In an interview last week at the AIIM Conference in San Francisco, author Clay Shirky discussed the fallacy that the Web in general, and Facebook in particular, are just for young people -- and what that could mean to business as you design your online presence.
Clay Shirky makes a presentation at the recent AIIM conference in San Francisco. Source: Ron Miller.
First of all, you need to understand who is actually online. The reality could be different from what you imagine. Shirky suggested that too many businesses don't realize that the online population is actually getting older with each passing year.
Of course, if your target market is 20-year-olds, you need to communicate with them online or you miss them completely. That's where they live, so it's a no-brainer. But what happens as the target audience ages?
Shirky says that, in fact, it's not as clear-cut as we might think, and the older generation is actually gaining an increasing and more meaningful presence online.
"We have this bias and we've had it for 20 years... that these tools are inherently not useful -- particularly to older people, that these are shiny new tools for shiny new people," Shirky said.
But, he added, the research doesn't actually support the notion that as your audience gets older, you're not going to reach them online. In fact, he says, "One of the things we are seeing year after year for the past three years, the fastest growing group on Facebook has been a decade older."
Social networking, he says, is blowing through the entire age range of the US population. So if you continue to cling to the mistaken belief that older people aren't online, and your target demographic is over 35, you could be missing out on key opportunities to reach your audience. Shirky says when it comes to Facebook and other social networks such as Twitter, too often the folks designing a company's online presence make the incorrect assumption that as the audience ages, its online presence decreases; and as Shirky says, "I think that it is turning out to be wrong in an increasing number of cases."
The question then, is what do you do about it? First of all, you can't operate from unfounded biases about what you believe to be true. You have to work with actual data, and finding the best way to reach your audience is the starting point. If your audience isn't online, that's one thing, but if you're making an incorrect speculation about where they are, you are missing chances to reach your target markets, especially if your audience falls beyond the 18-35 target range.
As Shirky points out, "Facebook is the largest concatenation of American interests in one service in the history of the country." Any business that's ignoring that is likely doing so at its own peril.
Facebook is not just for teeny boppers or even millennials anymore; and you can't be basing your marketing campaigns on old-fashioned notions of who is online. As Shirky articulated, the number of people online is increasing all the time across virtually every demographic you can imagine, including people over 35 -- and as a business you need to take that into consideration or risk missing key members of your audience in your online campaigns.
It was reading his book Here Comes Everybody that opened my eyes to the value and power of Twitter, which had seemed pretty stupid to me up til that point. Now I'm considered part of the Boise Twitterati (don't laugh, Boise is considered one of the *most* wired cities when it comes to social media).
As far as age groups on Twitter, both my daughter and my mother-in-law are on it. Daughter and grandma play games together.
You don't even need to buy it from what i understand. I watched a presentation last year on Open Graph and it was frighteningly easy with the right tools to get at data. But the point is we are just using Facebook as one example because of its raw numbers. Shirky's assertion was that there were many sites out there with data.
For instance, he talked about a site called PatientsLikeMe that is becoming a treasure trove of information on different diseases and ailments that provides a larger pool of data than any FDA study.
He also talked about people who set up community sites and inadvertently created databases of information in the process.
You don't have to use brute force to get the data. You just need to get people to participate much as Facebook has.
> Facebook removes attention from the very media that an advertising channel would use!
Yes and that's my point. That's why you're not using ads to engage. You're using the medium itself and the vast body of data you can glean from it. Mock it if you will, but the data's there and many businesses are taking advantage.
If you think Facebook marketing is only about advertising, you are missing the point of this post and the comments I've made. Facebook marketing can use advertising to drive traffic to a business page (and I'm told this works by friends who have tried it on small business pages), but social media marketing is really about engaging your customers outside of traditional marketing channels like ads and brochures and speaking directly to them.
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