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I’m sitting here at the New Marketing Experience conference in San Francisco where they just wrapped up a great presentation on measurement, data and analytics associated with social media. One of the presenters gave an informative talk on what people’s behaviors are on the Internet and I’d like to present those findings here. Why is this important to know? It’s because if you’re going to engage with any web marketing presence, specifically social media campaigns, then you need to understand the demographics that you are working with.

In an Edison Research/Arbitron Internet & Multimedia Study conducted in February 2010, the trend of people with Internet access in the United States is pretty staggering. Within the past year, the number has seemed to have plateaued. In fact, 84-85% of all Americans have Internet access. A majority of those survey also have broadband access, but 13% indicated that they were still on dial-up modems to access the Internet.

Being here in the heart of Silicon Valley, it’s not surprising that a lot of people have multiple computers. This trend has spread throughout the country, with 45% saying that they have two or more computing devices and this number also includes people with devices like TiVo, game consoles, etc that can access the Internet. And no longer are we becoming shackled to doing work from a desktop. Our home has become a virtual office space. Six in ten people say that they have a wireless network in their homes – quite possibly leading to the proliferation of more wireless devices like netbooks, iPads, etc.

But let’s talk about social media usage in the United States for a bit:

In 2010, 48% of Americans have a personal profile page on a social network site like Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, etc. This is nearly twice as many just two years ago. Social networking has definitely exploded in the mainstream – and not surprising with people like Ashton Kutcher, Oprah and other celebrities saying they’re on Facebook and Twitter. A huge percentage of these people that are online? Young adults – 78% of children 12-17 years and 77% 18-24 years old are leading the charge on having personal profile pages. Slightly more than 1/3 of adults 45-54 are on social networks.

The activity on these social networks is pretty astonishing as well. Not only are people checking their profiles multiple times a day frequently, but it’s increased in the past year. 30% of Americans (~39 million) are doing it in 2010 compared to just 18% last year. 55% of those with social media profiles are infatuated with updating their status. The other 45% are consumers and “lookers” – people that are only interested in seeing what their friends are doing and observe. The former is probably a more interesting number because they represent the Americans that are generating content.

So are you trying to reach out and get people to follow your brand on social networks? While I maintain that setting up things like Facebook fan pages, Twitter profiles, etc are really important, recent research shows that consumers just don’t actively follow brands or companies on social networks. Out of those polled, 84% said that they don’t. But there is some questions as to wether you’re influenced more on Facebook or on Twitter – these numbers vary.

Now let’s make sense of this data. Tom Webster, VP of Strategy at Edison Research, summarizes it in three key items:

  1. Measure twice, but cut once - while we’re used to listening, learning, engaging, and measuring, it’s advised that you set some benchmarks by measuring first before doing social media and then after. Only then will you be able to see if you’ve “moved the needle”.
  2. Monitor but verify – make sure that you use a social media monitoring tool (or set of tools) to finesse the language and ideas you want to explore and then utilize a qualitative exercise to verify.
  3. Don’t be afraid of “the ask” when you are listening (but make it consistent) – if there’s something you really want to know from your consumers, you can ask it, but make sure that the question is consistent across the mediums that you’re asking (Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, etc.).

Edison Research has done some additional study on social networks, especially on Twitter behavior and they’re set to release a FREE study on April 29 from their website. Or you can email Tom Webster for more information.

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