Who Really Participates in Social Media?

As I join more and more LinkedIn groups I’ve been interested in exactly who participates in these groups and, more to the point of this blog, who doesn’t.

For instance, I recently joined the Health Care Executive Network which has 3421 members. I immediately started looking for some of the health care executives I’ve worked with – both as director of corporate communications within a large health care system, and as a consultant/journalist who has interviewed and interacted with many health care executives.

I didn’t find any of them among the members. So I began to search for health care professionals who were more at my level in the organization – directors. Nope, not there. My first reaction was: “Wow, I’m obviously more ‘with it’ than they are – I’m on social media and they’re not.” But, that thought was rapidly followed by a more realistic one: “Maybe these executives just don’t think social media matters – at least not yet.” And, in fact, truth be told they probably don’t have *time* to dabble in social media. It’s not as high on their list of priorities as it is on mine. After all, how many busy health care executives can you imagine spending time reading and posting comments in a group? Probably not many.

My casual search results made me curious about who *was* participating in this particular group. So I did a quick search for some specific titles and came up with these results:

  • VP – 466
  • CEO – 437
  • CFO – 139
  • CAO – 4

So, about a third of the total list have titled that I would associate with “executives” (I’m sure I’ve overlooked a few, but I don’t think the numbers would be significant.)

Who are the other participants? They appear to be a combination of those who would like to be health care executives and may be further down the ladder (nothing wrong with that, it’s good to build connections) and consultants, like me. Nothing particularly wrong with that either, except…well, again, I was hoping to connect with health care executives.

So I looked at some other groups I’m in and found just about the same thing.  In fact, as I look through these groups, I tend to run across the “usual suspects” – literally the same people from one group to the next. There could be several reasons for this:

  • Could be that “birds of a feather” flock together – the groups I’m interested in attract other people interested in the same sorts of things.
  • Could be that people are “following me around” – they see I’ve joined a group and they join the same group (although that seems a bit egotistical on my part…)
  • Could be that there’s a lot of activity out there but that activity is occurring among the same core group of individuals
  • Could be that I have too much time on my hands if these are the kinds of things I worry about…

Actually, my husband who spends far too much time (in my opinion) listing to sports talk programs says he’s heard similar comments from commentators on these networks – that the call-ins they receive really only represent about two percent of the total listening population and that these views, therefore, don’t necessarily reflect the views of the masses.

I’m betting that the same is true in social media. Not only are the masses not yet fully engaged, but even those who participate may not comment for various reasons.

As I continue to navigate the social media, which I fully intend to do because I am finding some significant value, I will be careful about drawing conclusions based on the activity and comments of those heavily involved in “cyberspace” without fully understanding who (among a core constituency/target audience) are not yet engaged in the cyberspace.

I think others would be wise to do the same.