Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Who's using social networks?

My intrigue in social networks is recent. I've spent the past few months trying to gain a better understanding of who is using them and why. Admittedly I'm not big on social networks. I have a Facebook page that I never update and I'm on Linked In, which I tend to update only after receiving an invitation to join a colleague's network. I don't see a lot of value in the premise of having hundreds of "friends" whom I don't know, but happened to come by their email address at one time or another. It's akin to building a permission based marketing database. Yes, someone has agreed to hear from me, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're hoping I take them up on the offer. The other reason I don't see a lot of value in social networking is because the majority of my friends aren't there, and most don't have a desire to participate in the space. It makes me wonder if my set of friends is so unique to be immune to what is purportedly exploding all around us or if the use of social networks is being over-projected to a larger demographic than the active user base. When I ask people why they don't use social networking sites, twitter, blog, etc. (and we go through the explanations of what I'm talking about) it becomes apparent - my friends, much like myself, are too busy to maintain the effort. Between careers, family and a social life there isn't a lot of time left to participate in an on-line life. From there I think about the people that I know that do use the technology and it always comes down to two major categories - marketers (who are there to figure out why other people are there and to figure out a way to capitalize on that) and the people in their mid-20s that I met while in my graduate degree program. What will be interesting to follow is if the people that were active Facebook users while going to school (and not working) continue to be as active once they graduate and land full-time jobs. It's at that point that the real value of social networking may become clearer.


Rishi said...

I can so relate to this comment, and in a selfish way felt relieved that others (albeit a sample of 1 i.e. you), felt the same way. In fact my social networking pattern is strikingly similar to yours i.e have a FaceBook account which is skeletal in information and needs to be updated/ enriched (including a photograph!!, and that's when I wonder where do all the people who are not just updating photographs to chronological accuracy, as well as maintain their relationship status on a daily basis!!, ever get the time).. Sorry I digress.. coming back to my social networking, have a Facebook account, have a LinkedIn account and opening a Myspace account that has not been used since the day I set it up.. Not impressive, right!
That said, personally I have begun to appreciate the power of these social networking sites - through LinkedIn, I have managed to re-establish contact with my batch mates from Business school in India. So its like a utility tool which exists which I can use at will. Not doing justice to the potential of the portal, but suits my needs.
On the flip side, like you accurately noted, the younger generation lives on these sites, and its all about social connectivity, that too virtually. Between finding a house, a job, a soulmate, a wife, a divorce lawyer, everything seems to be stemming from these social networking sites. I too believe that if we ever plotted the active use of these social networking sites with either age, marital status (there is a correlation between these two anyway), we are bound to see a sudden drop beyond a certain age (coinciding with when one starts to work) and/or when the marital status changes from S to M.
In the meanwhile I continue to use the networking sites on an as need basis, but have to admit that I came to know about this blog thru your link in LinkedIn, which I got from Wendy at the day care.. so I will check it as yes if someone were to say if these social networking sites are of any help!!

Jaimee said...

As a 22-year-old fresh out of the school scene, I would like to comment on the social networking I’ve experienced.

In college, social networking via Myspace or Facebook was a necessity. It was where you “connected” with classmates (whether they were aware of it or not). More importantly, these networks were the ultimate procrastination tool. I had dorm-mates who would “facebook stalk” for hours. Updating pictures was vital to your social status, because everyone was in competition to post the craziest most booze-infused weekend first. And yes, obviously the larger your friend list, the more successful you were at being a college student.

Personally, I was more of a Myspacer than a Facebooker. I didn’t really embrace the whole college social scene and hung around with the local Boston music crowd instead (many of whom weren’t the college type), and Myspace was just more popular with them. The Boston music scene is a huge social network in itself. There were always shows and after parties to go to and new people to "friend". Looking back, I updated my profiles more regularly when I had the most going on.

Today, I go to work, I come home, I watch TV, and I barely ever update my profiles—even with all that free time! I spend all day at work on the computer—the last thing I want to do when I get home is update my “mood status.” I can’t be bothered. Like Rishi, I now use networks on an “as need basis.” I mostly use them when I want to say hi to friends I’ve lost touch with but don’t feel like calling. Sad, I know. I’m not a social network success story.

My 26-year-old boyfriend, on the other hand, can’t get enough of them. Not only does he update his many network profiles on a daily basis, he is on at least 5 niche message boards, including one for local vinyl collectors. I didn’t even know he collected vinyl! He stays in touch with everyone he’s ever met. No joke. He has his life with me, and then about 15 other lives online. I have no idea how he finds the time. I don’t even feel neglected (and I’m pretty needy!)

In sum, I think when you have more going on in your life (or want to pretend you do), you want to talk about it. The majority of people transitioning from school to jobs will probably grow out of online social networks, but some of us will continue to take total advantage of them.

One last comment: I was talking to someone the other day about how they met their spouse. He said they met online. It didn’t strike me as strange. It’s pretty common today with all the online dating sites. Five years ago, meeting your significant other online and TALKING ABOUT IT was the ultimate faux pas, but now it is totally acceptable.