Today I want to join the dots between a few posts last week. I also want to put out a theory which may, at least partly, explain why social media sites are hits especially with teenagers. They include sites such as Facebook, Myspace and Bepo. More broadly one can add other social media sites which include social networking features, eg LinkedIn, Delicious, Flikr, and YouTube.
Among the key features of these social media sites, often listed as part of Web 2.0, are their scope for comments; ease of content uploading, tagging and bookmarking; linking to "friends"; and receiving automated updates about them.
Three steps brought me here:
- In the first step, on Tuesday last week I put up a Lighbulb blog post about a major December 2007 Australian Government study into the consumption of media by Australian children and teenagers across the 8 to 18 age range.
- In the second step, more thoughts came to me about that post on Wednesday when I read a column in the Digital Generation special issue of BRW (Business Review Weekly), February 28 - April 2, 2008. The column was by the Neil Shoebridge, the BRW's insightful marketing and media specialist.
- In the third step, on Friday I read news about the sale for US$850 million of Bepo. I put up a short post as part of The Fly Speaks statistics series. Bepo is a three year old social networking site used largely by teenagers and young adults. I titled it "Bebo founders and VC backers sing Be-bop-a-lula".
After the first step I noticed reference to a similar US study in 2005, the Generation M: Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year-olds by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Today I noticed reference to that study in the Australian study. It was then a good opportunity to compare media consumption patterns in Australia and the US. As I read an overview of the Kaiser study I was keen to see if Australian 8 to 18 year olds (studied in 2007) were similar or different from their US peers (studied in 2005). I was comparing the 2005 Kaiser study to the 2007 Australian Government study. Here are three observations before I turn to my core enquiry, ie why is social media in 2008 such a hit?
- It seems Australian and American 8 to 18 year olds are remarkably similar. For example they both consume massive numbers of hours of media. In the 2005 US data, on average the 8 to 18 age range spends six and a half hours a day consuming media! A key change from US data in 1999 and 2005 was that 8 to 18 year olds in one sense increased their consumption of media because by 2005 they multi-tasked more, eg watching TV in the background as they surfed the net.
- Television and music dominate the media consumption habits of the age range. Fifty years on since the invention in the 1950s of the concept of teenagers the consumption of music remains high. Other than TV, no media takes up as much of their time. This is illustrated in the graphic below from the Kaiser Generation M study setting out time spent each day on media.
- In the Kaiser study media was defined broadly. The same was the case in the Australian Government study. In the Kaiser study media included pay, cable and free-to-air, television, MP3 and other mobile music players, music on CDs, VCR/DVDs, internet, radio, video game consoles, reading print media, computers, mobile phones, etc. This long list confirms that media fragmentation, not displacement, continues to be the reality.
But what explains social media consumption particularly by teenagers and young adults, a trend that snowballed in 2007 and earlier in the US? Why are younger people spending so much time in social media? Will this affect future media consumption statistics?
Something I noted in Commercialisation of IP and IT products for Australian children: trends and statistics now stands out. This post on the 2007 Australian Government study refers to data not apparent in the 2005 United States data. It is data on text messaging and social networking. Note two facts from the 2007 study.
- Australian teenagers aged 15 to 17 spent an average of 30 minutes a day sending text messages.
- Of the two and a half hours a day they spend online, 23 minutes is taken up in online social networking activity.
Further light is shed on our questions by Shoebridge. In his BRW column "New future for kaleidoscope kids", he quotes the Australian social commentator, marketing consultant, author and media personality, Hugh Mackay. I'll join their dots, with no editorial comment. I'll just extract views Shoebridge attributes to Mackay.
What marketers do not know or do not fully realise is that today's children and young adults are, according to social watcher and author Hugh Mackay, living in a kaleidoscope. They are living in a world where everything is changing, all the time. As a result, they are reluctant to become too committed to anything: beliefs, religions, politicians, jobs or brands.
Mackay's catchy summary of the experiences and mood of young consumers is an accurate reflection of a group of people who will, as they age, become the key consumers for most marketers. ...
Australia's falling marriage rate and rising divorce rate is part of the fragmentation that young people live with; more than 1 million children live with one parent and every weekend 250,000 travel to spend time with their other parent. The resultant distruption is eased, in part, by mobile phones and Mackay says many children use them as a security blanket, a way to keep in touch with the most constant presence in their lives, that is, their friends.
According to Mackay, today's teens and young adults are the most tribal generation Australia has seen. Fractured family lives and the kaleidoscope in which they live have made them devoted to their friends. Belonging to the tribe is part of their identity. ...
Could this form part of a foundation for a theory as to why social networking is such a hit? Comments welcome.
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