These are ideas that sort of wandered through my brain while I was drinking a café miel last weekend. Any resemblance between these ideas and any marketing research is based on nothing more than luck and, perhaps, educated conjecture.
I'm curious. How has social media changed our social demographics? Do you find yourself connecting with people who are more like you in ideas, but are less like you in age, race, culture, gender, sexual orientation, income, and all the other things people use to size each other up?
Traditionally, people tend to "hang" and share interests with those who are outwardly similar to them. In a sense, that's the reason that a marketing effort targets a certain group. Social groups are generally not as interracial, multicultural, or intergenerational, as we like to pretend they are. Even non-romantic socializing between men and women has only become common over the last few decades — especially married people having single friends of the (oh, I hate this phrase) "opposite sex."
Before I get off any farther in my social critique, I'll get back to social media. Though I tend to be a person who has a fairly diverse analog social network, by default, I am more likely to meet people similar in age and skin color. Digitally speaking, though, it's a different game. Through social blogging and Twitter, I put out ideas and read other people's ideas. I find myself engaging in an exchange of thoughts and feelings before exchanging knowledge of skin color, gender, or age.
This is pretty significant. My online network includes people young enough to be my kids and people significantly older than me (though, granted, not many my parents' age). I hear from my friends' teenage kids on Vox and Facebook. I trade thoughts, respectfully, with Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, agnostics, and atheists. They're all there: male, female, black, white, Asian, living in this country, immigrated to this country, living in other countries.
Pretty much every college student in the country is on Facebook. But I wasn't surprised when the October 2007 issue of Wired reported that "the fastest growing segment of Facebook users is over 35, a group that represents 11 percent of all users." Pretty impressive, given that Facebook registration started with a limited number of colleges and, though it expanded greatly, has only been open to everyone since September 2006.
So, here's where my mind led me before finishing the café miel:
I haven't seen any research to show how social media has changed the demographics of socializing. I've also been a bad blogger. Yes, I have not been very prolific, and here I am hoping that I'm still in your RSS feeds and you still care enough to give me some feedback.
Has social media changed your social demographics? Do you find yourself connecting with a broader range of people, and if so, how?
Then there is the second question: Assuming I'm not a freak of demographics and social media is changing the make up of our social groups, how does this change marketing? A lot of marketing efforts have very clear demographics. An editor I wrote for once told me that the magazine's target audience was women over 60 making well into the six figures. (The editor, incidentally, was a 29-year-old woman making $40k.) In contrast, look at Facebook. Its biggest demographic, I believe, is still college students, and its fastest growing demographic is people over the age of 35.
If you have something that a lot of well-to-do women over 60 want, well just take out an ad in the damn magazine. If you're dealing with something that crosses demographics, it will take a lot more creativity than simply taking out an ad, but the ability to use social networks to reach people who really care about what you are offering make social media a far more powerful tool.
First of all, thanks to all of you who have shared your experiences. I don't think this will pass as a random sampling, but it is interesting to see that — for many but not all of you — it has changed your social network.
@Debtink: I think you're story, your husband, and your son, are pretty telling example of how the internet can change social demographics. Part of what got me thinking about this topic was the way Aaron (Deb's son) and Annabelle (Patty's daughter) stay in contact with me in a way that I never stayed in contact with my parents' friends. I think that facebook, AIM, and Vox have changed the way I interact with teenagers. I also think it's a very possitive thing for teenagers. About a year ago, the organization I work for was doing some work with Harris Interactive. Some of the research they did, pointed to the number of "caring adults" a young person has in his or her life as important for a good transition to adulthood. I'm curious as to the internets ability to increase the number of those relationships, so if anybody has read anything interesting or seen any research along those lines, please let me know.
@Kitty: I think your point of not looking at social sites as places to sell stuff is exactly what I'm talking about. Allow me to quote you:
As far as marketing strategies... I don't consider the social realm as a venue for selling product. It is, of course, but I will avoid any attempt to turn my personal life into a marketplace. I'm one of those problem people who is cynical and resistant to any form of marketing - not least because I work in marketing. I think the public in general is becoming more inured to marketing strategies and the future of marketing lies in interactive consumer choice. If advertising is not thrown at people, they will seek it out and choose to engage.
I don't come from an advertising background, and when I think of marketing, advertising is not very high on my list. I also don't think of "marketing" as "selling things." I think the great potential for interactive marketing is relationship building — whether it's groups of insanely loyal consumer sharing information, companies sponsoring online events and services that people use, making useful information (not sales information) available easly and for free, or interacting directly with consumers on the web. In other words, I agree that it's all about "interactive consumer choice." I don't think consumers have ever wanted to be told what they wanted. The moment there was a mute button on the remote, they stopped listening to commercials. When DVRs came along, they started skipping them altogether.
Though some are still hiding their heads in the sand, I like to think that most people in marketing have accepted that the rules have changed. What I'm wondering, though, is whether the demographic game has diminished with it. If I'm Audi, and my fantaical users are all bonding on my new MyAudiSpace (sorry, I couldn't resist), my prime demographic isn't successful professionals in their mid-30s but, rather, Audi fans. That's something the magazine I wrote for, with it's narrow demographic, could never offer.