The Summit consisted of three mornings of intense sessions on social media, ranging from what secret is too viral (there sort of is one!), to what the industry can do to self-regulate, to what women really do in social media. (Nighttime, as usual, was for a different kind of social.)
So what's my big summation? That no matter how many people join Facebook, certain demographically based behavioral trends in social media use are becoming well entrenched. No, one size doesn't fit all; it's more that social networks either have to accommodate lots of different behaviors, or their individual profiles will fit certain, distinct social types of activity which are often demographically based.
Not that one is better than the other. This just is.
Notice that I'm focusing on social "behaviors" here. A lot of the studes so far about social media fragmentation have been focused on the fact that groups get built around certain interests, like baseball or music or toddlers. What came out at the Summit was how, increasingly, social media behavior fits into different lifestyles and life stages, and that's a different discussion.
My point seemed particularly true with the last panel, for which Michelle Prieb of Ball State University assembled a group of "social media moms" and queried them about their social media usage. The four women, all from the Miami area, had children ranging in age from under two to 18; three out of the four worked; all had more than a passing familiarity with social networking, being conversant not only in social network mainstays, but in outliers like Whrrl. Most importantly, they were steadfastly not interested in participating in the next big thing simply because it is the next big thing.
And that's where their behavior was pretty striking. When the subject of Twitter came up, one woman -- a psychotherapist and freelance writer -- likened it (I'm paraphrasing here) "to taking your vitamins. You know you should do it, but you're not sure why." A fellow mother- also an entrepreneur, agreed -- and both actually use Twitter. For them, it's a professional obligation, certainly not their social métier of choice.
And then there was Foursquare. Telling the world where you are when you're out with your kids? "No way," they agreed. Their first concern? Their families' security. No reason they could see to let the creeps of the world know they're having lunch with the kids at the local McDonald's with the PlaySpace. I'd never suggest basing research on four people, but it does reflect what I see among the many Moms I know who aren't in the business. Facebook matters; Twitter and Foursquare just don't.
Yes, the Moms panel was illuminating, but the audience was as well. While we were all there to learn, one session on how to perfect social networks revealed that perhaps we old folks (compared to those younger than Mark Zuckerberg) are pretty entrenched in our ways. A few people had tried the Marc Andreessen-backed social browser RockMelt, which incorporates social into the browsing experience. Not a soul had tried Path, the new 50-friends-only photo-sharing service.
Stranger still, less than half the crowd had downloaded Facebook Messages, when only a couple of months ago, the blogosphere was speculating it would be a Gmail killer. Maybe in time, it will be -- or maybe something entirely different is going on. Eloqua's Joe Chernov, who gave an excellent presentation on what his perfect social network would look like, said he thought Facebook Messages is a demographic play, as in the youth demographic; it's not necessarily meant for people who are happy with their communications platforms as they are.
Why? If you heard what Zuckerberg said during the product's launch, the germ of the idea came from conversations he had with people even younger than himself who don't use email. This led Facebook to the idea that, with so many different ways to communicate, perhaps it was time to start building a communications platform that coalesces around individuals rather than channels.
That makes sense. But it could be an idea that, for those of us entrenched in our online behaviors, won't catch fire.
Chernov's idea of the perfect social network solves the problem of yet another demographic: the information-overloaded digital media professional. He said he pines for a major change to the user experience: a skin that would meld together all of his different social channels, making the information overload a beast that can be tamed. That is certainly a problem many at the Summit seemed to have, but your mother-in-law? Probably not.
A counterargument to all I've outlined above is that adapting tech tools takes time. Maybe, five years from now, we will look at Facebook Messages as a Gmail killer. It took time for Facebook to reach critical mass, just as it took a while for women to go online and for there to be mass adoption of email.
Yet, that's not all that's going on here. What we're seeing is the maturation of an online genre that is becoming universal. So, as it matures, we're seeing different demographics engage in different social media behavior. If you're a marketer, keep an eye on this.