Commentary

At A TV Screen Near You: Facebook And Twitter

A number of people outside the media industries have told me recently of the noticeable increase in the number of old friends from high school or college who have connected with them on Facebook and the like in recent times. These people are typically in the 40+ age group and -- for the most part -- are pleased to be enjoying the renewed contact with old acquaintances, even though many simultaneously express surprise at what they perceive to be a relatively sudden surge in new Friend requests.

"Where have these people come from?" "Why are they contacting me now?" and "Are they new to Facebook?" -- all these questions are typically part of the conversation.

A smaller number of people have also said similar things about Twitter.

So what's going on here? Are more of us old folks getting actively engaged in the social networking thing? There's no doubt that the Facebook user base is expanding rapidly -- and apparently the fastest growth is occurring among those who are over 30.

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Recently released stats from complete.com (stats based solely on U.S., browser-based use of the sites) show huge levels of use for Facebook in January, with around 68.5 million unique visitors delivering almost 1.2 billion unique visits (for the first time I believe, ranking the site above Myspace by 10 million unique visitors in the month). In a distant third comes Twitter, with just shy of 6 million unique visitors and just over 54 million unique visits. Complete acknowledge that since its stats don't take into account use of widgets and third-party apps to access the sites, the likes of Twitter will be somewhat under-reported in terms of total use. Despite this fact, Twitter still managed to rise from 22 to 3 in the rankings.

Inevitably, much of this growth across the board for social networking sites and applications is down to the combined effects of word of mouth, media exposure and the increasing statistical likelihood of bumping into a friend who is using one or more of these sites. It's all part of the nebulous process by which new behaviors are adopted and momentum builds.

However, with the recent integration of Facebook and Twitter in particular into the election campaign and the inauguration, there can be little doubt that these emerging media brands are benefiting from a benignly parasitical relationship with TV, reaching a wider audience in the context of an association with some of the biggest, most familiar and most trusted media brands around. What could be less intimidating to those outside the so-called Facebook generation than the TV channels we have watched for years?

Even after the inauguration, there has been no let-up in the extent to which these sites are leveraged and as a consequence promoted / endorsed on TV. Last week, for example, while working at various times of the day in a hotel room in Toronto and listening to CNN, I became aware just how often Twitter was referred to as a means by which people could input to programming. Sure enough, a few minutes later, there's Wolf Blitzer reading something sent in by a viewer using Twitter. And so it went on through the day.

Is this at least part of the reason why more people 40+ appear to be jumping on the social networking bandwagon? For some, it's going to be a short hop from the likes of classmates.com or Linkedin - all of which are hurriedly trying to emulate the features and success / scale of Facebook. For others it may be completely new, somehow made less intimidating by frequent exposure on CNN and the like in such an integrated fashion.

The extent to which this is a factor in the continued growth of these sites is unknown, but TV reaches so many people and is such an influencer in our lives that I find it hard to believe that in tandem with everything else, it does not have some impact on people's decisions to try out the likes of Facebook and Twitter.

All of which is ironic in some ways. Remember how "old media" didn't "get it," and how "new media" was going to drive them all to the margins, or extinction? Now it seems that we've reached a point where both TV and some of the quintessential Web 2.0 applications have developed a relationship that benefits both -- and which is much more reflective of the way in which consumers relate to and use different media channels.

Interesting to think that maybe it's TV that will play an important role in maximizing the scale of various Web 2.0 brands -- and those same Web 2.0 brands will help keep TV relevant and viewers pro-actively engaged. Which leads me to wonder how Facebook and Twitter will manifest themselves on TV post-digital transition, as more homes become equipped with an active return path. Will CNN still use Facebook, etc. -- or will it develop its own means of going it alone? A subject for another day, methinks.

6 comments about "At A TV Screen Near You: Facebook And Twitter".
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  1. Joshua Chasin from VideoAmp, February 11, 2009 at 3:39 p.m.

    Clearly TV is providing a lot of effectively free advertising for Twitter and Facebook (I am also a CNN junkie, and Twitter si all over CNN; indeed I follow CNN on twitter.)

    As for the recent influx of 40+ folks on these sites and reaching out to old connections, I'll just say that I'm now seriously considering starting a Facebook group called "I used to date Josh Chasin."

  2. Larry Goldstein from comScore, Inc., February 11, 2009 at 3:52 p.m.

    Funny. Maybe based on a survey of one but I suspect part of the influx of older (yikes, that's me!) folks includes a bevvy of folks who are finding it time for reunions. My own seems to have triggered some 200 members of the class of '79 to reconnect in many different places.

  3. Nicola Lees, February 11, 2009 at 4 p.m.

    That's so weird - I've just experienced the very same thing (I'm in the UK). I've just be contacted by several people from high school (we're all of the, ahem, age you mention) and they're all saying that they've had lots of people get in touch too.

    Definitely feels like all those people are now joining Facebook and abandoning Friends Reunited, while a number of early Facebook adopters are moving over to Twitter.

    It's a bit like the artists moving into the edgy areas of town, who are followed (driven out?) by the incoming gentrifying classes with their coffee shops, in turn followed by the regular folks and their chain store brands...

  4. Pseudo Nym, February 11, 2009 at 5:56 p.m.

    Facebook is turning icky fast. It's too much. There are too many people. It think it's really strange that I see regular updates from my high school boyfriend's father (I'm not even "friends" with him or with my ex, but I see the his comments on other "friends" posts). It's too weird.

    Recently, someone was complaining because a "friend" of theirs was using facebook to provide updates on the state of an ill family member. "That's not what Facebook is for" they said. If your facebook friends were real friends it could be. But chances are that 200 people don't really want to know the details of your health/relationships etc. So it becomes "rude" to provide too much information or discuss controversial topics with.

    You can't really reject your coworkers/boss invite - correct? But that's going to affect what you do (or should - I think)

    Maybe FB will continue to grow as retirees go through their wave. But it's actual usage as a must have/check all day site will fade because people will find themselves increasingly hesitant to post stuff.

    Of course - I suspect that FB is already fully aware of this and is coming up with a lot more privacy options. There's a good suggestion here about classifying friends better (it's near the end): http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/29/fashion/29facebook.html This makes sense as long as you can really manage what different groups (close friends vs coworkers) can see about you.

  5. Michael Hackmer from Hackmer.com, February 12, 2009 at 9:29 a.m.

    TV is a passive medium, whereas the Net is active. When you think about engagement - television is not what springs to mind. There is a reason why we invented terms around tv viewing such as “couch-potatoes” and the “boob-tube”. But television is changing, in large part, because its audience is changing. This is where people who analyze the future of the television industry need to look if they want a clear picture.

    Generationally speaking, GenXers and the Net Generation get more of their information online. As everyone gets older, the number of people who prefer television is going to shrink. Now, leap ahead 10 years. Are you going to watch CNN when you have a relationship with Meena in India, who used to work for the BBC, and is now on scene at a car bombing and ready to file her report? You will trust her, not Wolf, to tell you the story.

    We see television becoming more niche all the time. That is part of the response to our changing interests and habits. When you see how technology is evolving, the future will be about real engagement, relationships and the ability of people to custom select news, special interest, sports, etc. You cannot and will never get that from CNN in particular or your television in general.

    To read my analysis of this: http://hackmer.com/hackblog/2009/02/12/social-media-driving-out-tv/

  6. Adam Schorr from Self, February 12, 2009 at 4:12 p.m.

    Mr. Hackmer,
    Just how is "Meena" paying her bills? Who's paying the camera man? The paid advertising model needs to be there to support everything else. Even your job. The problem with the under 30 crowd mentality, is they expect everyting for free. The well is running dry. look around you. Entitlement is a bad head-space. Get over it or get on the Socialist program to mediocrity and substandard.
    As far as engagement, I can't talk to my wife or daughter if they are engaged in their favorite TV show. You are dead wrong.

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