"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.
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.