While the mainstream press, and most digital marketing firms, are convinced that social media are changing the consciousness and habits of humanity, I've chanced upon two studies that suggest otherwise:
- Only 5% of blogs are updated more than once every 120 days, and less than a million are updated every day. Out of 133 million blogs included in the late 2008 survey by Technorati, most of them are abandoned after the first post or two
- While blogging has subsided to levels last seen somewhere in 2005 or so, about half of Twitter's micro-bloggers post, or tweet, less than once every 74 days. Most of the platform's traffic is generated by 10% of its users, according to this Harvard study
Those are still staggeringly large and directionally important numbers. Advocates and detractors will incessantly debate them, but I think the idea that more people will communicate with one another more often, and for more reasons, is all but a forgone conclusion. Bickering about the details doesn't change the inevitability of the future.
But the usage numbers do bring into question 1) when will that future arrive, and 2) how will we get there?
The perception that social media usage is today's cultural and communications phenomena has led many companies to invest in experimental programs, then struggle to invent ways to measure them. However creatively memorable the campaigns have been, the numbers mimic the ersatz measures for internal states of brand that never quite felt right in the old days (best case), or reveal clicks, time spent, or other metrics that would consider even indirect relevance to branding an accomplishment.
Now consider the possibility that the reason why the numbers don't add up is because people aren't using social media as much as we were led to believe?
Facebook registers a zillion clicks every nanosecond. So does YouTube. But visiting sites for entertainment or conversation isn't new; we’ve been doing it in analog reality since Ogg debuted his first finger painting on a cave wall in Lascaux. The big aha of the social web is the democratization of content, both creating and sharing it. The consumers to whom we want to sell have become producers, or so the liturgy goes, who insist on participating in our businesses. Blogging, of any sort, is a primary way they narrate and advocate that participation, and it's supposed to change the way we deliver branding.
It turns out that there are just far fewer of those consumers online at any given moment. Further, if there aren't so many of them actively doing anything, do we consider them "evangelists" spreading the word into the cosmos, or perhaps a small cadre of individuals who are busy effectively talking only to one another?
Here's the scariest thought: what if all those consumers who abandoned traditional media, and rejected the presumptions of marketing upon which we have for so long relied, are still missing?