For the first time in its polling, a majority of Americans say they have a smartphone. Read the full report here.
This story caught my eye in the New York Times and I can’t get it out of my mind. The title says it all — Number of Protestant Americans Is in Steep Decline, Study Finds. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life did the research and discovered that white Protestants from liberal Episcopalians to right leaning “born agains” were leaving their faiths and replacing them with…nothing. Young people are not engaging in religion as they once did.
This loss is measurable and steep. Over the last five years the percentage of Americans expressing no religious preference rose from fifteen percent to nearly twenty, according to the piece, a gain of five percentage points on the overall demographic. While you can point to forty years ago and see seven percent of American adults expressing no preference for religion, the drop over the last five years appears especially precipitous.
The report speculates that the reason both Protestants and Catholics became disenchanted with organized religion came when those religions took a right turn and became more active in conservative causes like opposition to homosexuality, gay marriage and abortion.
To back up this contention, the article quotes Phil Zuckerman, a professor of sociology and secular studies at Pitzer College in Southern California. “The significant majority of the religiously unaffiliated tend to be left-leaning, tend to support the Democratic Party, support gay marriage and environmental causes,” he said.
Ok, I don’t want to get into politics and I dislike talking about religion much more than this so here’s my point. Five years ago (2007) social media was embryonic. LinkedIn launched in May of 2003, Facebook in February 2004 and Twitter in March 2006. So, does the evolution of social media have anything to do with the decline in religiosity? Consider that the biggest group of non-believers is “younger millennials,” people between 18 and 22 — the same people who led the social medial wave. Fully one-third of this group checks off the “none of the above” box when it comes to religion.
So, did right leaning religion leave an opening in the hearts and minds of young people? Did disaffected young people gravitate to social media to access the feeling of community once the exclusive province of religion? I am not asking this to hurt anyone’s feelings. Maybe I am making too much of this but that’s how my curious mind works.
No Place for Rocket Scientists
It looks like the honeymoon in social media is, if not ending, at least getting long in the tooth. A report by Pew Research last week shows that the social public might be waving a yellow flag at all the socialization opportunity whizzing by. For several years the walls have been going up and this report documents that people are actively de-friending, making their pages private and some are regretting at least some of their postings.
The report, “Privacy management on social media sites” says among other things:
- In 2011 63% of respondents admitted de-friending someone (up seven points from 2009). Also 44% said they’d deleted comments left by friends and 37% have untagged photos.
- After many years of adding content and “friends” the Pew report now says that people are actively pruning their friends lists. Moreover there is a discernable rise — a majority actually — in the number of people who make their Facebook pages private.
- The report also shows that a majority of social network site users – 58% – restrict access to their profiles and women are significantly more likely to choose private settings.
- Finally, half of SNS users say they have some difficulty in managing privacy controls, but just 2% say it is “very difficult” to use the controls. But those with the most education report the most trouble.
Very often when a fad declines, it crashes and burns like a bubble in the economy. Social networking will likely be different. It’s such a sea change for the global community that it’s hard to fathom if or how we could ever go back to a time before Facebook, Twitter and the rest. But some prudent reassessment of social media has been overdue and that looks like what might be happening as people who have been burned to one degree or another have decided to scale back their participation. As the hype-cycle recedes we might discover more or better or at least more appropriate places for social media in our lives.
One thing I can’t figure out though is why people with more education have the most trouble with privacy settings. Could this simply be a manifestation of nerds being asocial? Hmmm.
New research from Harvard Business School and the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project give new perspective to the social media and social CRM phenomenon and raise a yellow flag for all those people proclaiming social media the second coming. First Harvard.
The Economist ran one of its special report sections this week (the issue with Steven Jobs dressed as Moses on the cover) on social networking. While generally laudatory of the technology’s promise — headlines include “Profiting from friendship” and “A peach of an opportunity” — the report also delivered the unvarnished and synamic truth about adoption.
A section titled “Twitter’s transmitters, The magic of 140 characters” quoted the work of Mikolaj Jan Piskorski, a Harvard Business School professor, and one of his MBA students Bill Heil. According to The Economist, the researchers surveyed more than 300,000 Twitter users in May 2009 and reported results that include:
- More than half said they tweeted less than once every 74 days (not quite twice per quarter).
- The most active 10% of twitter users published 90% of all Tweets.
By comparison, the article says that on other social networks, “the most active users typically produce 30% of all content.” Holy #$%^ Batman!
So who are these people? According to Pew, they’re the kind of people you might want to have a beer with — when they’re older. As reported in “Fast Company” Ninety-three percent of teens between 12 and 17 go online, 66% say they text. The 18 to 29 group also has a 93 percent rank of online users and though the numbers slip for real adults — 81% of those 30 to 49 and 70% of those 50 to 64 — the numbers are very healthy.
Get more numbers here: http://www.fastcompany.com/blog/zachary-wilson/and-how/pew-survey-finds-increase-social-media-internet-time-decrese-blogging-te
The question though is what are these people doing when they are online? Teens are giving up on blogging, their numbers are about half what they were a few years ago. Facebook is the big winner for kids and time-starved parents like Twitter. Only 15% of young adults bother to blog, down nine points over two years.
What’s it all mean?
The Fast Company article ends with this, “Meanwhile, blogging is on the rise for adults over 30, who increased to 11% from 7% in 2007. And 47% of adults now use social networking sites, up 10% from a year ago.”
It seems the most economically viable demographic is getting its act together but there are caveats. There are many more readers than writers — that’s not surprising, it’s human nature. But I think you need to be wary here. Diane Hessan, CEO of Communispace, likes to remind me that in social networking, participation is very important and knowing the demographics of participation is vital.
The ten percent of Twitter users contributing ninety percent of tweets with more than half logging on very occasionally is a red flag for anyone contemplating social media marketing because it exposes an important truth that membership is not participation. There is no t enough data on the Twitter users who tweet once per quarter. Do they go to Twitter daily to read stuff? I am sure some do, but I wouldn’t want to base a marketing campaign on it.
The decline in blogging is a clear indication that there is, or soon will be, less to read on blogs and less to comment on, though there will be more personal stuff to see on Facebook, if you have a lot of friends.
I have recently seen a number of CRM products that capture such valuable information as a person’s Twitter, Facebook and Blog account information. The vendors are certain that this information is the source of new insight and business opportunity, even in the B2B space. I am not. This data suggests that just as vendors are ramping up, the raw material that they expect to mine may be drying up. Notwithstanding the 11% of adults over 30 who are blogging more, it seems to me that people are moving to personal expression that may not have a great deal of business utility.
Some of the explanation for this may be the rotten economy but we’re about four months into a turnaround, and numbers complied last May are already becoming obsolete. Business activity is picking up but it is unclear if people are turning to social media to do their business networking.
The lesson from this, for me, hews close to Hessan’s advice. You need to understand who is participating — not their names and other identifying data but participation per person or organization, demographic data and the like. A lot of 17 year old boys might be attracted to the new models on an exotic car site for instance, but you wouldn’t want to develop a marketing campaign for them.