Social Listening: Look Who’s Talking

I was at a TAG CRM “State of the Industry” presentation recently, and one of the presenters mentioned some stats that captured my attention. Dan McDade, president and CEO of PointClear quoted research reports that only 8% of Americans have Twitter accounts. Most of them are not very active and just 2% of Americans use Twitter every day.

Really?!? For all the buzz about Twitter, and social media in general, it seems like “everybody is doing it.” If social media penetration is a relatively small proportion of the overall population, is all the fanfare about social media premature? And if so, what does that mean for business owners who are under pressure to quickly adopt social media as part of their marketing and communications strategy?

Listen Up

Think about the concept of social listening. Business owners and executives are being advised to monitor social streams to track customer sentiment. The implication is that they should adapt their business practices in response to customer comments.

I have to wonder if maybe these businesses are getting advice that sounds good in theory but needs qualification. Does it make sense to change the way you do business in response to the needs of a small but vocal group of customers?

To find out, I decided to check that facts and learn a little more about social media adoption. Here’s what I discovered:

The Facts on Facebook

Facebook reports that it has more than 500 million active users, but roughly 70% of Facebook users are outside the United States. There are approximately 150 million Facebook users in the US (and some of these aren’t even human, as I pointed out in my post, Cat Got Your Facebook.)

The website Checkfacebook.com indicates that the split between men and women is about 55% female to 45% male. Surprisingly, less than 10% of Facebook users are under the age of 18, with the largest percentage of users in the 18-24 age group (31%), followed by 25-34 year olds (22%) and 34-44 year olds (15%).

Facebook users are highly engaged with the application: 50% of them log on to Facebook in any given day, a higher rate of interaction than users of Twitter and LinkedIn. On average, Facebook users have 130 friends apiece.

Is Twitter as Big as We Think?

Twitter has reached 200 million registered user accounts, generating 110 million tweets each day as of January, 2011. That sounds like a lot, but here’s the real story:

Just 25% of tweets are tweeted in the US. Only 8% of all internet users are on Twitter. Of those, about ¼ are on Twitter several times a day, while 1 in 5 say they never check twitter, according to data from the Pew Research Center.

At the end of 2009, only 26% of Twitter users had more than 10 followers, and just 40% were following 10 or more people. Fully 34% of Twitter users hadn’t tweeted even once, and nearly 73% had tweeted less than 10 times. Numbers have grown over the past year, but Twitter is still not widely used.

The take-away? Twitter adoption is not nearly as deep as it would seem. Just 25% of Twitter users account for the almost all of the tweets published, and only 2% of all Americans can be considered active Twitter users.

Who’s LinkedIn?

Stats on LinkedIn, a social network for business users, are a little harder to come by. Fortunately, I found a recent presentation by Amodiovalerio Verde on SlideShare with in-depth LinkedIn user stats.

According to his data, there are 101 million people on LinkedIn, and less than half of these (44M are in the US). The top job functions represented in North America are:

Sales12.5%
Academics10.8%
Operations10.6%
Administrative10.2%

In terms of site usage, roughly 1% of LinkedIn power users generate 34% of all visits. Nearly two-thirds (62%) are casual users responsible for 18% of visits, according to GlobalRecruitingRoundtable.com

So What?

These numbers indicate that social media users don’t yet represent the average Joe or Jane. There are certain segments of the population who have embraced social media, and other groups are still thinking about dipping their toes in the water – or have decided not to play at all.

I’m a big fan of social media, and I see its potential for engagement with customers. Social media certainly provides a way to connect in a manner that hasn’t been possible before, but the question is, “Connect with who?”

What’s a business to do? Start or stop, forge ahead or wait and see? Like any business decision, it pays to dig a little deeper than the conventional wisdom. As soon as someone says, “everybody’s doing it,” or “everyone knows…” you should be asking, “who is ‘everybody’?”

Proceed with Caution

Blindly following “expert” advice to react to information and opinions posted on social media sites, (micro)trends in customer sentiment, and comments from what may be a very small segment of your customer base would not be the smartest approach.

For all the case studies of businesses that have enjoyed success from social media campaigns, there are other, more high-profile cases of brands like Skittles, Dominoes and United Airlines who have been bitten on the backside by social media efforts gone bad.

Before you jump into social media as a compass for your business, take the time to understand how your customers and prospects interact online. If your customer base is not heavily involved in social media, you could discover that do you have a small but loyal group of influencers that are online advocates for your brand. If so, you might be able to leverage that passion into more business.

On the other hand, if you have a few vocal, critical, high-maintenance customers, you may want to take their grumblings with a grain of salt rather than reacting with a change in the way you do business.

Social Media is a Tool, Not the Solution

As you move forward with social media, remember that social media is a tool, just like PR or advertising or a call center. Social Media is not a solution in itself. To use any tool effectively, you need to know when, how and where to use it.

To make social media work, learn the ropes (or hire someone who already knows them) and map out a strategy. Think about what you hope to achieve, who you want to reach, and how you will engage. Once you have those items defined, you’ll be much more prepared to enjoy social media success.

Photo by alvaspappas

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