Millions of people are joining social networks every single day. The growth of Twitter, for instance, has reached an astonishing 1382% per year…! Facebook has almost 200m users, LinkedIn grows daily and the growth of Ecademy is now also reaching exponential proportions. We’ve all gone social networking mad.
However, things are not as they seem, based on these raw statistics. Three years ago, the usability guru Jakob Nielsen found that only 10% of people registered with social networks were actually active within them. Nine out of ten people on social networking sites are “lurkers” – people who sign up, have a look and don’t take part. So, Facebook may have nearly 200m users, but it’s likely that only 20m of them take part – and around only 2m of them are “heavy” users, contributing on a regular basis.
A recent study may indicate one of the reasons why. Research by Sapient Interactive published last week shows that four out of ten people don’t use social networking sites because they do not understand them. A further 14% of the people in the study admit they simply do not know where to start with social networking. In other words, most people are confused by social networks and it is this lack of understanding that is preventing participation.
Part of the problem is that even nowadays, the people “running” the Internet and most social networks are technologists. They simply fail to grasp that what they perceive as obvious and straightforward is impenetrable to the rest of the world. Even things like naming a box “username” can be confusing to non-technical people. Facebook uses a “minus sign” to close down some of the smaller windows and pop-ups it generates. Non technically minded people could perceive this to mean “take away” in other words “remove”. Technically, that’s precisely what it does, but people worry it means remove “forever”. Words like “hide” – and a symbol to represent that – would be more appropriate for the non-technical, inexperienced user.
Usability concerns like this are easy to deal with – assuming a social network wants to actively engage more of its members. However, it seems that many social networks are happy with low levels of engagement. After all, it would cost them even more money to add extra servers and bandwidth to cope with the huge influx. And when most social networks have no, or little, income – that’s a worry for them. It’s perfectly possible that social networking companies deliberately reduce usability in order to prevent too much participation. They will, of course, deny that vehemently.
So what can you do about it if you are running an online business? After all, you really do need to engage with social networking sites if your business is to survive. Even though most people “lurk” they can still read your material. That means even if you find the language of social networking difficult, even if you find social networks too technical and even if you find them all too confusing, you need to get over these problems somehow in order to help your business make more money.
Firstly, make sure you read the help files and watch any training videos they have. Ecademy, for instance, also has training videos to help you get to grips with the system as well as regular training courses; take them, you will benefit in measure beyond their cost. There are also plenty of books available to help as well as free manuals and reports – such as mine on Twitter.
As another example, recently I read “How to really used LinkedIn” by Jan Vermeiren.This is an excellent guide to using LinkedIn and making sure you get the most out of it. The book provides a stack of hints and tips on using this social network – making it all completely understandable. The book also contains plenty of strategic advice on how to use LinkedIn to promote your business, gain new customers and find a new job.
Of course, this book only deals with LinkedIn. There are more than 7,000 other books on social networking which you can buy..! Buying just a couple of these will certainly enhance your ability to use social networks – taking you from lurker, to user, or from user to “heavy user”. And it’s worthwhile remembering that it is only the heavy users who appear to be really benefiting in financial terms. Signing up with a social networking site is not enough; you have to take part. Otherwise it would be like going to a meeting of your local Chamber of Commerce, not saying hello to anyone, not even exchanging a business card and then saying the meeting was a “waste of time”.