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Archive for January, 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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The top 10 hottest Social Networking Widgets

 Comscore released the November 2007 U.S. rankings of the top web widgets. For those of you who do not completely understand what a widget is, it’s essentially independent objects or an object that can be embedded or downloaded onto another site and can be used as a tool, have automatic content updates, or are or can be interactive. Though they go by the name of “widget”, Facebook calls them “applications” and Google calls them “gadgets.”

In November 2007, nearly 148 million U.S. Internet users viewed widgets, representing 81 percent of the total audience. MySpace.com widgets had the widest audience, reaching more than 57 million Internet users, while Slide.com ranked second with 39.2 million viewers. Google.com has the sixth widest widget-viewing audience with more than 19 million viewers.

What’s the “skinny” on what widget usage means to the lay person? Simply put, it means that widget usage can be computed as eyeballs on the site, which also means that if the widget is cool, you can bet others will go to get the widget. The widget is essentially another form of advertising. If they have your widget, that means they came to your site or heard of your widget from someone else. Word of mouth, Seth Godin, word of mouth!

Having said that, take a look at these November numbers.

Comscore Widgets

Obviously MySpace is the dominant player here but look at the others on the list. Slide for example is the largest personal media network in the world, reaching 144 million unique global viewers each month and more than 30 percent of the U.S. Internet audience. They help people express themselves and tell stories through personalized photos and videos created on Slide.com and viewed anywhere on the web or desktop.

Slide’s products — including Slideshows, FunWall and SuperPoke! — are popular on top social networking and blog platforms, including MySpace, Facebook, Bebo, Hi5, Friendster, Tagged and Blogger. Slide is also the leading developer on Facebook with more than 84 million applications installed and the most active users than any other developer.

Clearspring though is NOT a social network. Clearspring is the leading provider of cross-platform widget services. Their goal is to make it easy to use content and services from across the Internet to weave personalized experiences. Clearspring is the leading enterprise-class widget syndication platform. With our out-of-the-box syndication solution you can quickly repackage your existing content and services as viral widgets and syndicate them across multiple platforms.

RockYou is a leading provider of applications and widgets on the web. RockYou widgets include photo slideshows, glitter text, customized Facebook applications and voicemail accessories that are simple to use and enable people to frequently refresh their online style. RockYou has over 35 million users, serving over 180 million widget views per day in more than 200 countries. RockYou applications are customized for easy integration across all social networks including Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, Friendster, Tagged and hi5. RockYou’s cost-effective, results-focused advertising platform is the largest Ad Network on Facebook and the most dynamic method for rapidly acquiring Facebook application users. New applications can reach over 100k users in 24 hours, spanning a suite of applications across multiple publishing partners

Photobucket Owned by News Corp is the most popular site on the Internet for uploading, sharing, linking and finding photos, videos, and graphics.  Photobucket, According to Comscore is: 

  • 24.1 Million unique site visitors/month in the US, and 34.6 Million unique site visitors/month worldwide.
  • #1 most popular Photos site in the US.
  • #3 most popular Entertainment/Multimedia site in the US.
  • #7 most popular Entertainment/Multimedia site in the world.
  • #24 in Top 50 Sites in the US and
  • #47 Top 100 Global Sites

The next one is BunnyHerolabs, bunnyhero pets bebo app the pets have been available on bebo for a while now as “widgets,” but now bunnyhero pets are available as an application on bebo’s new application platform.

What this means for bebo users is now when they adopt a pet on bebo, they can add the “bunnyhero pets” application. With the new application, they are able edit their pets after they’ve added them to their profile, like changing their pet’s name and color.

Next are the Musicplaylist.us and myplaylist.org widgets, which are a no brainer in the land of “can’t-miss” and “must-have”, widgets. And lastly if you ever wondered where all of the kitschy graphics on the MySpace pages was coming from, look no further than, and the name seems awfully apropos, BlingBlob.com. BlingyBlob.com, for us uninitiated, is the hottest source for FREE high quality graphics, animations, Flash and much more for your MySpace page, personal site, or blog. Makes you giddy, doesn’t it?

Look for music, video and image sharing widgets to continue to evolve to an extent that perhaps one day they become part of someone’s v-card or email signature, along with the location of their MySpace, FB or Linkedin pages.

M-commerce will work…for Gen Y…for now.

In the next 12 to 18 months analysts predict that m-commerce revenues will reach a half a billion dollars.  Pairing that with almost 300 million wireless customers, “someone” is going to be buying something through their wireless device. The question is who is that person? Is it the Baby boomer? No, they are just becoming comfortable with their computers and shopping online. Is it the Gen X’ers? No not yet, although they will follow pretty quickly as soon as the cool and the perceptive ease of use factors rises to a palatable level.

The answer my friend lies in your Gen Y users. The 15-29 users who just so happen to be your biggest social network users as well. This is, by no means coincidental. It makes complete sense on a lot of levels but here it is in its simplest terms. This generation is so technologically saavy that buying “things” using their mobile phones is nothing more than another viable option for spending money, communicating with their friends and being in the NOW.  It’s just another way to simplify their overly simplified “Me generation” entitled lives. It is a mere blip on the landscape that is their socialized technified world.

Not to sound bitter, and if I do it’s only because this generation can embrace a new technology so easily and so seamlessley that the projections for what kind of money might be generated might be underestimating the puchasing power of this group. The only way the numbers get pushed down is by overestimating the mobile purchasing power of a 15-19 year old who might not have a credit card to complete the transaction.

Gen Y users have 2 things working in their favor as well. 1) they account for almost a 100% ownership of cell phones and 2) have a purchasing power of almost $200 billion.  Add to this the fact that this group has no problem accessing the mobile web with relative ease, and couple it with their comfort level in regards to their expectation that mobile web sites meet their demands, and you have volatile mixture of a captive audience ready to buy with expendable cash.

In the next 12-24 months, marketers, consumers and advertisers will need to look to Gen Y to call the shots in regards to usage numbers, trends, and expectations. As soon as Gen X and the Boomers see how well it works for Gen Y. Look for M-commerce to explode. Look no further than Japan for a classic example, where in the last year e-tailers rang up almost $10 billion in revenue from M-commerce sales.

The growth of social networking

By 2011 about half of U.S. online adults and 84% of online teens will be using social networks. This according to eMarketer. What this points to is an evolution or a continuing evolution of children who currently are becoming aquainted with and more comfortable with, “How social networks work”. This also points to the greater value that adults will put in their social network. “Their” being the operative word.

Furthermore, this raises a very poignant question. Though Facebook and Myspace are the darlings of the moment, can they continue the momentum that they can surely take credit for? Will they be “The” players in 3 years?

As it is right now today the evolution for most users looks something like this:

Club Penguin/Webkinz—->Myspace—->Facebook—-Linkedin.

I use Linkedin as the last one for professional reasons but really after Facebook, the usage fractures into a 100 different niche based social networks. This usage in the next 3 years will continue to evolve into hundreds of other social network sites.

My educated guess, though they (MySpace and FB) will still be viable, there will be others that will come along, if they have not already, that provide more to their niche than the current duo do. Here is the reasoning. Myspace is for teens/bands and tire-kickers and fringe users. Facebook is for college aged and older users who have more of a familiarity with the social network and all that it can provide.

So in 3 years when your current crop of Facebook users for instance, graduate and possibly outgrow the Facebook newness/coolness factor what do they do then?  What do adults who are currently using Facebook do in 3 years? The same thing I suspect that AOL users did once they found out that AOL wasn’t the only game in town. Everything will evolve. Including the knowledge and expereince of the users. Thus the reason that by 2011, social networks will be so entertwined in our daily lives that it will be assumed that you are part of some SN.

The good news, and really none of this is bad news, but worldwide Ad spending will increase at a healthy 20-39% each year between now and 2011 according to eMarketer. In the U.S. alone social network ad spending is expected to rise to $2.7 billion in 2011. Currently the pie is being divided naturally towards Facebook and MySpace, but look for that to change significantly with the growth of niche and marketer oriented sites.

Global search revenue will reach $60 billion by 2011

As if Google and company did not make enough money, by years end, global search revenue will reach $30.5 billion according to a recent JPMorgan report which hinted that investors still should view the web as a good  “buy” or investment.

Contrary to the dot com bust of the early 2000’s, 2007 was actually a very good year for internet companies. In fact, due to the rising world GDP, according to the report, internet companies with a global reach would continue to enjoy a healthy profit due to the broad and seamless appearance of a global marketplace. Conversely, the US GDP growth has slowed in recent years.

By 2011, look for search revenues to exceed $60 billion according to the report. A lot of this groth will be tied into paid search as a global marketing vehicle. The growth will also be attributed to keyword price inflation and increased web usage. Tied to this will be an increase in the user experience and increase in click-through rates for all sites.

Social Networks by the numbers

For December 2007, MySpace.com received 72 percent of U.S. visits among the social networking category. Facebook.com received 12.57 percent of visits and Bebo.com received 1.09 percent of visits. (according to Hitwise)

U.S. traffic to all the social networking websites increased four percent year-over-year. MyYearbook experienced the largest gain in market share in December 2007, increasing 407 percent compared to December of the previous year. Facebook and Club Penguin followed, increasing 51 and 48 percent, respectively. For those who are unaware of Club Penguin, it is the entry point for children into their first brush with social networks.

In December 2007, MySpace received 95 percent of its share of traffic from returning visitors. Among the top five social networking websites by market share, Facebook and BlackPlanet.com followed with 93 and 89 percent, respectively, of traffic returning from the previous month.

Market Share of U.S. Internet Visits to Top 10 Social Networking Websites

Rank

Name Domain

Dec-07

Dec-06

YoY % Change

1

MySpace http://www.myspace.com

72.32%

78.89%

-8%

2

Facebook http://www.facebook.com

16.03%

10.59%

51%

3

Bebo http://www.bebo.com

1.09%

0.99%

10%

4

BlackPlanet.com http://www.blackplanet.com

1.04%

0.96%

8%

5

Club Penguin http://www.clubpenguin.com

0.80%

0.54%

48%

6

Gaiaonline.com http://www.gaiaonline.com

0.76%

0.58%

31%

7

myYearbook http://www.myyearbook.com

0.73%

0.14%

407%

8

hi5 http://www.hi5.com

0.63%

0.64%

-1%

9

Classmates http://www.classmates.com

0.55%

0.58%

-7%

10

Yahoo! 360 360.yahoo.com

0.54%

0.91%

-40%

Class distinction is all over Facebook and Myspace, you just have to look

Here is an awsome (and long) article on Class and social networks


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The Deets

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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