On the Relevance of Social Media
This was originally posted in slightly altered form on trevorpott.com, in response to comments made on The Register for an article written for that publication. A copy of the original article is posted in Tech Blog under the title Internet: Do you speak it?
First: let’s admit that there does not exist primary science that conclusively and definitively pegs the exact percentage of our population for whom a social media site has become “the lens through which they view all content on the internet.” I would go so far as to say that this is A) an impossibility and B) functionally irrelevant. The percentage will be in constant flux as the habits of individuals (and groups) change.
But there are a number of studies that have been conducted so far that hint at this, and the reality of it is considered “common knowledge” amongst a certain brand of IPM nerd. The proof will out when the science is done, but studies to really refine the error bars around the exact percent of users for whom this is true are only now getting underway.
One person you could talk to about this is Scott Galloway, professor at NYU School of Business. He is considered one of the more notable digital strategy experts. Consider also the numerous studies being done showing how little email is being used by young people, with Facebook rapidly slotting into the role that email once filled. (Many argue that Twitter is slotting into the role that Google once filled.)
Dr. Michael Fenichel – amongst many, many others – has done a great deal of hard, primary research into Facebook/Social Media/Internet usage. Indeed, their research has convinced them that Facebook/Internet Addiction Disorder is a very real phenomenon, and should be added to the DSM V.
Beyond that, there are numerous industry studies that have noted – and then explored in depth – the reality of particular social media sites becoming “the entire internet” for some segments of the population. These are studies performed not by organisations who would benefit from Facbook/Twitter/etc. becoming a vehicle for advertising, but rather by organisations who have a driving need to know exactly how people shop, how they do product research and what influences their decisions.
Starting in 2007 we have a report from private equity firm Veronis Suhler Stevenson and PQ Media. They note that for the first time in decades, 2007 saw people spend less time on traditional media and more time on the internet. The study also noted a huge uptick in advertiser spending online as well as consumer online purchasing. They predicted that by 2011, the Internet would be the largest advertising medium.
They were right.
In the intervening years, hundreds of studies have been run on the topic. In 2009, we have a study from the Retail Advertising and Marketing Association (via BIGresearch). They concluded – amongst other things – that moms (women with children younger than 18) spend way more time on social media than anyone else. They also use social media for product research, trusting peer opinion above all other review methodologies.
Pew research in 2010 concluded that 58% of all Americans have done research for products online, numbers that start to get a lot larger as you adjust to look at the critical 18-32 age bracket. While there was no social media component to this study, the thing that got everyone’s attention was the fact that internet users in higher-income brackets do significantly more online research than those in lower income brackets.
In September 2011, Nielsen released a report saying that social media (in which they include blogs) account for nearly 25% of all time spent online. That’s more than double the amount of time spent in online games. 3/4 of all internet users participate in social media.
Critically, 60% of people with “three or more digital means of research for product purchases” discovered retailers or brands from a social networking site. According to the same study, Americans spend significantly more time on Facebook – 53.5% – than any other site.
Again, these are merely sample studies I am discussing. There are hundreds of studies – and a lot of primary science – that cover this area of discussion. Suffice it to say that the most critical demographic – 18 to 32 year olds – are strongly influenced by social media. So much so that they skew the statistics for “all internet users” towards the realm of “depressing amounts of time spent on Facebook.”
That “the internet” is for some – indeed for an increasing number – Facebook, Twitter, Reddit or so forth is not merely my opinion. It is the considered opinion of several experts in the area; I have merely taken notice. More importantly; this trend is increasing.
These social media websites are now the lens through which an ever increasing percentage of our population absorb their daily dose of internets.