Archive for January 31st, 2008

The Public Perception of Social Networks

Unless you have been living under a rock….

I’ve been using that statement a lot lately and it seems to be very appropriate these days given the state of all things technology related. between the iphone, MySpace, Facebook, Android, Open Social, and all things in between, it is a great time to be a digital consumer. Or is it?

You know when AOL first came on the scene, Everyone had the same thought. What is this going to do to the way we communicate? What will AOL do to the social fabric of our lives. That is the exact thing happening in the social networking world. If you would like to stand and admit that you too had an AOL account at one time, it’s ok. We’ll pause.

Ironically AOL was the beginning of true social networking, through AIM. And if you really want to know the truth, AOL’s phenomenal growth wasn’t based around internet access. It was the ability to chat with others. To communicate with others. THAT is social networking. Finding people with similar interests that you could connect with. The real difference now, are the tools that are available to the common user to create and enhance their social networking experience or communicating experience. Social networks have become social media sites as well.  There is now a distinction between the 2. There is a social media type site and  social networking type sites. The tools now available allow users to share more than just words. Its now photos, music and video. Those are social media sites. Like Youtube or Flikr. Nothing new there right?

Because of this, social networking sites are the most frequented websites on the web. In fact according to Hitwise, the demo of 18-24 users hit Facebook more than they visit porn sites! So now instead of what is construed as a one way relationship with a porn site for instance, is passed up because now this demographic can go to Facebook and have a better overall user experience. Amazing when you think about it. Content isnt’t king, porn isn’t king. Social networking is king!

But what is the overall public perception of social networks?  That seems to be changing as well. The perception for some is, “I’ve heard about them, but I just don’t know enough.”. While others have jumped in with both feet. and some have dipped toes in the water. This is perception can be blamed on the media, marketers, and word of mouth.

Depending on the demographic, and this is no surprise as your 15-24 age group are always going to be the early adopters, the social networking experience is going to be different in regards to perception and usage, for each and every group. However this is changing as well as users realize that there is more out there besides Facebook and Myspace. Check this blog for older posts about the top rated social sites in business, video, and music. To read an interesting and no to surprising article about class distinction in social networks,  read this article by dannah boyd.

 the bottom line about social networks is that people are finding their people, their packs, their groups. Just like they did on the playground as children, it is now taking place with social networks. And you know what? There is nothing wrong with that. You see, the public perception of social networks right now is skewed, because THEY DON”T ENOUGH to make an educational, much less personal decision on whether to use them yet. So they base their opinion on their perception. It is changing though and rather quickly as statistics show that one of the fastest rising demographic of users on Facebook are the 35+ group. And of course as a side note, you know this is going to piss off the 18-24′s who will now have to latch onto something that is cooler.

But public perception of social networks is still skewed across the following words and statements:  Uncertainty, a time drain, a resource drain, zero value proposition, spam extenders, virus friendly, a place for stalkers to thrive etc etc. In fact, The blog Switched reports that according to a new study by an employment law firm, approximately $264 million U.S. dollars are lost in man hours because of Facebook.

The thing to understand here is that like any relationship, you get out of it what you put into it. Whether that is online or offline. The only way you are going to see whether a social network is for you is to take one for a test drive. It doesnt neccessarily have to be MySpace or Facebook, though those two are not bad starting points, but the only way to find out is to jump in.

It may enhance your computing experience or it may be a detriment. It totally depends on what you want to to achieve. Is it for business? Then there are a lot of purely social networks geared toward business and building relationships that will fit your needs. Start with Linkedin.

Just remember, in the end, you’ll get out of it, what you put into it. Just don’t base your opinion on what you have read or heard from someone else. What DO YOU think their perception is? What was your perception before you tried them out? What were your expectations? What are your expectations now?

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Marc Meyer is a Digital and Social Media Strategist at DRMG. This is my personal blog where I share observations, thoughts and opinions that are all my own.

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