Young consumers are now almost always connected to media — which would rationally lead you to think that the more times and places they are connected, the more ways there are (and the easier it is) to interact with them. This is where market researchers need to step in and push their companies to dig deeper than just measuring the time spent on a media channel. They need to truly understand these consumers' core motivations for using it.
More than 90% of 12- to 17-year-olds who are active on social networks have an account on Facebook, which is their go-to social network, no doubt. But they haven't completely abandoned other networks: almost 40% have an account on both Facebook and Myspace.
With 78% of 12- to 17-year-olds having a social networking account, social networking’s power is undeniable. But it's not enough just to look at these channels to see what type of content or information 12- to 17-year-olds are consuming; it's how, why, and when they're consuming it. Without tapping into these deeper motivations, brands will never fully benefit from this social opportunity.
As we witness truly historic events in the Middle East brought about in part by citizens empowered by social networks, we are also seeing disturbing trends that may yet result in social networks becoming a force for evil.
If you read this blog regularly, you know that I can be a Facebook supporter (some may say apologist), but today I have a bone to pick with it.
Where others frequently attribute shady intent to everything Facebook does, I see a company legitimately trying to balance the needs of users with the demands of advertisers who fund the free service. Consumers love Facebook, so much so that Facebook now accounts for one of every four page views in the United States, yet you and I pay nothing for it. Or it is more accurate to say that while we provide no cash to Facebook, we do, in fact, pay with our time, attention, data, permission, and clicks (which Facebook converts into cash).
But even Facebook supporters can and should question when the social network takes a step that pushes the envelope of best practices in permission marketing, and I believe it has done just that with Facebook's new Sponsored Stories product. What I find frustrating is how tantalizingly close to perfect the model is, yet the omission of a single feature makes all the difference.
Here's how Facebook Sponsored Stories work:
You post a status update about a brand, such as a check-in, like, or a piece of praise.
Because that signal of affinity is so ephemeral within the news feeds of your friends (or perhaps may never even be displayed there), the brand can now choose to pay Facebook to turn your status update into an ad.
Your friends (and only your friends) will then see your status update in the right gutter of Facebook.com, along with your name and profile picture.
Is it possible that in 2011 social media could help bring peace on earth, goodwill toward men (and women)? I’m enough of an optimist to hope so but enough of a realist to appreciate how naive that sounds. Still, I believe there are encouraging signs that social media can have a positive impact on the world — but only if it first has a positive impact on each of us.
If I predict that social media will bring peace to the world and am subsequently proven wrong, at least I’d be in good company. History is full of examples of technical advances that carried the promise of beneficial change but delivered something less. Alfred Nobel invented dynamite, a more stable version of nitroglycerin, to make mining safer; he eventually used his wealth to establish the Nobel Prizes after reading an erroneously printed obituary that called him “the merchant of death” for “finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before.”
‘Tis the season for gifts and wishes. I have no presents for Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo and Google (and giving them gifts would violate Forrester rules), so instead I’ve dug deep into my bag of hopes to offer some wishes for these leading tech and social media companies:
For Twitter, the gift of distribution. I’ve argued plenty on this blog that Twitter has already become mainstream based on the impact it has on our culture, if not on the number of people who use the information network. It must be rewarding for Biz, Ev and the Twitter crew to see tweets become news on CNN and in Entertainment Weekly, but that doesn’t pay the bills. For Twitter to become an ad-serving powerhouse (without annoying its loyal user base), it needs more people consuming tweets — it won’t be the number of people who tweet that drives Twitter’s revenue but the number of people who read those tweets. If Twitter is to maximize the potential of its Promoted Tweets, trends and accounts, it needs as many eyeballs as possible, and so in 2011 I give Twitter the wish of wider distribution. If Twitter can succeed in being integrated in sites across the Web (as Facebook has) not just as a button but as content, the future will remain very bright for the ubiquitous blue bird.
One common complaint I hear from marketers is that social media is not (yet) a mass medium. For example, the circulation for Cosmopolitan is 3 million, while the magazine counts just 700,000 fans in Facebook. And while it seems (almost) everyone is creating, using or consuming social media today, it is a highly fractured channel. Thirty years ago, almost every person watching television was tuned into one of three networks; today, 550 million people use Facebook, and each and every one of them is their own network.
However, the fact that social media is fractured and personalized does not mean that it isn't a mass medium; it just means it is a challenging mass medium. Here is the evidence for social as a mass medium:
Twitter watchers have long awaited (and some feared) this moment: Ads are coming to your Twitter timeline. Twitterers thus far have supported and shown little concern over Twitter’s Promoted Tweets program, so long as those paid tweets were easily differentiated from unpaid tweets and stayed within search results or at the top of the Trends list. But now Twitter is taking the next step that many expected and inserting promoted tweets into users’ Twitter streams (see image below), and that means comingling authentic, unpaid tweets with paid, advertising tweets.
This is the riskiest move Twitter has ever made. There is a big difference between displaying paid tweets at the top of search results and inserting them into the timeline — just ask search engines, which for a while in the early days of the Web struggled with their own monetization models. Search engines experimented with comingling paid search ads with organic search results, but the backlash from consumer advocates and users was sufficient to force a different model. Today, paid search ads are not just differentiated with words, colors and fonts but are substantially and consistently separated from organic results into special portions of the screen.
Update: My post below created a great deal of discussion about Twitter Auto DMs and whether they are welcome and worthwhile or unwelcome and damaging to senders' reputations. Because of the diversity of opinion, I created a brief 10-question survey and invite you to complete the survey and then share it with your followers on Twitter. The survey should take less than 3 or 4 minutes to complete, so please visit: http://blogs.forrester.com/augie_ray/10-11-02-please_complete_a_brief_su... or http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/CFSTQ3D. I'll share all of the data here on the Forrester blogs in a week or two!
MySpace has seemed passé ever since Facebook lapped MySpace two years ago, but the news of MySpace’s demise was always a bit exaggerated. While Facebook catapulted to international success, MySpace continued to chug along with tens of millions of unique visitors each month. It’s still the 40th most popular site globally according to Alexa, and when Forrester published our report on Peer Influence Analysis and Mass Influencers, many were surprised when the Q4 2009 data demonstrated more influence impressions on MySpace than on Twitter. But while MySpace perhaps wasn’t getting the due it deserved, there was no doubt its importance to marketers and its influence in the social media world was on the wane. Change is in the air — soon a new MySpace will launch that will help it regain some of that lost luster.
Make no mistake — the days of MySpace as a general-purpose social network taking on Facebook are long gone, and MySpace recognizes this. Instead, as has long been rumored, the revitalized MySpace is focusing on entertainment, and this means connecting with Facebook and Twitter rather than competing with them.
Rewarding people for "liking" a brand on Facebook has created some eye-popping headlines. Bing offered FarmVille players three units of "Farm Cash" for friending the search engine on Facebook, and the outcome was 400,000 new fans in a day. Einstein Bagels offered a free bagel to new fans and increased its fan count from 4,700 to near 350,000 in three days. It's hard to argue with success, but could tactics like these come back to haunt brands as the next generation of search evolves in the coming years?
Bing recently launched a new social feature on its search engine. If you're logged into Facebook when you conduct a search on Bing, you will see specially highlighted search results of links or brands that your Facebook friends have liked. The "Liked Results" feature makes sense--it's as if your friends are beside you as you search and chiming in with their personal recommendations.