The Social Media Evolution

Erik Qualman has written a great new book "Socialnomics: How social media transforms the way we live and do business".

I became familiar with the book through an impressive YouTube video that listed in dramatic form some 37 observations -- some are startling and some predictable -- about the general effect of sociology on media today.

As my readers may be aware, I am committed to the effective deployment of generational media thanks in no small part to my work as professor of music industry at The University of Southern California.

I was actually not teaching music industry or broadcasting or mobile and Internet, it occurred to me, even though that was my mission. I was learning as well as teaching about how sociology is more important than technology in the evolving media business.

Technology is important, no doubt -- but alone, will not a revolution make.

Sociology is even more important than Wall Street because Wall Street looks like lap dogs chasing new business startups when it is usually too late to expect a return on investment. It doesn't stop them, of course, but it does, limit their success.

Oh well, at least they keep making their fees even when the companies they invest in fail.

Qualman's social media revolution is aptly named yet I am going to hitchhike on a few items as I prefer to look at this movement more as an evolution. In the process, we sometimes lose media, gain new media or in some cases see old platforms adapt to new sociology and technology.

Here are a handful of findings from the book with my comments:

• By 2010 Gen Y will outnumber Baby Boomers….96% of them have joined a social network

This points to the clueless nature of radio consolidators who have virtually no Internet or new media strategies and do not understand social networking.

One year from now, the next generation that I have been saying is coming of age will be almost there. Yet the more important point is that virtually all of this generation will be connected to a social network.

Even so, the radio industry is left out as it is currently configured and the music industry just uses other people's networking tools to attempt to reach Gen Y. Both strategies are insufficient in my view.

• Social Media has overtaken porn as the #1 activity on the Web

It's true.

And one out of eight couples married in the U.S. last year met via social media. Still unconvinced that the great revolution was not the computer, Internet or mobile phone but the genius of using these technologies for a more impactful result: social networking.

• If Facebook were a country it would be the world’s 4th largest between the United States and Indonesia

However, it isn't a country and while this statistic is impressive, imagine a world without borders -- the world we eventually are confronting -- where everyone is linked as one big world nation.

In the entire history of civilization individual countries developed for geographical reasons. In a world with fast travel technology, instant communication and the ability to transcend borders, any media company building a future on simple demarcated borders alone will likely fail.

Local radio answers to the need to interact with a local community but going forward as the world links together as one, other "local" communities will evolve including ones that are based on shared interest.

What we see on Facebook is elementary compared to the niche "communities" that will also grow. However, local (meaning within miles of where you live) will likely never go out of vogue and all media companies would be wise to go back to school on this one.

• ComScore indicates that Russia has the most engaged social media audience with visitors spending 6.6 hours and viewing 1,307 pages per visitor per month – is the #1 social network


I was.

Russia number one in social networking? Observe the hours spent interacting socially online or via mobile communications -- count on 6.6 hours to increase. Yes, there is that much growth ahead.

By contrast, Clear Channel just banned Facebook, MySpace and other workplace social networking at their stations. Clear Channel will eventually discover that it is as hard to ban social networking as it was for the Soviet Union to keep people behind the Berlin Wall.

Of course, this ban will end in failure, too, as Clear Channel doesn't understand the future. However there will have to be another response to Clear Channel employees to satisfy their overwhelming need for the next generation to stay connected.

After I taught college students for a while, I stopped asking them to turn their cellphones off or not to text message in class. Being disconnected made them anxious and actually distracted from learning.

I asked for respect for me and others while using these devices. I warned if you text to distraction, you'll be up trying to recite what you missed to the entire class. If you are rude to a classmate, you'll apologize.

Never -- not once -- was any student rude when allowed to stay connected to their social networking tools.

Want more?

• The fastest growing segment on Facebook is 55-65 year-old females

I knew Facebook had 100% market penetration when people I grew up with started connecting with me. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy to reconnect and thankful for Facebook.

But the media lesson -- the one that Steve Jobs gets -- is that the next generation is the early adopter, not Gen X and Baby Boomers. Yet the media industry apparently doesn't get this one, either.

• 80% of Twitter usage is on mobile devices…people update anywhere, anytime…imagine what that means for bad customer experiences?

I wish it was that hopeful. Twitter was embraced by older people. Young folks may tweet but they are already connected through texting and Facebook. The older Twitter users who report when they are going to bed, wake up and everything in between now have distractions from spammers and porn.

This past weekend I received tons of Twitter "follow" requests as I often do, but an increasing number of them are from porn interests. (I know what you're thinking - no, my wife is watching me like a hawk). These unwanted tweets along with increased Facebook spam are an issue that we will discuss on another day.

• e-mail passé…In 2009 Boston College stopped distributing e-mail addresses to incoming freshmen

It's been passe for years now among the next generation. Some people are just beginning to notice. My students used to say email is now their parents way to communicate online.

• The #2 largest search engine in the world is YouTube


But it still doesn't make a profit -- years after Google paid $1.8 billion for it. What's up with that?

Well, not everything social can make money. Many think eBay has declined since big companies hijacked it to move their merchandise. Craig's List -- still a labor of love for its founder -- has grown in stature. Craig's List is not blatantly commercial.

• Wikipedia has over 13 million articles…some studies show it’s more accurate than Encyclopedia Britannica…78% of these articles are non-English

Wait until Steve Jobs comes out with the new iPad (or whatever Apple calls it) that allows textbooks to be stored on this handheld device -- access Wiki in class, at work -- evolutionary.

• There are over 200,000,000 Blogs

But only one is your favorite -- right?

54% of bloggers post content or tweet daily

• 25% of search results for the World’s Top 20 largest brands are links to user-generated content

Traditional media companies are you listening?

Hey, you -- get off of that cloud -- to paraphrase Mick Jagger loosely. Some 78% of consumers trust peer recommendations.

Only 14% trust advertisements but we knew that didn't we? We just hoped advertisers didn't.

Only 18% of traditional TV campaigns generate a positive return on investment.

And 90% of people that can TiVo ads do.

• Hulu has grown from 63 million total streams in April 2008 to 373 million in April 2009

I've been tracking the Hulu phenomenon for you and now we know that some 25% of Americans in the past month said they watched a short video…on their phone!

Video must be a part of all content going forward -- another reason why the audio medium will no longer have an all encompassing reach. As I have said in past pieces, radio will need video and text to compete in a world where all three are expected on demand.

• 24 of the 25 largest newspapers are experiencing record declines in circulation because we no longer search for the news, the news finds us.

Newspapers will discover -- hopefully before it is too late, that its reporters expertise is the draw not the website design. And unfortunately, the newspaper business will be a lot smaller even if it succeeds online.

• Successful companies in social media act more like Dale Carnegie and less like David Ogilvy Listening first, selling second

Thank God!

Now my students understand why I required them to read Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People" in the music industry and generational media classes I taught.

The author points out that the number of years it took to reach 50 million users was:

• Radio (38 Years)
• TV (13 Years)
• Internet (4 Years)
• iPod (3 Years)
• Facebook added 100 million users in less than 9 months
• iPhone applications hit 1 billion in 9 months.

Yet I insist that this is no revolution -- it's an evolution.

Online audio's parents are the radio industry that preceded them.

Bloggers have newspapers to thank for their heritage.

Hulu owes Les Moonves and his ilk to its success.

Even iPods can trace their heritage to a music business that was more like the garment industry than show business.

The meaning of all this to my way of thinking is -- that anyone can play in the social media evolution to come. But to get on the field it will take expertise, skill, practice, willingness to take risks and a will to win.

And most importantly, an understanding and respect for social media.

Do a gut check for radio and records and you'll see where they both come up short by these benchmarks.

The TV industry is declining and it, too, is failing to understand where broadcast TV might fit in with online and mobile video.

Newspapers -- well ... vanishing at an ever increasing rate.

I hope this has been helpful to you in understanding why I am so excited by the possibilities that lie ahead for traditional and new media. Please pass it along if you feel it could be helpful to someone you know.

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