Ironically for a medium which is in many ways so accountable, data
relating to the number of people who have actually looked at a
particular website can still vary widely according to the source (and
methodology) used. But there can be no doubt about what these numbers (from Comscore, which are as good as any, and as reported here) say about network effects. We all know it. Here’s the proof.
Bebo is now the largest network in the UK but just look at Facebook. That kind of exponential growth has taken just six months to acheive. And that’s not all that’s happened – in six months social networking has acheived real critical mass, breadth of audience and ubiquity.
At the start of the year, Bebo reached 22% of the UK population. It now reaches 34%. MySpace now reaches 32%. Facebook 24%. According to research we’ve done, these three networks alone reach 60% of the total UK online population. That’s almost 19 million people. And that’s before you start counting the plethora of specialist networks out there.
What’s more, the profile of these networks are changing. Social networking, once largely the preserve of the young, has moved mainstream. Take Bebo. 46% of Bebo users are 35 or older. Since the beginning of the year the number of Bebo users aged 15-34 has increased by 42%. The number aged 35+ has increased by 98%. Six months ago 33% of Facebook users were 35+, now it’s more like 42%.
The just-released Communications Market Report from Ofcom echoes these changes. Alongside the expected (but still seismic) changes in media consumption – people spending more on communications than ever before, watching less TV (about 4% less), fast-forwarding DVR recorded ads (78%), more time on mobile and the internet – are some interesting nuggets about internet usage. Amongst the 25-34 age bracket, women are now the dominant web users. The over 50’s now account for more than a quarter of web users. The over 65’s now spend the most time online – 45 hours a month compared to the 25 teenagers spend. As Amelia has so eloquently captured, the wired retired are rapidly becoming the new digital trailblazers.
It’s an unrestricted digital boom. So it’s not just youth orientated brands that should be doing something about it. This is where your audience are. And they’re not playing by the rules.
Research released by Entertainment Media Research illustrates the huge influence networks are having on music consumption and marketing. 53% of people actively surf networks to find music (on sites like Myspace and Bebo this rises to 70-75%). A further 30% go on to buy or download music they’ve found in this way. 39% have embedded music in their personal profiles. How long before similar effects are apparent in other markets?
Networks are fundamentally changing the profile of our communication and the way trends propagate. "Exhaust data", "phatic communication" – hugely powerful forms of communication about which we know very little. Networks not only enable, they magnify trends – at a speed and power never seen before. Trends spread faster around the globe than the researchers trying to understand them can fly round it. And yet we know little about how this happens. Network effects can be so powerful that they can create wholescale changes in strategy, policy, direction – but we cannot predict what those changes might be. Network effects can and will play a significant role in cultural
self-regulation – and yet we can only speculate about the impact this
Many brands have been distinctly hesitant about involving themselves in social networking environments. It is an arena we need to understand a whole lot more than we currently do but like it or not, it is now also one that no-one can afford to ignore.