As we try to wrap our minds around how to use social media networks to our advantage, it’s just as important to understand the audience. Just who are these users of Facebook, MySpace and Twitter? How are people using LinkedIn? Is anyone using MySpace anymore?
A recent article, “Understanding Users of Social Networks” by Sean Silverthorne in Harvard Business School’s Working Knowledge looks at the surprising findings of Harvard Business School associate professor, Mikolaj Jan Piskorski (shown at left) regarding his study of the users of online social networks. Through these findings companies can develop strategies to leverage various online networks for profit. Silverthorne’s article highlights five major insights regarding online social networks.
“No One Uses MySpace.” It turns out that little phrase isn’t true. In fact, there are 70 million MySpace users, not too far off from the 90 million on Facebook. So why isn’t MySpace getting any love? According to Piskorski, it’s because MySpace users populate smaller cities and communities in the south and central US. “MySpace has a PR problem because its users are in places where they don’t have much contact with people who create news that gets read by others.”
Then Came Twitter. Piskorski found that 90 percent of all “tweets” were created by 10 percent of users. More women are on Twitter than men but they tweet at about the same rate. Only people who are willing to put themselves out there publicly to others that they may not know use Twitter.
Addressing Network Failures. Online networks are successful when they point out the operational shortcomings of offline networks. For example, you might be less apt to keep up with classmates if you relied on reunions, telephone calls and mail, but online you can be up to speed on your friends’ lives very easily.
Empirical Evidence. Why are people on social networks? What are they doing? Piskorski has found that 70 percent of users look at pictures or view other’s profiles. He also discovered some major gender differences in site usage. For example, the biggest usage category was men looking at women they don’t know, followed by men looking at women they do know. Women on the other hand look at women they do know.
From Social Media to Social Strategy. Piskorski says that executives are treating social network sites like websites, as another channel to get people to click through. Users on social sites do not click through on advertising. These are social sites and to be successful, you need to think socially. The mindset needs to change from social media to social strategy. Firms need to help people fulfill their social needs online, and they can do that by making products more social and leveraging group dynamics.
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