation. Scalability and time management are all valid rationalizations for automation. But they are also the fast lane to irrelevance for you and your message. Ari Adler had a terrific post about this very topic recently. This quote stuck out for me: “The
idea of automating to save time and update all your status boxes at
once may seem appealing, but it’s really akin to just walking into
every meeting and social gathering with a bullhorn, shouting out
whatever is on your mind and not caring if the people in the room will
get it or even care.”

Take this example offline for a second into the “real” world. You and I are talking about the chances for success of a lasting peace agreement in the Middle East, and out of left field you start telling me about this awesome blog post you just read about the new Star Trek movie. It’s supposed to be a conversation- are you even LISTENING to me?

Online communications, done right, serve to facilitate offline ones. You are putting yourself out there with EVERY POST YOU MAKE NO MATTER WHERE YOU MAKE IT. People make all kinds of decisions, assumptions and judgements about you, consciously or unconsciously. Make sure that they’re thinking that:

A- This person/company/entity adds value to the conversation.

B- This person/company/entity respects what I think and does not treat me like a number.

C- This person/company/entity cares about my needs and can help solve my problems, whether that problem is finding a good place to eat, choosing a PR firm or getting a good deal on a flight to the Middle East.

There is a perception that social media is easy, free and does not require much thought. My goal is to disabuse you, dear reader, of all three of those assumptions.

I will get down off my soapbox now, but I want to know if you agree or disagree. Please leave a comment.

AT&T uses twitter for customer service. Do you?

When larger companies contemplate a social media strategy, there are tons of challenges. Social media, by definition, implies a conversation and it’s easier to maintain a conversation with a few hundred or maybe even a thousand engaged partners. When you start to get up into the millions, the challenges multiply.

All of us have felt angry and powerless against a faceless cable company, appliance manufacturer, phone company or computer company. Customer service is the difference maker in closing the sale and maintaining relationships, but so many companies fall down in that area, too. We have all found ourselves speaking to a drone who was reading a script and offering vague promises that you both knew were not going to be met.

As I consult with small and medium sized companies and help them plan their social media strategy, one of the things I like to remind them is that they better hope that people are talking about them. They might be saying nice things or bad things, but you hope they’re talking. So many fear that people will say bad things about them. Here’s the reality: when people are not talking about you AT ALL, THAT’S when you have a real problem. But I digress…

The power of free social media tools like facebook and twitter or paid monitoring services like Radian6 or DNA13 is that now you have the opportunity to hear and participate in those conversations and engage and connect. You can make an enthusiast into a brand ambassador or maybe even assuage an unhappy customer. Sometimes you will lose a customer, despite your best efforts. But isn’t it better to have had the chance to at least HEAR what that unhappy customer had to say and take a shot at bringing them back to the fold?

I had a huge problem this week with AT&T and I got, frankly, what I would call despicable customer service from them. It didn’t seem to bother them that my home phone was ringing in someone else’s house and his in mine.(I wonder if he took any messages?)  No one considered the privacy implications, at least they didn’t do so overtly, and they didn’t seem too put out when they told me that 4 or 5 days might go by until they fixed it. Now, I have heard all the twitter stories about “influentials” with 10 or 20,000 followers who make a big stink online and get their way. My number of followers does not stack up, but I decided to take my case to twitter court and see if justice would be served. Within 10 minutes of my first “AT&T sucks” tweet around 4pm, I got a follow from a local AT&T media relations person. That led to two phone calls from AT&T repair folks and finally two more calls from the repair tech himself down the street from my house. By 7pm, my phone was back working again. The experience reminded me of an incident that happened very early on in my professional life that made a huge impression on me.  I started out at the (once) venerable William Morris Agency in Beverly Hills and I recall  an agent sending out a company-wide e-mail asking for help getting something (I don’t recall what it was now) for an “important client.” Within minutes, the CEO of the company did a “reply all” saying, “All our clients are important clients.”

If a huge company like AT&T can get it together to reach out to a disgruntled customer, why can’t your company?