You can’t look anywhere nowadays without seeing the infiltration of social media. Even traditional newspapers run stories on everything Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg does, reports of offensive tweets on Twitter seem to be a daily news item, and TV has adopted social media wholesale. Every business, TV show, politician, movie, product, or even idea, seems to have a Facebook page and a Twitter account. For all the buzz it generates, you would think that everyone must be engaged in social media, but that’s far from the case.
There are 955 million Facebook users, though the company recently admitted that 83 million of them aren’t real. Other networks are far smaller. There are around 250 million Google+ users, 175 million LinkedIn users, and 140 million Twitter users. That said, social media statistics are not always very reliable. Twitter, for instance, has closer to 400 million accounts, but only 140 million are really active. If we consider the number of people with multiple accounts and lapsed accounts that they rarely use, then it’s clear that only a relatively small proportion of the world’s population of around 7 billion people actually engages in social media.
With such a sliver of the population generation so much buzz, you have to wonder: Are those who abstain from social media losing their voices?
An online world unlike our own
Of the people who do use social media, not all demographics are well represented. Royal Pingdom statistics reveal that over half of all social media users are between 25 and 44 years old. The variance per site is actually quite surprising. For example, the average Facebook user is 40.5 years old and 60 percent of them are female. For Twitter, it is 37.3 years old and once again 60 percent female. In fact, the really big social media sites are all dominated by the ladies.
So we can agree that social media is not representative of society, and yet its importance seems to be highly prized amongst everyone from politicians, to TV shows, to search engine giants like Google.
Can you afford to opt out?
Are you effectively disenfranchising yourself by not engaging? If you opt out do you lose your vote on the best information online, the best websites, the most popular celebrities, the political arguments of the day, and all sorts of other popular debates? Are you missing out on a chance for your voice to be heard? Are you missing out on opportunities?
Put it this way: If you believe that most people engaging in social media have nothing important to say, or perhaps you think they don’t reflect your point of view, then shouldn’t you should jump in to redress the balance?
“It’s all noise”
This is a common fallacy. Many people who don’t engage in social media insist that it’s all about people sharing what they had for breakfast and endless photos of babies you don’t know. While there is a fair portion of that type of fluff, people also use social media to share important information and wield genuine influence.
Let me give you an example. Many companies have been quick to exploit social media, seeing it as a way to build their brand and engage with customers, but that works both ways. When I had a problem recently with my Web host, I tried the email address, the online support live chat, and finally a direct phone call. None of that got me anywhere. What did work was tweeting a complaint at the company on Twitter. Within seconds I had a response and the problem was resolved. Social media is a chance to hold companies publicly accountable, because it is potentially damaging for them to ignore you.
If you only knew the power
The influence exerted by the most vociferous social media users is impressive. TV presenters read out live tweets, politicians must be seen to engage with their followers, Google even ranks websites, in part, according to their popularity on social media. That means that the search results you get are being directly influenced by what people engaged in social media think. All those tweets and likes are actually changing the structure of the Web. Social media addicts are enjoying a greater influence on the world than those who opt out.
There are countless opportunities through social media to spread an opinion, to fire questions at politicians or famous people, and to attract targeted customers to a business. You can register votes to decide on an award recipient, or express your opinion in a poll. You can find work or enter exclusive competitions. You can organize large groups of people, just look at the London riot clean-up groups.
The potential power of your voice is magnified by social media. In the past it would have been very difficult or even impossible for an average person to have their thoughts shared and read by millions. Access to politicians and famous people has been opened right up. Social media allows your voice to be heard and affords some small measure of influence with the potential for a lot more.
The squeaky wheel gets the grease
As the media, politicians and companies increasingly adopt social media as a barometer of public opinion, it follows that the people shouting the loudest will have a disproportionate influence. So-called “social media gurus” are in hot demand for a reason. The perception is that they influence large numbers of people, in the same way that celebrities with legions of followers do. A recommendation can boost a business, or the light can be shone on a political issue. The louder your voice in social media, the more likely it is that you can influence others.
Is social media becoming compulsory?
Many employers are interested in your social media accounts now. Even some bouncers check your identity on Facebook. It’s already considered strange by some people not to have a social media presence at all. In fact it is often treated with suspicion – what do you have to hide? It sometimes feels like not so much a case of jumping on the bandwagon as being forced on at gunpoint. Naturally there will always be people who opt out. The question is – are they losing out by doing so? Like it or not, the answer is looking more and more like “yes.”
What do you think? Is social media’s importance being overstated? Is it all noise and no action? Can you genuinely influence things? Post a comment and spill your thoughts.