Social Media Reality Check

I’ve become more and more enamored with the concept of “social” media and the natural extension of it…social marketing. As I speak to groups, approach the subject with potential clients, or discuss it with colleagues in the social media world, I have to keep reminding myself to be aware of who actually uses this relatively new medium. Please note that the “media” of social media is the new part. The “social” has been around a whole lot longer!

To give myself a social media reality check, and to give me some fuel for a presentation and discussion at a recent UnSummit, I decided to ask my community about their use, or even awareness of social media. In this case, “my community” is made up of the people in my neighborhood, my social circles, and those I see regularly through my kid’s activities; the soccer and baseball parents I see…often.

Being the research geek that I can be at times I decided to put together an online survey of 10 questions, which I then sent out to about 50 people. I received some 30 odd responses to serve as the basis for my reality check. Okay, this is far from scientific. It’s a brief overview with very little screening involved. Anybody who got the e-mail could respond regardless of age, social standing, or tech savvy. You can download a one sheet of the results here if you’d like but remember, these tables are a basis for discussion. Let’s take a look…

First and foremost, the group is predominantly 35 years old and over…ahhh, my peeps, but also a good representation of your average Joe Six-pack.

As expected, the big dogs of social networking had the most awareness while the relatively new entries had less. MySpace, Facebook, YouTube dominated in awareness of the sites and services covered. The interesting point is the difference in awareness vs. actual use. 85.2% are aware of MySpace, yet only 14.8% have a page. 92.6% know about Facebook, yet 25.9% actually have a profile.

Take a look at the Twitter column. Twitter may dominate the discussion in the social media and tech world but is recognized by only 14.8% of the respondents and used by…none.

It was quite satisfying to see that 79% said that they read blogs. Though they don’t read them as often as us bloggers like, it’s not too shabby with a full third reading them once a week.

Lastly, there were a few questions addressing the tools of communication. Make no mistake; with 92% possessing a home computer and cell phone, these folks have embraced the technology. Remember, technology is something that wasn’t around when you were born, so at least they have and accepted the tools to access social media no matter what your hear about people over 40 being computer impaired.

You might also note that the cell phone is the preferred personal communication method and at work; it’s email. Ah, the fear of personal confrontation in the workplace…

So here’s what I take away from this. If you’re trying to convince your company that they should have a Twitter account or MySpace page to reach their customers or audience who don’t happen to be under 35 or in tech, don’t throw up your hands and walk away in disgust. No, you may not be reaching them right now…but there is upside. Remember, awareness is the hard part. The average Joe knows the technology and services are out there, they just haven’t gotten to it…yet.

As a result of our discussion of these numbers at the UnSummit it is quite clear that the younger end of the audience is more prone to using social media and the tech-early-adopter world flat out loves it. On the other hand the 35+ group will be slower to come around. They have different views about what should be private, what is safe, and what threats can become reality in the interactive world. Many of these folks…especially “my community” or parents reflected here…are concerned about protecting their kids. Consider this, when those kids grow up and move away, how do you think these parents will stay in touch with their kids? It doesn’t appear to be the US Postal Service

I think there is great potential in what groups of people and their relationships can provide to marketers. However, until there is real access to large groups of people each element of a media strategy should play off the other. So introduce the Facebook page, set up a FriendFeed account, get on Twitter, but do it in conjunction with other media.

Those that wish to tap into the unique relationships formed or cemented through this outlet have the opportunity to address something while waiting for social media to proliferate…concentrating on getting the “social” part right. When the “media”, the actual conduit to your customer or audience is bigger, you’ll have a solid understanding of what kind of marketing will work.


  1. Great info Phil, particularly regarding Twitter awareness/usage in relation to its relative dominance of social media discussions. The phrase “navel gazing” comes to mind. Thanks for the reality check!