Last month, Morgan Stanley’s Mary Meeker and associates gave their annual insights on Internet trends. In short, social networks continue to grow leaps and bound, and we haven’t seen anything yet.
Online users want to get information on their own terms. In the past, that meant email – consumers set their email preferences and institutions respected those preferences. Today’s social network users, however, create their own experiences via their networks, many preferring to communicate over Facebook or Twitter rather than email.
The stats are mind-boggling. Social network users surpassed the number of email users in July 2009 – 820 million social network users compared to 800 million email users. This massive growth, combined with changes in how people connect and interact will move the communication hub from your inbox to your “wall”.
Even more important, time spent on social networks began to surpass time spent with email almost three years ago. While time spent on email has remained fairly constant, time spent on social networks continues to grow, doubling between 2007 and 2009.
It’s no accident that more and more companies now use social networks to reach out to people where they spend most of their time. Communicating with consumers on Facebook is similar to the shift we saw with AdWords for Google. Once Google hit a critical mass of users, businesses flocked to advertise here, and the same is happening in social networks. However, there are some key difference between advertising on Google – or anywhere online – versus communicating through a social network:
- Social networks let you start a two-way conversation with people, not just deliver ads.
- Consumers are actively seeking out brands & individuals on these sites (when did you ever seek out an ad?)
- Starting a conversation with one person on these sites can quickly spread from person to person. It’s the old “network effect” in action again.
So where do most social network users spend their time? Facebook and YouTube have gained the most share of users. With the continued proliferation of Facebook – into all age ranges – there’s no indication that time spent will decrease.
It’s critical for institutions to pay attention to how consumers prefer to get their information – and adapt quickly. Consumers want information on their own terms – my Facebook experience is completely different from your Facebook experience. Institutions can be a part of these social conversations as long as they are timely, relevant, and deliver real value.
Our recommendation, stop thinking about how you want to communicate and start asking “how do my customers and future customers want to communicate with me?” That will start you on the path to success.