Social Life and Social Media


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In October 2009, Euro RSCG Worldwide commissioned a survey to map the trajectory of social life and social media usage in the United States, quizzing 1,228 Americans from all online demographics.This white paper looks at the macro developments in social media; it also brings in numbers and verbatims about people’s hopes for their social life online and offline before finally drawing conclusions and implications for marketers and their clients.

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Social Life and Social Media

  2. 2. WHITE PAPER: SOCIAL LIFE AND SOCIAL MEDIA 3 In October 2009, Euro RSCG Worldwide commissioned a survey to map the trajectory of social life and social media usage in the United States, quizzing 1,228 Americans from all online demographics.This white paper looks at the macro developments in social media; it also brings in numbers and verbatims about people’s hopes for their social life online and offline before finally drawing conclusions and implications for marketers and their clients.
  3. 3. INTRODUCTION Recent headlines have been dominated by the economic crisis, Barack Obama, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and health-care reform, but just behind those headlines has been a steadily growing buzz about social media. Corporations everywhere have been keen to install knowledgeable executives to help get them up to speed. A notable example came in early 2009, when The New York Times named Jennifer Preston its first social media editor.i A document that apparently is an internal memo about the appointment raised ideas that apply to many organizations. It’s a clear, cogent and jargon-free explanation of social media: “…an awful lot of people are finding our work not by coming to our homepage or looking at our newspaper but through alerts and recommendations from their friends and colleagues. So we ought to learn how to reach those people effectively and serve them well. At the same time, more of us are using social networks to find sources, contacts and information.” Anyone who hasn’t heard or read the words “social media” many hundreds of times this year has either been on a retreat or a round-the-world sailing trip. Or maybe they haven’t realized that Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, Twitter, Wikipedia, blogs and online forums are all forms of social media. What makes these forms of media different from traditional media such as TV and printed newspapers and magazines is their scope for interaction. As social media pioneer Robert Scoble put it on his blog in 2007, “When I say ‘social media’ or ‘new media’ I’m talking about Internet media that has the ability to interact with it in some way.”ii The graph shows the rise in the search volume index of the term “social media” on Google, meaning the change in the proportion of searches using that term relative to total searches on Google. 4 WHITE PAPER: SOCIAL LIFE AND SOCIAL MEDIA
  4. 4. Scoble and plenty of other digerati aren’t too keen on the term itself. But all these new, related phenomena need some sort of collective term, and “social media” seems to have stuck; it’s now the shorthand term increasingly used to refer to interactive media. The Google Trends graph on the previous page shows its steady rise over the past three years. So for the purposes of this paper, we’re using the term social media. The key factor of social media is the network effect. With traditional media, each additional user is just another set of eyes for the media owner and of no benefit to the other users. With social media, each additional user is potentially another resource for all other users. The bigger the user base, the more attractive it becomes for other people. As users are now connecting with real-time digital technology, the speed and scale of changes are both increasing rapidly. At the time this was written, more than five billion tweets had been posted on Twitteriii with around 20 million a day being added,iv compared with three million a day in March 2008.v Facebook reckons to have 300 million active users, of whom half log in on any given day. More than 65 million users access Facebook through mobile devices, and they’re twice as active as nonmobile Wikipedia had 67 million unique visitors in September 2009vii and counts around 85,000 active contributors.viii These huge numbers for social media speak volumes—but always bear in mind that they move fast and are quickly out of date. WHITE PAPER: SOCIAL LIFE AND SOCIAL MEDIA 5
  5. 5. HYPE, FEARS AND REALITY Like most rapid new developments, social media are hyped to the skies by some, feared by others, ignored by many and used pragmatically by a smart few. There are the oh-so-smart early adopters and the wide-eyed technophiles and the digital foghorn evangelists and the bandwagon-jumpers and of course the social media professionals; they are all proclaiming social media as the ultimate game-changer. Then there are the doomsters warning that social media could cause terrible damage to everything from children’s development right up to democracy itself. There are the skeptics, the technophobes and the traditionalists who think it’s all a passing fad. And there are the pragmatists—experimenting, watching and seeing what works. Which of them is right? When in doubt, look at the evidence. From 2007 through his inauguration in 2009, Barack Obama’s presidential campaign made astute use of Facebook and MySpace. His campaign mastermind, David Plouffe, has described it as a marriage between digital technology and grassroots campaigning. Despite the proclamations of social media boosters, Plouffe made it clear that old- school technology was crucial.ix In the run-up to the Iranian presidential elections in June 2009, the government blocked access to Facebook, which was being used by candidates running against President Ahmadinejad. In the dispute following the election, one of the main challengers, Mir Hossein Mousavi, used Facebook as a way of getting his message out.x 6 WHITE PAPER: SOCIAL LIFE AND SOCIAL MEDIA Interactions with friends far and near become more meaningful as social media matures. ” “
  6. 6. Protesters in Iran and their supporters outside used Twitter messaging to report news and coordinate activities. The White House even asked Twitter to delay a network upgrade in order to protect the interests of Iranians using the service.xi The protests made a mark, but the election result was upheld. In October 2009, a British member of Parliament asked a question about an oil company in the House of Commons. The company’s lawyers served a media injunction preventing any reporting of the question and a so-called super-injunction preventing U.K. media from mentioning the original injunction.xii Within a very short time, the key facts were all over Twitter and the injunctions were withdrawn. Probably the most convincing endorsement of social media has come from the experts in epidemics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. Its webpage “Social Media at CDC” ( offers an impressive range of social media options for people to stay in touch with the latest on issues such as H1N1 (aka swine flu). There are links to Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, DailyStrength, CDC’s YouTube channel, CDC’s Flickr site, CDC on iTunes and CDC’s Second Life Island,xiii as well as blogs, buttons, badges, content syndication, e-cards, e-games, mobile services, RSS feeds and widgets. From a social media perspective, CDC might well be the most viral of all organizations. WHITE PAPER: SOCIAL LIFE AND SOCIAL MEDIA 7 KEY TAKEAWAY: In most cases, social media can’t be expected to do the whole job on their own, whatever the job is. However, they are now a vital consideration in any communications strategy in any country where digital media are accessible to citizens and consumers.
  7. 7. 8 WHITE PAPER: SOCIAL LIFE AND SOCIAL MEDIA I hope to keep my quality relationships better face-to-face by being able to keep up with friends more in their daily lives online. ” Online is cool to get back in touch with friends or maybe find like-minded new friends, but the real fun is hanging out with them. ” Online is a convenience, like a phone. The experts were sure phones would kill face-to-face interactions, but they just keep us better connected. It’s true for e-mail as well. I was housebound for months some years back, and my online life kept me sane and social. ” Being part of the acting community in Atlanta, I meet fellow actors, network and get early warnings of possible acting opportunities, which are later followed up by face-to-face most times. ” I enjoy having the opportunity to spend time with friends and laugh, and enjoy good company. Online socializing allows me to continue to share those same experiences with friends from the past who are separated geographically. ” SOCIAL MEDIA MEANS A BLURRING OF SOCIAL AND MEDIA “ “ “ “ “
  8. 8. Although the social media handle might not be to everybody’s taste, it’s a pretty accurate shorthand of what we’re talking about. Media are the various means of storing and transmitting communication, typically about news or products and typically to multiple recipients. Social refers to the interaction of people, normally in an informal way. In social media, the two elements blend and blur in infinite combinations. Consumers use online and offline elements to create the social interactions they need. Whatever the platform, whether Facebook, Twitter, local community or special interest forums, there are a lot of the same elements typical of face-to-face socializing: discussions, opinions, requests for advice, gossip, chitchat, jokes, jibes, gripes and games. Unlike in most face-to-face interactions, however, social media make it possible to pull in and share media content there and then, such as images, videos, sounds, news stories and product information. Anything that’s on the Web, or that can be uploaded to the Web, can be brought into the social interaction. What’s more, that Web content isn’t just shared remotely; it’s often shared in person. It has become increasingly common to see people, especially young people, crowded around a computer or smartphone screen watching funny, amazing or outrageous videos. An argument over dinner might be settled by consulting Google on a mobile device. The boundaries among types of media, entertainment, news, gossip and social phenomena are increasingly fluid. Earlier this year, for example, middle-aged talent show contestant Susan Boyle was catapulted to global fame thanks to hundreds of thousands of people telling friends and family, “You’ve got to see this.” The YouTube video of her first appearance on the show has scored more than 78 million views.xiv It started as entertainment on a single TV channel in the U.K., then became a viral video that spread over the Internet and to TV shows around the world, becoming a news story in its own right that millions of people shared with links on social media. WHITE PAPER: SOCIAL LIFE AND SOCIAL MEDIA 9 Top Two Box Agreement Total Female Male 18-24 25-34 35-44 45-54 55-64 65+ Base (All Respondents) 1,228 626 602 76 279 318 254 183 118 Interaction through electronic means is more convenient than face-to-face. 48.7% 51.4% 55.6% 48.7% 48.0% 56.0% 55.9% 59.0% 49.2% Social groupings online can be truly social. 39.9% 43.0% 36.7% 39.4% 41.6% 38.1% 40.6% 43.7% 33.9% Social media online enhances my social life offline. 27.6% 28.1% 27.0% 35.5% 32.6% 29.6% 25.6% 24.0% 14.4% I don’t feel a big distinction between online and offline; it’s all interaction. 25.6% 24.8% 26.4% 23.7% 29.4% 23.6% 23.6% 24.0% 29.7% Online socializing is for sad, antisocial types. (Disagree) 57.6% 65.7% 49.4% 51.3% 56.6% 54.1% 59.4% 59.0% 67.8%
  9. 9. Susan Boyle’s tally is a huge number, but it’s just a fraction of the one billion views a day, or 11,574 views per second, 694,444 views per minute and 41,666,667 views per hour that YouTube now scores.xv As traditional media such as newspapers and TV channels go online and adopt some of the technologies and techniques of purely social media (e.g., Facebook), they blur the lines between news and social chat. Those outlets now provide space for registered users to respond to news items and editorials, which often turns into lively debate. And they increasingly provide one-button options (“Share” or “E-mail”) to show someone else the piece on social media platforms. THE RISE OF HYPERLOCALISM If social media is a concept most familiar to geeks, techies and marketers, then hyperlocalism is even more of an “insider” notion. It’s about the sort of new ways of creating the local awareness and connectedness that virtually disappeared when consumers stopped walking down Main Street and started relying on TV for their news. In the world of cocooning and commuting, consumers were in one of three places: at home, in transit (typically in a car) or at work. Commutes were getting longer (because of traffic congestion), working hours were getting longer and homes were becoming complete entertainment and communications centers. In the world of cocooning and commuting, it was perfectly possible for things to happen just a block or two away without anybody in the wider neighborhood knowing. Social media are making it quick and easy to create connections with people and businesses in the immediate vicinity. This is happening informally as add-on apps to services such as Twitter and Flickr enable users to find fellow users near them. It’s happening as people meet up by chance and swap social media coordinates. It’s happening more formally as community websites are established, enabling consumers to bookmark special interests and write about local initiatives. 10 WHITE PAPER: SOCIAL LIFE AND SOCIAL MEDIA KEY TAKEAWAY: Convergence rules. With social media it’s impossible to predict whether, when, how, where and in what forms bits of communication will spread. As most traditional media converge online, communication flows among them and consumers themselves become messengers. I would like to make more friends online that are local that I could hang out with offline face-to-face. ” “
  10. 10. Technologies are popping up to help aggregate locally relevant information. Services such as EveryBlock,xvi VillageSoup,xvii Topixxviii and track discussions on the Web and map them to specific locations; they then organize the content by city, state, zip code, neighborhood, street address, latitude/longitude and discrete place. As hyperlocalism gains traction, social media commentators see signs of mainstream media getting in on the action. In October 2009 the Omaha World-Herald Co. announced it had acquired WikiCity, a community-based social website that serves as an online city guide, providing information on places, events and people in 22,000 U.S. towns.xix WikiCity lets readers update their own community pages, giving a bit of a Wikipedia feel.xx Social media enable people to connect more with each other locally, which helps strengthen casual relationships and introduce issues of common interest (Who knows how to install a new printer? What’s happening about that dangerous crossing?). It provides incentives for people to take a more active interest in their locality, stimulating conversations, blogs, citizen journalism and local advertising. The hyperlocal space isn’t just being left to local people and startups. With plenty of registered users through services such as MyYahoo! and Flickr, Yahoo! has built a strong position in local services. Google is looking to develop local listing ads as another line of business. Explaining the concept, the search engine says more than 80 percent of people look to it for local information; using the LLA facility, advertiser details will show up on both Google main search and Google Maps.xxi WHITE PAPER: SOCIAL LIFE AND SOCIAL MEDIA 11 KEY TAKEAWAY: The Web is worldwide, but its emerging power is hyperlocal. This is the space where what’s virtual (online) meets what’s tangible (offline), with each reinforcing the other.
  11. 11. ME/MINE: INTENSE EMPHASIS ON SELF People who spend a lot of time talking and writing about social media sometimes refer to it as SoMe. How right that is. SoMe (not to be confused with some) is very, very personal. It puts each individual right at the heart of his or her social media world. Social media me/mine is hyperlocalism to the nth degree. Individual consumers can tailor absolutely everything to their own specific taste: the look, feel and themes of their social media gadgets (computer, mobile device, phone); the name, look, feel, themes and content of their blog and their SoMe platform profiles (on Twitter, Facebook, etc.); the people they connect with; the content feeds they subscribe to; the playlists they publish; and the reviews they write. Me/mine is the logical extension of the trend toward personal and personalized that has dominated thinking for decades now: personal computers, personal digital assistants, personal trainers, personal coaches, personal finance and, most recently, personal branding and personalized medicine. The rising generation born since the 1970s, millennials, is absolutely at home with digital technology and social media—and apparently takes it for granted that the self hasn’t always come first. Jean M. Twenge’s book Generation Me comes right out and 12 WHITE PAPER: SOCIAL LIFE AND SOCIAL MEDIA
  12. 12. says it in the title, going on to explain: “Generation Me has never known a world that put duty before self and believes that the needs of the individual should come first. This is not the same thing as being selfish; it is captured, instead, in the phrases we so often hear: ‘Be yourself,’ ‘Believe in yourself,’ ‘You must love yourself before you can love someone else.’”xxii Whether Twenge and the critics of modern narcissism are right, there’s no doubt social media put each individual at the heart of his or her media universe and offer a huge scope for self-promotion. MORE DARING—BUT EXTREMES GET MORE EXTREME One of the great benefits of social media is being able to find people with similar interests and attitudes to one’s own. That can also be one of the big problems; it can foster polarized opinions, which in turn create political problems. James A. Thomson, president and CEO of RAND Corp., has said numerous bloggers, Internet forums, social media, online commentators and talk radio have led to a situation in the United States in which there is political warfare rather than political debate: “The proliferation of new, low-cost media, able to aim only at a niche audience, allow people to hear or to read only what they want to, not exposing them to any challenging thought or uncomfortable opinion.”xxiii This is one aspect of the echo-chamber effect of social media. Someone picks up a comment or a snippet of news they like, passes it to connections who are likely to like it, and they in turn pass it on. This can easily result in narrow group-think getting narrower as it feeds on itself. Social media can also, paradoxically, encourage some decidedly antisocial behavior. When interactions are mainly online, some participants feel less inhibited than they would if they were interacting face-to-face, in person. Online, there are no moment-by-moment nonverbal cues that help keep (most) conversations civil and decent. Words can be misused or misinterpreted, humor might not be understood as intended and people can feel they need to express themselves more strongly to make their point or defend their position. WHITE PAPER: SOCIAL LIFE AND SOCIAL MEDIA 13 KEY TAKEAWAY: Social media enable consumers to be more socially collaborative and to share easily across media types. They also, however, condition users to expect quick responses and clear payoffs; after all, the next big social media thing is only a click away. The underlying question is always: What’s in it for me?
  13. 13. This so-called cyberdisinhibition can lead consumers to do ill-advised, inappropriate things such as engaging in flame wars, cyberstalking and posting compromising or defamatory content that can be damaging to reputations all around. The notorious YouTube video of a Domino’s Pizza employee is a case in point. By the same token, a mild-mannered customer such as country singer Dave Carroll can feel emboldened to take on a major corporation. Setting off on tour in 2008, his $3,500 guitar was mishandled by United Airlines baggage handlers in Chicago and badly damaged. After nine months of communications, the airline finally declined to compensate the loss. So Carroll created a music video about the experience, “United Breaks Guitars,” and within 10 days had more than 30 unique placements accruing 3.2 million views and 14,000 comments.xxiv 14 WHITE PAPER: SOCIAL LIFE AND SOCIAL MEDIA Agree with the Statement Total Female Male 18-24 25-34 35-44 45-54 55-64 65+ Base (All Respondents) 1,228 626 602 76 279 318 254 183 118 I feel less inhibited interacting electronically than I 42.6% 45.1% 40.1% 39.5% 50.2% 40.0% 47.3% 35.6% 34.7% do face-to-face. Total Female Male 18-24 25-34 35-44 45-54 55-64 65+ Base (All Respondents) 1,228 626 602 76 279 318 254 183 118 Meet new people 48.7% 51.4% 55.6% 48.7% 48.0% 56.0% 55.9% 59.0% 49.2% Feel empowered to do something you’d been wanting to 31.5% 29.2% 33.9% 34.2% 33.0% 30.8% 30.3% 32.2% 29.7% Lash out about or at companies or their brands 20.0% 15.8% 24.4% 17.1% 20.4% 23.0% 19.3% 18.6% 16.9% HAS THE ANONYMITY OF SOME FORMS OF ELECTRONIC MEDIA LED YOU TO DO ANY OF THE FOLLOWING?
  14. 14. Exactly one-fifth of respondents in the Euro RSCG Worldwide survey had lashed out about or at companies or their brands thanks to the anonymity of some electronic media. Almost half (48.7 percent) had met new people, and almost one-third (31.5 percent) had felt empowered to do something they had been wanting to do. CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS FOR BRANDS AND MARKETERS Embrace the trend, ride the fads. Although it’s important for brands and marketers to get on top of today’s social media platforms, it’s also important not to get hung up on them. Consumers can be fickle, and with digital technology it’s easy for them to switch allegiance. Any of today’s hot social media brands could fall from favor frighteningly fast if the crowd decides to move on. The crucial factor is not the specific technologies, which might be fads, but the functional benefits of social media for consumers. One of the most-prized benefits of the moment is connectivity with mobility. ISPs are gearing up to implement ubiquitous wireless broadband such as WiMax and Mi-Fi; location-based services are adding another dimension of value to mobile devices. The future of social media is likely to combine sociability, mobility, bandwidth, location relevance and low cost. These should be on the checklist of all brands looking to join in. Aim to participate, not dominate. In traditional media, brands have often called the shots; they’ve certainly claimed the right to grab consumers’ attention with advertising. In social media, most brands are absolutely peripheral much of the time. If a brand comes up in an interaction, it might be because they’ve messed up somehow (e.g., made a PR blunder), because they’ve made an entertaining video that consumers want to share or because they have a hot new product. In social media, consumers are mainly interested in one another, and brands need to be acutely interested in their leaders—the “prosumers,” or proactive, social media early adopters who influence other users. No matter what, a brand has to come into the interaction organically; if the brand tries to orchestrate an appearance, it risks being seen as a pushy salesman making a pitch at a party. Rather, brands must figure out creative ways to foster and support the social interactions that consumers seek online and offline. They must aim to be involved in WHITE PAPER: SOCIAL LIFE AND SOCIAL MEDIA 15 KEY TAKEAWAY: The more interactions happen online, with no direct offline contact, the more likely they are to tilt toward extreme behavior. It’s important to blend both online and offline elements.
  15. 15. interactions rather than be the subject or star of them. And their interactions need to be “trialogues,” or multi-way exchanges of ideas and opinions among consumers and brands, which matter now more than ever. Stop thinking online/offline; start thinking interaction. It’s tempting for old-school marketers of all ages to think in terms of online and offline, old media and new media, traditional media and social media, just as some still talk about above the line, below the line and through the line. In a world where hundreds of millions of people switch between online and offline interactions many times a day, making a division between online and offline makes no sense. For brands and marketers, the watchwords must be “social interaction” by whatever blends of means do the job at the time. The “set piece” thinking of the old media world has limited relevance, at best, in an interactive world of social media where things move and change very fast. Unlike in the old media world, senior executives now cannot—must not—leave communication to people lower down in the organization. People throughout corporations have to be using social media often enough to understand them and their possibilities as consumers, as real users. Pay attention to location-specific initiatives. The bigger the corporation or brand, the greater the tendency for big, remote thinking. This doesn’t play so well with social media, because the most powerful interactions are those with “local,” face-to- face qualities. Typically the challenge for a growing business is how to scale up—to move from small, hands-on and local to big and hands-off. With social media the challenge is being able to stay big but scale down and deliver hands-on and local. 16 WHITE PAPER: SOCIAL LIFE AND SOCIAL MEDIA
  16. 16. FOOTNOTES i ii iii iv v vi vii viii ix x,_2009 xi,8599,1905125,00.html xii xiii xiv xv xvi xvii xviii xix xx xxi xxii xxiii, xxiv WHITE PAPER: SOCIAL LIFE AND SOCIAL MEDIA 17
  17. 17. PHOTO CREDITS Cover: Inside front: legay Page 3: (from left); Page 4: (clockwise from top); Google Trends; Page 5: (from top) legay; Consulting Page 6: (from top); Roventine: Out & About Page 7: (from top); Voyager Page 8: Page 9: Page 10: Page 11: (from left)™; Page 12: (from top); Page 14: in LDN Page 15: Page 16: Inside back: legay MicroDialogue LLC conducted the proprietary quantitative research and analyzed thousands of verbatims and other conversations across blogs,Twitter and forums for this study. 18 WHITE PAPER: SOCIAL LIFE AND SOCIAL MEDIA