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Be Careful About Drawing Conclusions Based on Social Media

I use social media a lot these days for everything from connecting with friends and family to finding sources for articles I’m working on, to connecting with vendors and clients. As I do this, though, I often wonder if I’m really connecting with the masses, or if my connections are skewed somehow to reflect only a piece of the larger pie.

A recent survey conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project makes me lean more toward believing they’re skewed.

The study reports that 47 percent of adult U.S. Internet users use online social networks – 19 percent use Twitter or other status update services. Twitter and similar services are more popular among younger users, according to the survey – 37 percent are 18-24, 31 percent are 25-34; this compares to 19 percent that are 35-44 and 10 percent that are 45-64.

Clearly an overreliance on these tools for sourcing or drawing conclusions could result in inaccurate assumptions.

There’s so much in the media these days about social media that it can be easy to be swept up in the social media movement and to believe – apparently inaccurately – that *everybody* is out there. They’re not.

I’ve noted this before as I’ve looked for people in various groups online and haven’t found them – or in conversations with business colleagues who are not actively engaged in social media and, quite frankly, are still trying to find the value.

Recently a woman I know asked me which companies in our local market I felt were doing a good job with social media. I could think of a few that are *using* social media, but really couldn’t come up with any examples that I felt were doing an exceptional job or that could be role models for others. And, in fact, as I thought of the companies in the area, the vast majority are not involved at all.

I have a feeling that my community reflects a microcosm of the nation as a whole. While social media is being embraced in certain demographic, geographic and industry segments, it is still in its infancy. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. What it means, I think, is that:

  • Companies that have not yet jumped on the social media bandwagon are not as far behind as they may believe.
  • There are still opportunities for many companies to be first in their market to establish a strong social media presence to make meaningful connections with prospects and customers.
  • There are still signfiicant opportunities for social media consultants and experts to connect with the myriads of businesses – large and small – that have not yet ventured into this space.
  • There are still ample opportunities for people like me to continue to learn about social media without worrying about being left behind.
  • As always, we cannot ignore the old communication tools, while we experiment with the new. Social media is not – and I believe will not be – a replacement for other forms of communication. A powerful alternative, but not a replacement.

It also means that those of us who have actively engaged in social media need to be aware of who we are – and are not – reaching and to be careful about the assumptions we make based on what may arguably be statistically insignificant segments of our target populations.  

Be careful out there. 

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