Commentary

In An Unscientific Survey, Looks Like My Contemporaries Are Finally Discovering Facebook

Without totally giving away my age, let's just say I'm old enough to have asked for  one of the later Beatles albums as a present at the time of its release. (While you digest that fact, you should know I was an early bloomer in growing a music collection.) Thus, with my advancing age in mind, I've been conducting an unscientific demographic experiment over the last year or so concerning my Facebook account.

It centered on the following question: When would my suburban mom contemporaries, and the people I knew from college and high school who don't write a social media column, begin to populate the site? The answer is now.

First, a little background on my experiment. I hold true Facebook adaption to a high standard. Thus, though I've long had two people I knew in high school as Facebook friends, I always considered them demographic outliers. One currently works at TBWA/Chiat/Day, and the other works in interactive at Ogilvy. I've also never counted people I've known in the past whose only Facebook friends are their kids. Clearly, that's not using Facebook as a social media device but as a way to keep track of teenagers. Facebook as baby monitor.

But recently, I've noticed a few people I knew in high school and college using Facebook for real, to -- just as the Facebook home page says -- "connect and share with the people" in their lives. Since I haven't yet friended many of them, I don't know much about how deep their usage goes. Are they updating their status every four minutes? Are they sharing links? Are they posting photos?  Probably not in great volume. In this late-adapter crowd, I've surmised that having a dozen Facebook friends is average. Having two dozen is noteworthy. My back-of-the-envelope calculation says that 15% of my college and high school classmates use Facebook. Expect that to grow over the next year, as my data shows that the vast majority of primarily white, college-educated people who grew up in the Northeast are not on Facebook.

It's harder to get a handle on what is going on with my fellow suburban moms, since, in a search, we get lumped in with everyone in the entire town who is on Facebook. Though I've heard tales of women who live near me using Facebook, my list of 256 friends (mostly people who read this column) includes only one mom from my town, and she's the wife of a fellow MediaPost columnist. Not exactly sign of a breakthrough.

Maybe the Facebook use of my contemporaries strikes some of you as anemic. But I have a different view. I first signed onto Facebook about two-and-a-half years ago when I was doing a story about these newfangled social media sites. I remember being placed in the Westchester, N.Y. group and then trolling the site, for what seemed like hours, looking for people from my area who were my age. After seeing page after page of teenagers and college students, I began to feel like a soccer mom on the make.
No longer.

After I signed up, the first people to find me were others involved with digital media. That first wave was followed by the readers of this column, and more recently, by other people who I've known in my years as a reporter. Now, the next wave is starting to crest.

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12 comments about "In An Unscientific Survey, Looks Like My Contemporaries Are Finally Discovering Facebook".
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  1. Martin Edic from WTSsocial, December 10, 2008 at 12:13 p.m.

    Cathy, we are apparently contemporaries! I'd agree, I'm just starting to see peers using Facebook and LinkedIn on an ongoing basis. In just the past few weeks I'm getting Wall messages, etc., daily from people. It is definitely exponential- one starts posting regularly and you get curious and look, add your own response, etc. So the ramp up can be fairly fast even with just a few friends.
    Twitter is going to supersede this though, IMHO. It's just a lot easier.

  2. Patty Orsini from eMarketer, December 10, 2008 at 12:15 p.m.

    Hey Cathy,
    Here's my gauge for how deep Facebook has permeated the zeitgeist: My mother-in-law is now on Facebook. A Thanksgiving weekend spent with young nieces and nephews, as well as daughter, all talking about Facebook, made her curious. When my husband and I got friend requests from her, we both said the same thing: Now we know how my daughter felt when WE went on Facebook. The next wave, indeed. It's a tsunami.

  3. Les Blatt from Freelance New Media Person, December 10, 2008 at 12:27 p.m.

    I'm surprised when I talk to some of my contemporaries about Facebook to find that many say, "Oh, that's for people my kids' age." I tell them about the large and growing number of my colleagues, friends and business acquaintances using Facebook, and I think I'm being more persuasive these days, as many more of my friends are joining. We all know Facebook started out as a place for college and high school students. Not any more.

  4. Lisa Alpern cucinotta from PM Digital, December 10, 2008 at 12:34 p.m.

    Hi Cathy, Not sure of your age exactly, but I am 30 and my sister is 33, we are both Westchester dwellers (which I am thinking you might be from a comment you made in the article) and one of us (her) is a mom. I joined Facebook about a year ago and have reconnected with friends from every single phase of my life from nursery school to current colleagues. I work in the oneline industry and frankly was only a late adopter of Facebook because I had been an early adopter of MySpace and was hestitant to let go when it was declining in quality.

    My sister joined Facebook only recently but I've noticed that she has connected not just with her past but also with a ton of her mom friends. A large number of my facebook friends from high school and college are also moms and dads, so I definitely think the parents are coming to facebook in droves and using it as a place to share photos and stories about their kids, as well as get support from other parents.

    I think for people who are not Twitter ready, Facebook, especially the status feature, is a great way to get your news out. My husband and I just bought a house and we've been so tired with all the preparations for the move that we've been lacking in some real word communication with friends and family. By just posting some quick status notes about my house and a photo of it on my profile, I've been able to cover 3/4 of my social circle with the news. I've had people call, email, or stop by my desk to comment on the house that only learned about it from facebook. That's technology at work!

  5. Eric Hyman, December 10, 2008 at 12:57 p.m.

    Cathy, this is a great post. It is funny how our gen (I know how old you are since we worked together eons ago, back when we used the mainframe to word process at a major NY ad shop) is jumping on. And I think it is great. But as I mentioned, one time I posted my status on Facebook as "Eric... wonders if gentrification by people over 40 will make Facebook uncool for everyone younger" and a few other 40+ active users jumped my case. It was in jest, sort of. But the reaction was funny. And expected; I guess that's why I said it. To see how people would react. The other funny thing is that while younger people use it as their photo album, many of the 40+ gen are slow to post their pics, or don't at all. They post their kids' pics instead (I do both); I think many people our age are critical of their own looks and this makes them reluctant to post them. Not the case with me, I know I am getting better looking all the time. :-)

  6. Jim Lefevere from Independent, December 10, 2008 at 1:31 p.m.

    Cathy, interesting post. I would add that in my view the growth of facebook can be attributed to a few things:

    1) We're in the 3rd full year of Social Media/Web 2.0 as a buzz word in MSM.
    2) It moved out from a student/university affilliation
    3) It's a clean user interface, which makes it appealing and easy to use for older users (non-millenials) or said differently non myspace users.

    http://jlefevere.blogspot.com

  7. Bea Rush, December 10, 2008 at 2:38 p.m.

    Hi, Cathy. I joined Facebook this year when my oldest son asked me to be his "friend" while he was serving a tour in Iraq. I have been able to see pictures of my grandkids and stay in touch with my son & his wife. Also, a close group of college alums and I share daily conversations and pictures. My youngest daughter, 17, made the comment that she thought it was "weird" that I had a Facebook account. (She's going to have to get over that!)

  8. Barbara Nagell from BHN Company, December 10, 2008 at 3:40 p.m.

    I enjoyed your post! I appreciate the opportunity to connect with my teen nieces & nephews. I write sarcastic wall invites to upcoming holiday family gatherings, for example encouraging them to bring the 'hot girl' in the photo along to meet the other aunties. So far, they mostly respond and are still speaking to me.

    But I've also been wondering when Facebook's new-found popularity/adaptation by 'older' later-adapter types will help it become less relevant for the very people I enjoy connecting to so very much! (I read Eric's comment, so my question is definitely not unique.....)

  9. Linda Lopez from Independent, December 10, 2008 at 4:45 p.m.

    Catharine, I'm from the Chuck Berry era. Imagine how lonely it's been for me since I stuck my toe in the MySpace pond in 2006 and got hopelessly addicted. At that time, even my daughter shook her head. I'll admit, I was already a technology junkie, having carved a business niche for myself as an online strategist, so no one was really that surprised, but the idea of so much transparency with so many "strangers" scared the bejeezus out of most of the people I knew. This year was the turning point, though, as one by one they started coming in. Loved your post!

    Here's my FaceBook page http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?v=feed&id=648198473

  10. Swag Valance from Trash, Inc., December 10, 2008 at 5:10 p.m.

    It's an interesting post. but the question isn't so much whether people are on it or not. A lot of the "older than college undergrad" generation is. The question is whether or not they are doing anything with it. Because my browser history is filled with gratuitous memberships to sites I will never visit again.

    Will people of our generation really be motivated to send each other electronic hamburgers? Highly doubtful. And the fly in the Facebook ointment is "will there be a there there". Younger generations of FB users all know the big killer app is dating and the social connectedness before you think about getting married and settling down. Once that's off the table and out of the focus of how FB strategizes its future, many of these older generations may realize that they are not considered part of FB's mainline future.

    So while being on FB is a major step, it's hardly a guarantee that it alone guarantees critical mass *use* -- which is of ultimate concern to any marketer.

  11. Claire Gooding from Sterling Communications, December 10, 2008 at 5:19 p.m.

    Hi Cathy, I see this as a positive step for the wider understanding of how social media can improve communication.

  12. George Carson from Carson and Company, December 15, 2008 at 7:34 p.m.

    A lot can be said about the many different social networks and yes, Facebook is at the top. But just like Martin commented, Twitter and some "new" upcoming social media sites for those in the mature category will be the hot ticket within the next 16 months. I believe the business sites like Linkedin, Plaxo have helped this new group discover social media. We are just beginning to see a new era of the Internet emerge.

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