Wednesday, 05 October 2011 09:05

Social Misfits

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Even with the arrival of Google Plus, there have been constant hints in the press that social media may be on the decline. The growth in Twitter usage is falling decry a number of articles, while in a piece in June, the Daily Mail in the UK was “heartened by the news earlier this month that Facebook — into whose maw our children disappear each evening as though to the Pied Piper’s cave — is in decline.”


Google Plus, too, seems to be struggling. Despite now having an estimated 25 million users — a huge sign-up rate considering it is only a few months old — the average number of public posts per person has declined from 0.68 per day between Jul. 19 and Aug. 19 to 0.40 per day between Aug. 19 and Sep. 19. This represents a decrease of 41 percent.

And yet market research giant Nielsen tells otherwise. Their most recent report published in mid-September tracked the usage of social media in May this year. Facebook logged 140,336 million visitors while Blogger came in a distant second with 50,055 visitors and Twitter arrived third with 23,617 million visitors. The likes of WordPress, MySpace and LinkedIn were also high up the list, but ‘The Book’ continues to rule its virtual roost.

Facebook’s own stats on checkfacebook.com tell the same story and are particularly indicative when looking at Southeast Asia. Indonesia has the second largest number of Facebook users in the world (after the US of course), with a whopping 100 percent of internet users also signed up to ‘The Book’. The Philippines has similar 100 percent internet user stats — a total of 26,493,340 people are signed up to ‘The Book’, representing 1.66 percent of the site’s global audience. While in Thailand, 90.76 percent of all internet users are on Facebook. Vietnam, with its recent problems of access, lags far behind with a measly 11.54 percent.

To Trust or Not to Trust

While these figures are trustworthy and easy to verify, they are purely quantitative and don’t actually represent usage. As Nielsen’s findings show, of Facebook’s 750 million users worldwide, during May only 140,336 million people actually logged onto the site, a total of 18.7 percent. This insinuates that despite supposed global domination, actual Facebook usage may not be as popular as the figures suggest.

Local experience in Vietnam tends to qualify this. 516 people were invited on Facebook to the recent Shimmy Shimmy Coco Pop party to celebrate the one-year anniversary of La Fenetre Soleil. A mere 74 people responded — a total of 14.3 percent — and yet the venue was packed. This was in part due to the organiser’s other means of marketing — an email mailing list, SMS messages from friends of the manager, and articles on anyarena.com and wordhcmc.com. And then of course there was word of mouth.

The dOSe party last month with jazz singer Alice Russell saw similar results. Only 12.2 percent of the 3,161 people invited on Facebook responded to the invitation and yet, thanks to other means of publicity — The Word in print, anyarena.com, an email list and Twitter — the newly refurbished Red Lounge was bursting at the seams. On wordhcmc.com alone, the article on Alice Russell got 700 hits.

This all suggests that for marketing purposes, it is other sources of content rather than social media itself, that are helping to create the required exposure.

The Power of Words

But social media is not all about marketing. It’s also about keeping in touch with friends, business associates, acquaintances and distant relatives. And most importantly, it’s a space to air your thoughts, opinions or to make comment. Defined by Andreas Kaplan and Michael Haenlein as "a group of Internet-based applications that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content," besides games on Facebook or Vietnam’s most popular social media network, ZingMe, it seems to be in this arena that social media is coming into its own.

Take ZingMe. Of Vietnam’s 28 million internet users, a whopping 63.8 percent use the Vietnamese language only me.zing.vn. Its competitor, go.vn, doesn’t even make the top five, while Google’s blogspot.com (blogger.com) reaches 15.1 percent of the population and Twitter, which is only now just starting to make waves in Vietnam, comes in as the fifth rated media channel reaching 1.9 percent of all internet users in Vietnam.

Although there are no statistics available, it seems that it is this side of social media that makes it popular — people like to communicate. Whether it’s through their Twitter feed, their status update on Facebook or ZingMe, through writing a blog or commenting online about articles — a recent article on our Hanoi website generated 66 comments, amounting to 8,000 words of opinion. As actor Bob Hoskins once famously said on a TV commercial for British Telecom, “It’s good to talk”.

Saturation

Perhaps most revealing is some recent feedback polled on Google Plus about users’ preferences. With so much social media out there, it’s now difficult to know which one to choose. Like so many other people I know in my age group, I am on Twitter, Google Plus, Facebook, Linked In, Stumbled Upon and am a member of user-generated content site, New Hanoian. I used to get RSS Feeds through Google — I now ignore them — and have also toyed with the idea of signing up to Google Alert. And to add to this I receive anything from 50 to 200 emails a day and often have to write just as many.

Communication is good and social media has changed the way the younger generation of internet users interact — in Vietnam 94 percent of Facebook users are under 34 years old. But it’s gone past saturation point.

As one Google Plus user responded, “Google Plus has a plug-in called Start Google Plus that makes it possible to run the main [social media sites] together in one newsfeed… [It allows you to] read, share, comment and so on back into those networks.”

He adds: “Ultimately this kind of feature is the future because none of us can participate in so many networks AND get some sunlight.”

And that, true to his word, is the danger. It may be a great communication tool, but if social media is ever going to decline it’s because there is too much of it. No wonder only 18.7 percent of Facebook’s 750 million users log on each month.

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