Wednesday, July 30, 2008
When MySpace and Facebook started taking off, it was common knowledge that online social networking was a frivolous young person's activity.
But as the technologies and audiences evolved, the stereotype melted away entirely. We got used to thinking of non-adopters as strangely stubborn or churlish. People of all ages, it seemed, were equally likely to have a large friend list. Social media accounts were becoming like a cellphone - yes, teenage girls still ran up ridiculously high bills and/or exposed themselves to brain cancer - but everyone was getting on board, in a general sense.
Whoops, not quite. A new demographic study of social media shows that across all the social networks -- even on LinkedIn -- the number of people with accounts drops sharply when you hit the 35-44 demographic. The number of women using LinkedIn, almost equal to men in the 25-34, drops particularly sharply in the next age bracket.
If adoption patterns don't change, this only sorts itself out eventually over time - a very long, slow time - in the sense that those early-30-somethings will eventually be 40-something. But it points to a potentially big problem on an individual career level for many Gen-Xers and boomers, groups that have long thought of themselves as connected, hip, and in control of their destinies.
Interpretation 1: Exchanging monkey doodles with acquaintances falls into "Level 4 activity" as defined by Stephen Covey. Neither urgent nor important, it's a pure distraction and subtracts time spent working, and isn't even real leisure. Gen X figured this out long ago and are busy beavers avoiding distractions. There is a lot of merit in this interpretation, I think. 13-24's have lots of time to waste which explains their chatting behavior; 25-34's still haven't outgrown their youthful habits. On that interpretation, Facebook is like XBox. Or going to a lot of "stags" and "stagettes." *Not* doing something isn't proof you aren't savvy; it means you no longer need all these distractions as a crutch. You have a "life" - a busy job, a family, and active leisure pursuits. You don't live in someone else's house. For a network, the old-school email address book, etc., works just fine.
Interpretation 2: By shunning connectedness, workers in mid-career set themselves up for a trap should they ever need to change jobs or progress through the ranks. The lack of a handy network also makes it harder to reach out and get a quick answer to a question, or to remind someone of your presence. You lose your sharpness. You have one less tool in your arsenal to tap into the global "brain," since the social graph can augment "mere" research. Relative isolation moves you closer to the camp of The Rooted as described by Prof. Richard Florida in his latest (Who's Your City?, Chapter 5, "The Mobile and the Rooted"). If your virtual city is as unfashionable or as tucked away as an economically-unfavorable real physical location (you've gotta read Florida to get this), you wind up with lower ("rooted") status than those who are connected and mobile (even if only virtually in this case).
There is considerable food for thought in Interpretation 2. Weighing some of the evidence and looking at a list of the most successful folks I know, my sense is that churlish non-adopters may need to take a second look at the benefits of the social graph. While Facebook may be akin to XBox, in other ways, professionals should be wary of involuntary dropping out of a race they didn't even know was being run.
Labels: social media, social networking
View Posts by Category
Andrew's book, Winning Results With Google AdWords, (McGraw-Hill, 2nd ed.), is still helping tens of thousands of advertisers cut through the noise and set a solid course for campaign ROI.
And for a glowing review of the pioneering 1st ed. of the book, check out this review, by none other than Google's Matt Cutts.
Posts from 2002 to 2010