Social Media – Not Everybody Is Out There…

…and they may not be where you think they are! While it may seem that just about everybody is engaged in social media in some way, shape or form these days, that’s not necessarily true. As businesses scramble to get on board and set up Facebook fan pages, Twitter accounts and LinkedIn profiles, they may be wise to first check into some data to find out whether their customers are out there.

Yes, age matters

Not surprisingly, age is a factor. If your product appeals to the 18-34-year-old market, chances are they’re out there and engaged. If however, you’re targeting an older demographic – say 55+ – the news isn’t quite so good. According to research by Edison Research based on telephone surveys of 1753 Americans age 12+, conducted in February, 2010, the 55+ age group represents only about 9 percent of those considered to be habitual social networkers. Even those slightly younger – 45 to 54 – only represent another 9 percent of the social networking crowd. Takeaway? If you’re attempting to connect with the 45 to 55+ demographic, social media may not be your best option!

This comes as no surprise to me. In fact, although I’m an avid user of LinkedIn, I recently discovered that one of the groups I’m involved in – Healthcare Executives – is really not all that populated with healthcare executives after all. And, when I think about the healthcare executives I know from the time I spent in the industry and the results of this research, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

But even younger adults are missing

What may be more surprising, though, is the engagement levels of the college market. Each semester in the classes I teach I ask students about their use of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Not surprisingly, most hands go up for Facebook. LinkedIn generally gets no takers. But, surprisingly to me, even Twitter is not widely used. Generally I’ll see one or two hands go up for this one. And, if you consider Edison’s results you’ll see the 18-24 year-old group only represents about 25 percent of those involved in social media.

Who’s out there?

Who are the heaviest users of social media? Well, it depends and, as you might expect, it varies by site. In fact, you may be surprised to find that the “big 3” (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn) represent just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to social media outlets – there are many more.

A study by Royal Pingdom, shows this breakdown. Interestingly, the older demographic is best represented on Classmates.com, while the youngest is most likely to be found on Bebo. Twitter, as my students have demonstrated, really doesn’t have a lot of traction with the college age group, at least not yet.

Some important takeaways for marketers:

  • Know your demographic. That has always been the case with the use of any form of media and it continues to hold true with social media.
  • Don’t focus only on the “Big 3” social networking tools. Other tools may represent better opportunities for your market.
  • Don’t fall prey to popular wisdom – check the data. While Facebook gets a lot of attention, this research at least would suggest that MySpace is still the market leader among the 24 (and under crowd) – with Bebo, holding the lead overall.
  • Understand that the playing field is changing. As consumers age, and new social media options emerge, usage patterns will change. It pays to continue to look for up-to-date information on trends.

And finally – the biggest takeaway in my opinion: While it pays to continue monitoring social media and learning about the potential it may hold, don’t feel too out of touch if you’re not yet heavily invested in its use to target your audience. They may not be out there!

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