Social Networking and the Web: An unreliable distribution channel?

Just before I went on my summer break, an interesting article crossed my PC screen – “Social sites losing popularity with young”  – an article in the FT on 6th August[1].

This article makes two interesting points:

(1)  The number of “young” internet users (defined as 15 to 24 year olds) using social networking sites (such as MySpace and Facebook) has, surprisingly, declined for the first time.
(2)  These sites (and others such as LinkedIn) are growing in popularity – but only in terms of older internet users.  However,  these may be totally new social networking users looking to adopt social networking as part of a post redundancy job search exercise.

For me, these are interesting findings and support my own thinking that both the use of the internet and social networking media is at a relatively immature stage and may not offer businesses the total relationship building and distribution solution that many are wishing for.  Therefore, basing a long-term business model on these routes may be risky.

We can make some early inferences:

(a) Usage of the web, and particularly social networking sites, will probably change depending upon the user’s age and life cycle stage.

(b) Users – and I would suggest particularly younger users – will be relatively ‘promiscuous’. From my own family experience, I was surprised to see how quickly MySpace fell from fashion to be replaced by Facebook.

(c) Social networking – a lifecycle. Early indications are that the lifecycle of social networking sites – such as Friends Reunited for example – may be surprisingly short. This leaves us with the question – what will replace Facebook?

If we couple these findings with other work (for example [2]) that looks at the emerging effects on consumer behaviour of the recession – especially amongst generation Y (the offspring of generation X – the ‘baby boomers’) – a complex picture merges. Early research on recession effects inform us that there may be a growing mistrust of larger corporations – and a need for greater personal inter-action – a ‘visible not digital handshake’.

So, a wholly web based distribution and relationship building strategy could look fairly shakey.

If customer lifetime and loyalty maximisation are important for your business then a far more complex model may be needed of which the web and social networking are but two components.

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[1] M. Palmer, “Social sites losing popularity with young,” Financial Times, August 6.
[2] U. Haque, “The Generation M Manifesto,” Harvard Business Publishing, Jul. 2009.

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