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The State of Social Media 2011: Social is the new normal

Part 6 in a series introducing my new book, The End of Business as Usualthis is not content from the book, this series serves as its prequel.

The state of social media is no insignificant affair. Nor is it a conversation relegated to a niche contingent of experts and gurus. Social media is pervasive and it is transforming how people find and share information and how they connect and collaborate with one another. I say that as if I’m removed from the media and cultural (r)evolution that is digital socioeconomics. But in reality, I’m part of it just like everyone else. You and I both know however, that’ I’m not saying anything you don’t already know.

Social media is clearly becoming the new normal. For the last several years, simply adding the word “social” in front of anything and everything from media and gaming to commerce and CRM to business and consumerism, it’s clear that we are finally approaching the end of the hype curve to start making sense of what it all means and just how far it applies to the future of business and media.

But as social media becomes part of our cultural fabric and even as we witness businesses, governments, sports teams, and almost every organization socialize communication efforts today, much of what we see is merely the beginning of something that will one day become something far more important than the medium itself. Indeed, social media is affecting behavior and nothing is more important than the ability to influence decisions and ultimately behavior. The state of social media is not necessarily as much about which network is #winning as much as it is about how people are spending their time, interacting and connecting with one another, and what happens as a result.

To demonstrate this point, let’s review the profound findings from the recently released Nielsen Social Media Report.

1) Skeptics will now be recognized as laggards as they now officially stand in the way of progress. According to Nielsen, and well, reality, social media isn’t a fad. The report opens with a key finding that social networks and blogs dominate how Americans spend their time online, which accounts for nearly 25% of their total time spent on the Internet.

2) Four out of five active internet users aka everyday people visit social networks.

3) Looking beyond the U.S., in 10 major global markets, social networks and blogs reach over 75% of active Internet users.

4) 60 percent of people who use three or more digital means of research for product purchases learned about a specific brand or retailer from a social networking site. And, 48% of these consumers responded to a retailer’s offer posted on Facebook or Twitter.

5) 70 percent of active online adult social networkers shop online.

6) 53 percent of active adult social networkers follow a brand.

7) Tumblr nearly tripled its audience from just one year ago.

As a brand, Nielsen’s report gives us both validation and insight into the importance of social media in the business mix. But just who’s driving the growth? Understanding the demographics and also psychographics of social media users will help us more effectively connect our brand story to the needs and behavior of the social consumer. Nielsen reminds us that women make up the majority of visitors to social networks and blogs. The 18-34 segment boasts the highest concentration of active visitors among all age groups. Americans aged 35-49 are avid visitors as well as they are 4% more likely than average consumers to visit social networks and blogs than they do any other site. We’ve also learned in previous reports that Boomers are also flocking to social networks, with the adoption of social networks such as Facebook by the over 50 contingent growing by over 88%.

As I’ve long maintained, Facebook is the homepage for the social Web of the most progressive businesses. According to Pingdom, with 800 million users, Facebook is now the size of the entire Internet in 2004. And, as Nielsen shows us, at 53.5%, Facebook accounts for the majority of total time spent online.

Of course, social media is only part of the story. How consumers access the Internet and social networks alike counts for everything. As you can see, 37% of people access social networks from their mobile phone. Social networks aside, if your business isn’t creating dedicated online experiences for mobile devices, you’re missing a tremendous opportunity to connect with consumers.

Consumer activity is focused squarely on social networking in addition to accessing music, Web browsing, and GPS functionality. Engagement through content and 1:1 interaction is critical in earning relevance and attention in a new era of consumerism.

Social networking apps are up a whopping 30% from third quarter 2010. At the top of the list is Facebook with mobile usage dominated by 25-34 year-olds at 29% followed equally by those 18-24 and 35-44 at 20%. Access to social networks from mobile phones is up significantly among older demographics from just last year. Mobile usage among those over 55 jumped by 109% and those 35-54 grew by 68%.

Those active within social networks wield far greater influence offline than their more traditional counterparts. While we understand that consumers trust the recommendations of their peers, research by NM Incite reveals that 60% of social media users review products and services and is also their preferred source for information about the products they too consider. As you can see above, their effects are also felt offline. 33% are more likely to share their opinion on TV programs. 75% are more likely to be heavy spenders on music. Almost 50% are likely to spend significantly on clothing, shoes, and accessories.

Over the years, I’ve researched the gap that exists between what businesses think consumers want in social networks and what it is that they really want or expect. As you can imagine, there’s a significant delta between each and here, Nielsen delved a bit deeper to share insights into specific brand-related behavior by consumers in social networks. Much of their time is spent in pre-commerce phase of decision making, reading consumer feedback and learning about products. At the point of the decision, they seek to obtain coupons and promotions. Post commerce, they’re actively posting positive or negative feedback, thus influencing the decisions of others.

The dominance of social networking isn’t relegated to the United States, it is indeed a global phenomenon…and a way of digital life. Nielsen discovered that social networks and blogs are the top online destination accounting for the majority of time spent online, reaching at least 60% of active Internet users in the following countries:

1. Australia
2. Brazil
3. France
4. Germany
5. Italy
6. Japan
7. Spain
8. Switzerland
9. U.S.
10. U.K.

The End of Social Media 1.0

Social media is approaching a much needed maturity cycle where each word “social” and “Media” will no longer unite as an oxymoron, but instead as a true statement in how businesses and customers connect online. As a disruptor to everyday business, social media is forcing us to rethink everything. It is in many ways just like starting over. We are relearning and questioning everything and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. From creative and messaging to execution and measurement to service and loyalty, we now must look at applying more sophisticated and meaningful programs that combine social and media into a powerful form of engagement and leadership.

We will one day soon realize the day when “social” becomes part of the everyday construct in how people talk to one another and how we collaborate to solve for whatever brings us together. In the mean time, socializing media is only half as important as improving relationships and experiences within digital landscapes.

What do you think is different about today…what makes this the end of business as usual?

Order The End of Business as Usual today…

Part 1 – Digital Darwinism, Who’s Next
Part 2 – Social Media’s Impending Flood of Customer Unlikes and Unfollows
Part 3 – Social Media Customer Service is a Failure!
Part 4 – I think we need some time apart, it’s not me, it’s you
Part 5 – We are the 5th P: People

Connect with Brian Solis on Twitter | LinkedIn | Facebook | Google+ | BrianSolisTV
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92 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “The State of Social Media 2011: Social is the new normal”

  1. Robert Gilmour says:

    I see no reason to believe the end of business as usual is nigh. The commercial value of social media is still way way short of all the hyped up prophecies, hoped to be self fulfilling I suspect) and until i see firm evidence of serios attributed commercial returns, i’d say the jury is very much still out. 

  2. Ianrbruce says:

    Very interesting post – a lot to think about. To some extent, social media is
    saturating. Adoption rates are cresting and among online Americans that are 35-and-younger, adoption of social media is about the same as adoption of cars. Social media is everyday.

    This has profound – and mixed consequences
    for marketing professionals.

  3. Tim McDonald says:

    Embrace the share, engage, and communication 2.0, or die…Cheers!

    • Robert Gilmour says:

      There is more woffle written about the commercial value of social media than about any other subject6 i can remember. In fact its just woffle, the commercial value is rarely properly addressed. I’m in travel, a doer, and seeing is believing, and i haven’t seen it yet.

  4. Sherry Heyl says:

    These stats in such a contrast to 3 things I witnessed this past week. I was presenting at a Human Resource conference on Tuesday. In a room of about 70 ppl only 2 had social media guidelines within their company and most of the room was not real familiar with the basics of Facebook. While at the Mac store on Wed I helped a Mac genius help a woman grasp the concept of cloud computing and how she can use Flickr to share her photos. On Thurs I presenting to an sales executive group who was just beginning to grasp the value of Linkedin. While social media is pervasive throughout the web, I do not believe people really understand it yet.

  5. Robert Austin says:

    It’s all probably true but I also point to research showing that 90% of consumer conversations about brands, products and services happen offline. Makes it a bit trickier when all that social conversation isn’t about what we’d like it to be. Here’s the study:

  6. This article is exactly why 1.5 years ago a business partner and myself decided to create a social media marketing agency. After 20+ years each in traditional media, we saw that this will be the future of marketing and communications and decided to focus only on this form of marketing/media. Anyone that has teens, watch the way they and their friends use social platforms to find and connect with businesses, organizations and the things they “like” and then SHARE this with each other full of organic reviews. 
    This entire social sphere had become the very fabric of how we communicate. Facebook alone can be considered infrastructure now, a utility that will never go away (possibly renamed, a new platform…the idea of it will never go away). It’s an exciting time to be in ad/marketing.

  7. Judith says:

    Interesting data and interpretation.  Probably useful if you want to keep your product, service, team or advocacy on top of mind.    

  8. Yes I agree with Duncan, the statistics are fun to look at but unfortunately don’t apply to all business owners in different market segments. If you want to successfully target your a specific market segment make sure you do the research yourself. 

    • briansolis says:

      That’s the best advice for everything…which is another reason why we can’t place so much value on case studies. Customers are different across every market and what works for one, might not work for another.

    • Jon Anscher says:

      And there is also that X-Factor that can break all the statistics. That innovative idea, that if you “test” it on audiences before hand, you may let go of an idea that really would end up taking off. I think it’s interesting to look at statistics, but there’s a bit of a chicken and egg question here, do the statistics drive our decisions or do our decisions drive the statistics?

  9. Kate Latierra says:

    True, social media is where things are happening these days. We can’t deny its influence on web marketing or how businesses connect with their customers. It is a powerful tool when correctly used.

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