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On the relevance of Social Media.

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This post is in response to comments made on The Register regarding one of my recent articles.  I’ve had to post it here as the character limit on The Register is 2000.

While yes, the opinions expressed in my Sysadmin Blog on The Register are my own, I would be willing to make the statement that on the topic in question (the rise of Social Media) they are indeed quite informed.

First: let’s admit that there does not exist primary science that conclusively and definitively pegs the exact % of our population for whom $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 % will be under 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 % 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 “da yoof,” 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 “$social_media_site has become the internet for X segment 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 merelly sample studies I am discussing.  There are hundreds of studies – and a lot of primary science – that cover this area of discussion.  These should give you some starting points.  An idea of how modern marketing folk got to the belief that social media is in fact an important outlet for brand recognition and advertising in today’s world.

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 % of our population absorb their daily dose of internets.

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  • Published: Jun 17th, 2010
  • Category: Rants
  • Comments: Comments Off on We am the hive mind

We am the hive mind

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Though the nearness of the words “facepalm” and “Facebook” is entirely coincidental, I have recently begun to mentally replace one with the other at all instances. If I read an article about Facebook, invariably it is some privacy hiccough, or someone who has done something unbelievably odd, antisocial or just plain stupid in full view of the digital public.

On the flip side of that particular coin, it has become a valid communications tool, with half a Billion individuals using it. Nearly half the population of my country uses it. Certainly more than half of the literate public in Canada is using it.

I am thusly terrified when I start to notice trends in people’s behavior that indicate a growing social meme whereby “if it is not on Facebook, it’s not true.” Much as I despair of the idea that Wikipedia is a valid source of primary information, I am consistently reminded of the tragic reality that there exist people who honestly believe that no bit of information about an individual is “true” unless they have posted it to Facebook.

My canonical example of this, (and the one that inspired this post,) is that of my impending nuptials. The hardest part about this change in status is the slow process of informing all of your friends. It is not new information by any means; in fact I am often startled when someone has not already heard. The issue apparently is that I have relied on more traditional mediums for the dissemination of information about my life.

I communicate with my friends primarily through voice communications, or secondarily through instant messaging. I prefer to have real-time conversation with individuals, and I see services such as Facebook as little more than a terrible combination between an egocentric blog and voicemail. (For those curious, getting a Facebook profile was not my idea. For all intents and purposes, I lost a bet.)

That some people would look at me in askance upon being informed of the changes in my life and exclaim, “but that’s not what your Facebook says” causes bitter poison to spread tendrils through my soul. My Facebook page contains little if any information at all. There is no relationship status, age, birthday…I’m not even 100% sure I filled out the box for “gender.”

I purposefully left Facebook as near to a blank slate as was reasonable because I believe that if you care enough about me to truly care what is new in my life, then you care enough to communicate with me in real time. (Phones, Instant messaging or even email all being perfectly acceptable forms of communication to me.) How the fact that a page with almost no information at all translates into “I have trouble crediting what you are telling me face to face” I simply cannot parse.

And thus the meat of my rant: a philosophical question. Are we, as a society, turning too much of our thinking processes over to these sorts of “social networking” sites? Perhaps to “the Internet” in general? The entire issue seems as though it may be related to my similar fears that the general public has lost the ability to differentiate between “rewritten press releases” and “actual news.”

When did we start believing what was presented to us without critical thinking?

When did we stop believing anything else?

And are these not overarching social trends worth being deeply, deeply worried about?

A little bit about Facebook security

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Facebook has granular privacy settings.   I strongly encourage anyone who is using it to do the following:

1) Create “lists,” (such as “Actual Friends,” “Family,” “Acquaintances,” etc. Placing people into groups allows you to granularly control the flow of information.

2) Explore Facebook’s privacy settings, and carefully review who can see what. (It’s all fine and good to post things on Facebook, but if you add family to your “friends” list, your mum might have something to say about last night’s bender at the strip club.)

3) Be aware by default Facebook shares all your info with the whole world. Don’t give Facebook any more information than you feel will help your friends get hold of you in real life. Just because it asks you to fill out a box of information doesn’t mean you have to. The more Facebook knows about you, the more the whole world eventually will. (It might be a bad idea if your employer can run a Google search and discover that your “sick day” was actually you going fishing.)

4) Remember to check the settings for Facebook advertisements; did you know that be default Facebook shares all your information with advertisers? This means that despite putting people into “lists” and then carefully reviewing which lists of people are allowed to see what information, these advertisers then can (and sometimes do) reveal your information to everyone. Be very sure to disable Facebook’s ability to share your personal information with advertisers.

5) Please bear in mind that identity theft is a real issue. People can and do fall victim to it, and the more that fraudsters can learn about you, the easier it is for them to scam you. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Please take the time to look at this website:

http://www.sophos.com/security/best-practice/facebook/ . It provides an excellent overview of Facebook security concerns.

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