Hardly anyone actually uses social networks

Here’s a major shock announcement for you – people visit social networking sites to be sociable. Gosh, hold the front page…! That’s the “revelation” in a study by JPMorgan and highlighted today by a report from eMarketer. Indeed, the principal reasons why so many people visit social networking sites are to connect with existing friends, find new friends and re-connect with old friends.

However, the report is eclipsed by another, newer one from JPMorgan, called “Nothing But Net” which tells us – gosh – that newspapers are “late” with the news compared with the Internet and hence people are switching to online news sources to get up-to-date information. Apparently, says JPMorgan too, that some bloggers now provide trusted information. Well knock me down with a feather.

OK, I know, I’m being facetious. But I do worry a bit that it takes the power and might of a major investment bank to tell us the blindingly obvious. But then, just for a moment, is it obvious? To people who are at the cutting-edge of the Internet world, none of the information is new or that revealing. Indeed, to people who use social networks every day, it’s fairly obvious stuff as well.

But, for most Internet users this is important, new information. Indeed, for most business owners it is new material as well. Facebook, for instance, is proud of its 175m registered users – and growing day by day. But there are currently 1.6bn users of the Internet. In other words, 90% of the people who use the Internet have yet to set foot inside Facebook.

According to eMarketer, the prediction is that by the end of 2009 just 44% of people will have visited a social networking site – in other words, even ten months from now, six out of ten people will not be using the likes of Facebook or MySpace, let alone Twitter.

Now, don’t get me wrong, 44% of 1.6bn is a sizeable and worthwhile audience; it’s not to be sniffeed at. But those of use emobroiled in Twitter or Facebook need to always realise that most of the people who visit our own business web sites have never used such tools – and probably never will, or at least not for a long time yet.

Conduct yourself a little experiment – search for any date you like in Google and add the magic words “last updated”. You will find plenty of pages that should have been updated, yet remain there for all to see, discarded like some flotsam and jetsam. Why does that happen? Well there may be several reasons, but one possible explanation is that the web site owners are unaware –  they simply don’t know the out-of-date material still exists; perhaps, too, they don’t know the marketing value of always being up-to-date.

Lack of knoweldge about the Internet is rife within businesses. To those of us “in the know” about the latest Internet trends, the JPMorgan reports look somewhat laughable. But to most Internet users – even those who use investment bankers – the reports contain interesting, new information. We should never forget what our audience really knows about our subjects; often we either overestimate or underestimate their knowlede and those are the danger points.

It’s yet more evidence that understanding your audience precisely is essential. JPMorgan appear to know their audience very well; they weren’t aiming their reports at people like me who know the Internet. They were pinpointing their customers and potential customers who mostly will know very little about the popularity of online news or the marvel of social networking. It behoves us all to be truly aware of our target audiences.

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