Social Media: More Sought After Than Sex

Yes, you read that right: social media properties are searched for more often than sex. Even individually, social networking site Facebook recently surpassed “sex” as a top search term in Google (“YouTube” is still number one). Similarly, online social networking and related activities have similarly overtaken online activities related to sex in terms of popularity. There are insights here that are worth pointing out.

Regardless of how you feel about it personally, the adult publishing industry has often been an early driver of success for content and content-related technologies: Think video tapes, early Web sites, and early online commerce. What’s worth noting is that in each of these cases, mainstream applications eventually overtook the adult applications in terms of broad appeal, use, and economic value. In other words, the adult industry plays an early role in establishing the economic viability of emerging content channels: However, it’s the arrival of and subsequent adoption by the mainstream audience that signals the societal acceptance of that content channel as being an important channel for business. Overtaking benchmarks like searches for the term “sex” is therefore an indicator of the broad-based acceptance of the underlying technologies.

Social media and social networking have now crossed this mark. It represents an important milestone for marketers and businesses in general, since it positively establishes that social media is now well on its way to mainstream adoption and use.

That’s hardly the only indicator, and the interest isn’t limited to simply searching for social activities as an individual. There’s a growing demand for social participation by businesses as well. According to a recent study from branding agency Cone:

    93 percent of social media users believe a company should have a presence in social media, while an overwhelming 85 percent believe a company should not only be present but also interact with its consumers via social media. In fact, 56 percent of users feel both a stronger connection with and better served by companies when they can interact with them in a social media environment.

Combine this with the increasing popularity of social media and social networking across all Internet users. Social media is now a pervasive media form. While that’s not exactly news, the fact that it’s continuing to grow well beyond kids using MySpace is worth the attention of savvy marketers. What’s remarkable about the continued uptake of social channels combined with the Cone research is that your customers expect you to participate.

This is a central point that I make in my book, “Social Media: An Hour a Day” where I point out that on the social Web, “Your customers are already talking about you. The fact that you aren’t participating is your implicit endorsement of whatever it is that they are saying.” For those who have been waiting to get on the social train, the Cone report is your ticket. The report plainly says, “You are not only welcome to participate, you are expected to be there, and your customers will feel more connected to you if you are.” It just doesn’t get any better than that for marketers. It’s an open invitation to a very happening party.

Beyond the popularity and acceptance of social channels, though, there is another dynamic at work. The adult content benchmark is again useful. With adult content, general consumption occurs at an individual level: content is downloaded, for example, by someone for consumption by that same someone.

This is the premise behind Metcalfe’s law (define): the ability of individuals to connect to other individuals through a network for the purpose of exchanging information. In networks that follow Metcalfe’s law, the network’s value is the number of members squared. That’s much better than broadcast, which is a 1:1 ratio, audience to value, but not nearly as good at social networks that encourage groups of members to interact. These networks, which follow Reed’s law (define), increase in value to members following a power curve. As such, they grow in value much faster than networks defined largely by interaction between solitary parties. Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, and AOL all follow Reed’s law. All have shown the explosive, sticky behavior associated with Reed’s law and the formation of groups, implemented through friend lists, connections, followers, and similar.

What’s the point? Online social activities are moving solidly mainstream. Not only is your company expected to be present, but the fundamental network characteristics that apply to social networks promise to create a medium that literally dwarfs traditional media and conventional online Web sites for the most sought-after metric of all: engagement. Of course, don’t bag your current marketing program in favor of a MySpace presence. Instead, social media marketing should be in addition to basic awareness channels (traditional media) and point of purchase (in store, keyword, and search engine optimization) efforts. Marketers must integrate social media into their programs now.

There you have it: social media and online social activities are here to stay. Via Cone, you’ve got your invitation to join the party. The next step is up to you: Grab your business objectives, take a fresh look at your audience and what they’re doing online, and build a social media marketing plan that complements the great work you’re doing elsewhere.

Join us for a ClickZ Webinar: Transparent CPL Advertising: The Biggest Missed Opportunity in Your Online Strategy on October 15.

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