Sitting around with some mates and a few beers last week one of them suddenly proclaimed that ‘social media was a joke and that it doesn’t matter how popular one service becomes over another because in the end there will be groups of people who sign up for everything which makes every database that each social networking company has fairly ubiquitous and not unique‘.
It was a profound, if not slightly intoxicated, thing for him to say, and some of my other friends all nodded their heads in agreement. It was an unadulterated opinion from a ‘non-industry person’ perspective, and I was all ears.
Asking him what he meant he went on to say that it’s ‘no wonder that these things (social networks) don’t make any money cos’ an advertiser would just be targeting the same people across the social networks and the websites they know the punters are visiting anyway”.
My immediate reaction was to say ‘no don’t be ridiculous, each social network interaction is completely different‘ but as the night went on I really started to think about it.
Are nearly all interactions with social media the same?
How unique is a social networking database really?
Are people becoming more fickle or self-centered on social networks?
How many people do sign up for everything?
And, is this why companies like Facebook are finding it so tough to make decent money from advertisers on their database?
In an attempt to answer some of these questions I started taking a look at my interactions with Facebook and twitter and how my friends use FB and twitter. I asked a dozen friends (chosen at random and all in their mid 20’s) how many had signed up for, and regularly use, Facebook and twitter. 10 said ‘yes’ to both and 5 came back saying that they also had a myspace profile but when referring to myspace all except one said ‘I don’t update that anymore’.
Talking specifically about Facebook and twitter their answers boiled down to them primarily doing three things on both networks:
- Make comments about what’s happening in their lives
- Links to albums – flickr, built in FB albums or other photo storage services
- Links to news articles, opinion pieces or blogs that mean something to them – not necessarily their friends or followers
Some people did acknowledge that the frequency and levels of which they do each of the three did vary but they recognised they used both services for virtually the same three reasons.
They seldomly noticed, let alone clicked on the ad’s – because this was their personal time , not time they spent looking for products and services.
They almost all unanimously said that only on Facebook did they care about what other people are doing/saying/trying etc. On twitter there seems to be the disconnect of ‘I don’t know them, so I don’t care so much if I miss what they say’.
They almost unanimously said they looked at their twitter feed to see if anyone had said anything ‘really crazy or important’ but mainly they used it to keep a tab on websites they like – rather than going there direct – or to see what celebrity they’re following was doing.
So with users feeling more connected to FB because of their friends, should twitter be worried? Is this why Myspace’s growth has plateaued? *Side note: Myspace was primarily based on meeting/networking with people you don’t know. Twitter was based on people you do know but quickly evolved to be more about people you don’t know, according twitter founder Biz Stone.*
And if people are ‘more connected’ on Facebook because of real life friendships or encounters how could FB leverage that?
In the end though the overwhelming theme of answers from this sample of people was ‘it’s a way of telling people about me’ but and not so much, apparently, a way of finding out more about other people – unless the pictures those people posted were funny, sexy or embarrassing, the personal comments were shocking i.e. ‘OMG just broke my leg while playing naked darts‘ or the links were hyped like crazy i.e. ‘Best snowboarding crash video EVER‘.
So is this it for social networks? Are they just an avenue for people to put themselves out there without really listening/reading to what’s being directed at them?
If this is it then how can advertisers harness this, for-lack-of-a-better-word, ‘selfish’ attitude? And what, if anything could social networks do it improve or change the interactions with their services?