Let’s Get Sociable

4 09 2011

The real measure of any new product category is not so much in how many people try it out, but how many go on to adopt it. After all, those people form your core constituency. Sure, you do need a lot of tire kickers to increase your odds. But if you can convert a high percentage of tryers into believers, then success is yours. There’s money to go around.

It’s called the market penetration rate. For example, 91% of USAmericans have a cell phone (and about one-half of these are smartphones). But it took about 20 years to reach this level of saturation. Age and income factors may very well be the only things separating the other 9% from wireless communications.

But what about when the “product” is in fact a free service, one that makes very few demands of its users? The arena suddenly becomes very different. Such is the case of Facebook, the social networking giant that now boasts over 750 million users worldwide. Started in 2004, it has become more than just ubiquitous. It is our very means of communication.

These Facebook Stats tell the story. When content and status updates are measured in the billions, you know something exciting is going on.

But here is the very interesting part: Of those 750 million users, roughly 70% are from the US. That means roughly 225 million of us are on Facebook, representing a lofty 72.5% penetration rate.

And income is not a delimiter here this time. It’s probably only age (both young and old).

This doesn’t even begin to account for the non-Facebook users who have accounts an other social networking sites, like Twitter, Classmates (now Memory Lane) and MySpace. What it means is that we Americans have so embraced social networking that it has become as commonplace as eating and breathing.

Well, almost. On average, we post three times each day. Some of us do more than our fair share (ahem), but even if we don’t, we are still checking in (50% of all users do so daily).

No wonder ad sales are so strong. No wonder everyone can’t wait for the IPO.

Facebook has changed a multitude of things. It has reunited us with all the folks from various online-like layers of our life. We now stay in touch via Wall posts and FaceMail (email is so 1997!). We form interest groups, stage events, and blast invites. We organize reunions (I am doing so right now with a friend from high school). We follow companies as if we were personal friends. Heck, we now shop via Facebook (yeah, e-commerce is so 1997).

And as my brother-in-law and I discussed, that whole Kevin Bacon 6-Degrees-Of-Separation thing is now pretty much blown out of the water. No, it’s down to 2. Maybe less. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of my Facebook friends knows President Barack Obama (that would be cool). Lady Gaga (eh, not so cool). Sandra Bullock (here’s my number…pass it along).

One of my favorite things on FB is when I toss out a topic, only to have a lively discussion ensue between a bunch of my friends who do not know each other. People separated by miles and numerous layers of context. “Brian (my brother-in-law), meet Carol. She was in my youth group in Chicago. Jeff (from college), meet Seana (the greatest long-distance cyclist I have ever met). Gail (my high school reunion co-conspirator), meet Lori and Leigh (my business partners). And I cannot forget all of my current and former students. Yeah, it gets complicated. Now discuss among yourselves.

If you think that blogs and YouTube helped propel the citizen journalism movement, think again. Both Facebook and Twitter have made us all real-time journalists. And it’s not just newsy items either. I often get snarky and post pics of strange things I see in stores, on signs, etc., as well as links to weird stuff I find online. Anything and everything has suddenly become fair game in the social era.

To be sure, there are detractors, Luddites and Hell-No-I-Won’t-Go Americans who may never, ever join the movement. And there are many valid criticisms that the social graph just opens us up to stalking and identity theft. Never mind a bunch of completely useless information. Of course, that’s all in the eye of the beholder.

Most important to me, though, is that each of us is writing the story of our lives via our Status Updates. I for one enjoy reading them, as much as is humanly possible. What my friends write tells me just a little more about them…and I why I am their friend. If that isn’t cool, I don’t know what is.

Maybe it says something about the human condition. Maybe it says something about current society, and our need for interaction (even if it isn’t F2F). And maybe it says something about tapping into an unmet need like nothing before it.

Because the market penetration rate tells the story. Go ahead and post that.

Dr “What’s On Your Mind?” Gerlich




One response

4 09 2011

Interesting post. It is fascinating to think how much social media has revolutionised the way we communicate and also how ingrained in our lives it has become. I read somewhere that 1 in 5 American couples met via online dating- a true social “revolution”!

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