We have had many entries on this blog about the use, best practices, and (occasional) abuse of social media. We have done so with the effort to inform our audience about user trends, technology developments, and the marketing impact social media have had. The Neilsen ratings organization ‘NeilsenWire.com’ has recently posted a three-year survey of how some of the major social-media sites (Read: Facebook, , Twitter, LinkedIn, and ClassmatesOnline). As can be seen by the chart to the right, use of Facebook continues to expand at a phenomenal rate, as does Twitter (from a smaller starting base). But so too are a couple of notable reversals, LinkedIn and ClassmatesOnline. The reasons for their shrinkage might not be related, except for the logical possibility that they are losing ‘face time’ to Facebook. For example, Classmates.com offers a great opportunity to catch up with lost high school friends. But once the contact has been made, statistics suggest that both parties have Facebook accounts, or one encourages the other to join, and thus the continuing conversation (if there is one) takes place there.
The dip in LinkedIn is a bit trickier to explain, especially given the site’s tagline of linking professionals “to exchange information, ideas and opportunities.” Given the jobs market in the last couple of years, one might expect a growth in use and new subscribers, as people work to find work. Does the slight dip over the last year suggest people are finding other ways to get their business connections made? One might again be tempted to posit that LinkedIn users are also Facebook users, and thus once a contact is made via the former, convenience and habit draw the user(s) back to the latter. Such a theory is perhaps strengthened by the fact that Neilsen traced ‘Unique Audience’ (Unique Users). Thus people who find their old classmates or new business partners via these other ‘niche’ sites are drawn toward the ubiquitous presence and market weight of Facebook. They open unique accounts that now take more than double the time that people were willing to give their social-networking sites just last year.
Which could lead to another concern: the standardization and simplification of ideas as groups are drawn to absorb only what is unchallenging from ‘friends’ they already have, also known as ‘groupthink.‘ Despite the Orwellian quality of the term, it largely develops benignly in the world of social media, according to Jennifer Osborne at SearchEnginePeople.com:
There will always be ho hum content submitted. Whether it’s because competition for truly great content is fierce or because we all have a different benchmark for what great content is. Either way, somebody is going to think that something is ho hum.
Pair this with the NEED to be social.
Whether it’s a psychological need or a forced need by the mechanics of the social media. People will submit less than stellar content and people will vote for that content. I’m not saying that Groupthink is intentional. It’s just that people use social media for more than just finding new content. It’s also social.
In another entry, Ms. Osbornethat success in social media needs to be marked by content, even as we strive to retain the magic of the social:
What if we positively reinforce content that just isn’t that good? A topic goes hot (because of the submitter) and people think “oh that’s a hot topic, I think I’ll write about it” and the next thing you know, there’s five mundane posts on the same topic.
Gone are the interesting tech stories on Digg only to be replaced by Jerry Springer-isk sensationalism. This is a serious issue that social media sites are trying desperately to overcome. Just as relevancy and completion are key success factors for the search engines, quality and trust are key success factors for social media.
The future of social media depends on keeping on keeping the emphasis on the content. And it’s pretty obvious that the social media moguls know it.
‘Personalization’ is her watch-word. Sites like Facebook can encourage it (which is not to say all the unique users take advantage of the opportunity), whereas aggregators like StumbleUpon or Digg might stimulate Groupthink – though she also points out that the mathematicians at Digg are tweaking their algorithms to prioritize trustworthy sources/aggregates.
If/As Facebook continues to pull people’s attentions away from other sites (Or, put another way, other social-media sites continue to serve as introductions to Facebook), we might get the concurrent counterparts of a single ubiquitous software interface and boxes that nevertheless encourage personalized outreach across the net.
Written by: Christopher Gardner, PhD