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Amigo Helps You Stop Texting and Start Hanging with Your Friends
Are people getting compulsive about their smartphones? The results of a survey released yesterday by mobile app developer Lookout suggests so.
Analyzing trends in emotions and behavior related to smartphones in its “Mobile Mindset Study,”
Lookout found that as people increasingly come to rely on their smartphones, they are increasingly checking them while in bed, in the bathroom, at the dinner table and while driving.
According to the results of the survey:
- 58% of smartphone owners said they don’t go an hour without checking their phone
- 54% of smartphone owners said they check their phones while lying in bed: before they go to sleep, after they wake up
- Nearly 4 out of 10 people (39%) check their phones while using the bathroom
Growing usage is also challenging existing etiquette, according to Lookout:
- 30% check their phones during a meal
- 24% check their phones while driving
- Nearly 1 in 10 (9%) check their phones during religious services at a house of worship
There’s even a psychological term that’s been engendered as people’s attachment to mobile phones grows to the point where extreme fear sets in if they’re without one: nomophobia.
- Lookout’s survey found that 94% of people are concerned about losing their phone
- When asked to select which feeling they best identified with when they lost their phone, 73% reported feeling “panicked” and 14% reported feeling “desperate”
“Our phones are our lifeline, from sharing photos with social networks to shopping and managing bank accounts,” said Alicia diVittorio, Lookout’s mobile safety advocate. “The findings establish that our attachment to smartphones is driving a new mobile mindset. Our behaviors, emotions and social interactions are impacted by smartphones, to the extent that they now play an important role in our value systems.”
When it comes to protecting mobile phones, Lookout has the following recommendations:
- Don’t lose it: Keep your smartphone in a zipped pocket or bag when you’re on the move and scan your area when leaving public places to make sure you don’t leave it behind
- Keep your power: Make sure you charge your battery before you leave the house or keep a charger in the car – not only will it keep your phone alive, but it will help to track it down if you misplace it
- Keep it safe: Download an app like Lookout so you can find your phone if you lose it, lock & wipe your data if it cannot be recovered and backup your personal information
Amanda Borland, a sophomore at the University of Southern California, sits at her computer scrolling through a list of names. Suddenly she stops and clicks on a picture. “That is a random person I have never talked to,” she says. In an instant, Borland “unfriends” another Facebook contact. Borland originally added these people while running for student government in high school; now she sees no reason to keep them as friends.
“For me, it is weird to reach out to someone who is technically linked to me personally, when I literally have no idea who they are,” Borland says.
The idea of “cleaning out” Facebook friends is getting more popular: The percentage of people unfriending other Facebook members rose from 56 percent in 2009 to 63 percent in 2011. In gross terms, 158 million people were unfriended in 2009, and more than a half a billion in 2011. Experts predict the trend will only increase in coming years, and they see it as a potential problem for Facebook’s business model, which relies on leveraging information gained from a user’s profile and personal networks.
Morley Winograd, director of the Institute of Communication Technology Management at the University of Southern California, says the unfriending trend is only natural as the Facebook demographic shifts from largely college users to a majority older than 35. Older users are more concerned with privacy and want to limit access to their profiles to people they trust.
Millennials, on the other hand, are starting to use Facebook as a way to promote, manage and store their lives, deleting friends once a contact ceases to serve a function. As users delete friends, their networks shrink, and Facebook loses an edge in interconnectedness. This presents a problem for advertising: Facebook charges based on how well an advertisement is targeted to a user, and the more information Facebook can gather, the better they can target advertisements.
“If they have targeted all your friends, then they can serve up advertisements to you and your network,” says Karen North, director of the Annenberg Program on Online Communities at USC. “As you decrease your reach, you decrease the ability of Facebook to advertise.”
Experts say that the fewer friends a person has, the harder it is for Facebook to interpret the world the subscriber comes from. In turn, the less information Facebook has, the less they can charge for advertisements on the subscriber’s page. Facebook declined to comment on how changes in user behavior could affect their business.
North suggests this trend points to a more significant issue. The unfriending phenomenon suggests many users view Facebook as a utility, a place to network or post a photo gallery, instead of a hangout spot. She says many social media experts have noticed the level of engagement is declining. People are not only unfriending, they are spending less time on Facebook overall.
“The phenomenon where people were living a big chunk of their lives hanging and interacting on Facebook is decreasing,” said North. “All of that does have an impact on the value of Facebook, whether it is the amount of engagement, going on fewer times, or using it more efficiently.”
Unfriending may also affect certain kinds of advertisements, like sponsored posts or page posts. These particular advertisements “rely on the size of the friend base of someone that ‘likes’ one of those types of ads,” says Kate Sylanski, an advertising specialist at Modcloth, the online retailer that advertises with Facebook. Modcloth has previously invested in sponsored posts, but the ads have not generated increases in revenue.
It’s also possible that the trend could enhance the accuracy of Facebook’s efforts to target users, because the company can assume that those defriended had little to no influence on the user’s life. “The ‘unfriending’ trend could make these types of ads more appealing to companies because ‘friends’ may hold more water and truly be people you feel connected to in your Facebook community, therefore making them a more like-minded audience,” Sylanski says.
But if ‘unfriending’ is a problem for advertisers, that means trouble for investors. Facebook’s “pending IPO depends on increasing the amount of revenue per subscriber that the site generates,” says Winograd, who researches the Millennial generation along with political scientist Mike Hais. The two theorize that fewer friends per person mean fewer referrals or less sharing. That means less revenue from each Facebook visit. The narrower a person’s network of friends, the less likely something on her page will go viral. In any case, “a reduction in people, in connection, or in time and energy spent on the site would make advertisers and potential investors nervous,” North says.
There is little hard data on the question so far, but North is seeking funding to conduct research on the trend and gather more concrete facts on the true effects of Facebook ‘unfriending.’
“[Unfriending] is a fact that a smart company such as Facebook will adjust to,” says Ira Kalb, president of consulting Kalb & Associates and an expert in marketing and business. “As long as Facebook has a large, engaged audience, it and [everything] off it will do well.”
Thanks to social-networking sites like Facebook, many of the people that otherwise would have drifted out of our lives can now be linked to us indefinitely online, keeping track of us in the virtual world even if we no longer have any contact with them in “real life.” It’s a peculiar situation, evidenced by the introduction of terms like “Facebook Creeping” and FOMO (fear of missing out)into our vocabularies. But what are the wider implications of these changes?
Social networks enable us to cheat the natural order of things. In our ability to pore over photo albums and analyze status updates, we gain access to information that’s generally reserved for a close friend without actually having to be one. We look at others’ profiles because we are nosy, and because we want to make sure we’re not missing out – that we’re on par with our colleagues and friends. Furthermore, social networks create unnatural digital bonds that keep us entangled in unnecessary relationships. Most of the time it’s harmless, but in certain cases (ex-boyfriends, toxic friendships) these relationships could be unhealthy. A 2011 study identified a condition called “Facebook Envy” arguing that reading what others share on social networks might actually have a negative impact on mood. The existence of “Facebook Depression” is also being debated among health-care professionals.
I believe it is the lack of natural social decay that is driving some of these behaviours. After all, while some relationships end explosively, the majority decay naturally in a slow and gradual process. We drift apart. We lose contact. Far from replicating this natural passive disconnection online, we are forced to deliberately hit the “Unfriend” button, severing the connection in a swift and decisive manner. “Unfriending” is seen as a digitally aggressive act, and can often carry social implications in the real world. (An extreme example: In Iowa, a woman was arrested for burning down the house of someone who had unfriended her on Facebook.) It’s much easier to simply stay connected to these people online, even if we never communicate with them. Thus, we continue to be “Facebook friends” with people who aren’t really our friends.
Is it really necessary to stay connected to such people? Of course not, but many of us do so because it’s easier than having to look your colleague in the eye and explain why you haven’t accepted his or her friend request yet. We’d rather avoid that awkward moment, so we continue to broadcast pieces of our digital selves to an ever-growing circle that includes bosses, acquaintances, and distant relatives. The result? A need for better and more comprehensive privacy policies that take into account these social complexities.
These policies, however, are often in opposition to the corporate bottom line. Consider, for instance, Facebook’s never-ending push for users to publicly share more information about themselves. It is in Facebook’s best interest for us to continue to “friend” as many people as possible, as it provides the company with more data that it can extract and sell. As a result, Facebook is becoming a broader web that documents the connections of the people we have encountered in our lives, rather than a representation of our closest friends. For Mark Zuckerberg, social decay shouldn’t exist at all.
This, however, is not the only option.
One company that is introducing an alternative approach is Path, a mobile social network that uses the principles of Dunbar’s Number in an effort to manage social decay. Dunbar’s Number (commonly cited as 150) comes from the work of British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, and represents the “cognitive limit to the number of individuals with whom any one person can maintain stable relationships.”
Once users reach that 150 limit on Path, they’ll only be able to add another friend by cutting someone from their list. In this way, Path forces people to constantly evaluate their existing friendships by facing social decay head on.
It will be interesting to see how this social dynamic plays out. If I have 1,000 friends, I might not notice if someone has unfriended me – but I will definitely notice if I’m cut from a list of 150 people, especially if we have mutual friends. What impact will this have?
In this age of social networking, algorithms will continue to evolve to account for the various types of digital relationships that we have. Facebook and Path seem to be taking this in two very different directions, but is either one the right solution? Is there a way to organize our social relationships online that doesn’t lead to unhealthy behaviour?
The new 2012 ChildWise Monitor survey takes a look at how children ages five to 16 years in the UK use technology and finds that despite unprecedented access to virtual worlds, children still prefer to communicate face to face.
It is the top communication channel for children talking about something serious (53%), for having a private conversation (43%, compared with 13% for phone and 11% for text), and for talking about last night’s TV (33%, compared with 21% for social networking sites, 16% for texting).
However, mobile phones are still increasingly important in the lives of this age group especially kids ages 11 and up.
Six out of 10 children ages seven to 16 have a mobile phone that can access the internet (61%), increasing to three in four among 11- to 16-year-olds (77%).
The survey’s results also support the popularity of eReaders especially among younger children and boys. Almost one in 10 five- to 16-year-olds now have an eReader (9%), highest among younger boys (14% of boys aged 5-10 years).
Reading every day is still a hard sell for children as only a minority of children read for pleasure every day (30% read books every day, 15% read magazines), but most read on occasion.
Seventy-eight percent of five- to 16-year-olds read books at all, and more than one in four read books or magazines for an hour a day or more (28%). Two thirds of nine- to 16-year-olds read online (69%) – reviews, stories, news, blogs and books.
For the survey, 2,770 children ages five to 16 years were interviewed via 108 schools across the UK during fall 2011. Full survey results can be found in the annual ChildWise Monitor Report 2011-12.
A new study that says 13 percent of all mobile phone users fake talking or being busy on their phones to avoid having to interact with people around them isn’t such big news. I assumed the number was much higher.
But that’s what the numbers show, anyway. A report published this week by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project found that 83 percent of American adults own some kind of cell or mobile phone and that more than one in ten fake using it so they don’t have to interact with others.
The survey was nationally representative, and conducted by telephone. And that might be part of the problem with the data, making too low. Stand at bus stops and or corners in most any metropolitan city, however, and one quickly sees that more than 50 percent of the people are fidgeting with a mobile communications device.
Certainly, some are having conversations or listening to music, but I’ve long surmised many are just feigning activity, in order to look busy so they can avoid having to interact with others. The phone fake as more than eight of of 10 adults has become as commonplace in everyday life now as the head fake is employed in basketball.
Other findings in the Pew study were similarly interesting, but not so revealing since now we are quite accustomed to the myriad of ways mobile and smartphones interact with if not dominate our lives.
The findings include:
–The study found that cell or mobile phones are used at least once by 51 percent of all adults to get information they need right away. The study didn’t not specifically say this but other information has revealed that one way mobile device users do this is by cross-checking prices at stores on the Internet on the spot. Reportedly this has been a boon to Amazon’s business, since the online retailer consistently has the lowest prices of all major retailers.
–73 percent of survey respondents say they use their mobile device for more than a phone — the primary uses are text messaging and uploading photographs.
–42 percent of mobile phone users say devices have saved them from boredom. One would only have to take a few trips on the New York subway system to verify this. There, the number is probably closer to 80 percent, if not higher, since riders listen to music and play games and write messages they’ll send when service restores once above ground while riding the trains.
–Forty percent of mobile phone users say they have found themselves in an emergency situation where having the device helped them out.
–29 percent of the Pew study resopndents say they turn off their mobile devices to get a break from using it — presumably this is done when nobody is around that want to avoid interaction with.
–23 percent of mobile phone users say they have experienced frustration because their phone takes too long to download information.
–16 percent said they have had difficulty reading something on their mobile phone because the screen is too small.
They do it late at night when their parents are asleep. They do it in restaurants and while crossing busy streets. They do it in the classroom with their hands behind their back. They do it so much their thumbs hurt.
Spurred by the unlimited texting plans offered by carriers like AT&T Mobility and Verizon Wireless, American teenagers sent and received an average of 2,272 text messages per month in the fourth quarter of 2008, according to the Nielsen Company — almost 80 messages a day, more than double the average of a year earlier.
Dr. Martin Joffe, a pediatrician in Greenbrae, Calif., recently surveyed students at two local high schools and said he found that many were routinely sending hundreds of texts every day.
“That’s one every few minutes,” he said. “Then you hear that these kids are responding to texts late at night. That’s going to cause sleep issues in an age group that’s already plagued with sleep issues.”
The rise in texting is too recent to have produced any conclusive data on health effects. But Sherry Turkle, a psychologist who is director of the Initiative on Technology and Self at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and who has studied texting among teenagers in the Boston area for three years, said it might be causing a shift in the way adolescents develop.
“Among the jobs of adolescence are to separate from your parents, and to find the peace and quiet to become the person you decide you want to be,” she said. “Texting hits directly at both those jobs.”
Psychologists expect to see teenagers break free from their parents as they grow into autonomous adults, Professor Turkle went on, “but if technology makes something like staying in touch very, very easy, that’s harder to do; now you have adolescents who are texting their mothers 15 times a day, asking things like, ‘Should I get the red shoes or the blue shoes?’ ”
As for peace and quiet, she said, “if something next to you is vibrating every couple of minutes, it makes it very difficult to be in that state of mind.
“If you’re being deluged by constant communication, the pressure to answer immediately is quite high,” she added. “So if you’re in the middle of a thought, forget it.”
Michael Hausauer, a psychotherapist in Oakland, Calif., said teenagers had a “terrific interest in knowing what’s going on in the lives of their peers, coupled with a terrific anxiety about being out of the loop.” For that reason, he said, the rapid rise in texting has potential for great benefit and great harm.
“Texting can be an enormous tool,” he said. “It offers companionship and the promise of connectedness. At the same time, texting can make a youngster feel frightened and overly exposed.”
Texting may also be taking a toll on teenagers’ thumbs. Annie Wagner, 15, a ninth-grade honor student in Bethesda, Md., used to text on her tiny LG phone as fast as she typed on a regular keyboard. A few months ago, she noticed a painful cramping in her thumbs. (Lately, she has been using the iPhone she got for her 15th birthday, and she says texting is slower and less painful.)
Peter W. Johnson, an associate professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the University of Washington, said it was too early to tell whether this kind of stress is damaging. But he added,
“Based on our experiences with computer users, we know intensive repetitive use of the upper extremities can lead to musculoskeletal disorders, so we have some reason to be concerned that too much texting could lead to temporary or permanent damage to the thumbs.”
Annie said that although her school, like most, forbids cellphone use in class, with the LG phone she could text by putting it under her coat or desk.
Her classmate Ari Kapner said, “You pretend you’re getting something out of your backpack.”
Teachers are often oblivious. “It’s a huge issue, and it’s rampant,” said Deborah Yager, a high school chemistry teacher in Castro Valley, Calif. Ms. Yager recently gave an anonymous survey to 50 of her students; most said they texted during class.
“I can’t tell when it’s happening, and there’s nothing we can do about it,” she said. “And I’m not going to take the time every day to try to police it.”
Dr. Joffe says parents tend to be far less aware of texting than of, say, video game playing or general computer use, and the unlimited plans often mean that parents stop paying attention to billing details. “I talk to parents in the office now,” he said. “I’m quizzing them, and no one is thinking about this.”
Still, some parents are starting to take measures. Greg Hardesty, a reporter in Lake Forest, Calif., said that late last year his 13-year-old daughter, Reina, racked up 14,528 texts in one month. She would keep the phone on after going to bed, switching it to vibrate and waiting for it to light up and signal an incoming message.
Mr. Hardesty wrote a column about Reina’s texting in his newspaper, The Orange County Register, and in the flurry of attention that followed, her volume soared to about 24,000 messages. Finally, when her grades fell precipitously, her parents confiscated the phone.
Reina’s grades have since improved, and the phone is back in her hands, but her text messages are limited to 5,000 per month — and none between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. on weekdays.
Yet she said there was an element of hypocrisy in all this: her mother, too, is hooked on the cellphone she carries in her purse.
“She should understand a little better, because she’s always on her iPhone,” Reina said. “But she’s all like, ‘Oh well, I don’t want you texting.’ ” (Her mother, Manako Ihaya, said she saw Reina’s point.) Professor Turkle can sympathize. “Teens feel they are being punished for behavior in which their parents indulge,” she said. And in what she calls a poignant twist, teenagers still need their parents’ undivided attention.
“Even though they text 3,500 messages a week, when they walk out of their ballet lesson, they’re upset to see their dad in the car on the BlackBerry,” she said. “The fantasy of every adolescent is that the parent is there, waiting, expectant, completely there for them.”
Our children are called the “Net Generation,” and rightly so. Digital media is no longer a luxury but a mainstream in their lives. After all, this is the first group born into the era of iPods, iPads, cell phones, text messaging, skype, podcasts, and blogs. And they are plugging in.
The average American eight to 18 year-old is now plugged into some kind of digital media seven and a half hours a day.
Reports show that youth online time is steadily increasing by 38 percent in just five years.
Let’s face it, technology is transforming our kids’ lives. But what affect will all that plugged-in time have?
The truth is our children’s engagement in the digital world is so new that researchers are still unclear as to how it will play out in their lives. And there lies the reason we need to tune in closer. New reports about our Net Generation reveal a danger that may be overlooked
Overlooked dangers for Gen Text
A report that I shared last week the TODAY Show by the USC Annenberg Center for the Digital Future Survey shows a possible concerning downslide to technology. A small but growing number of parents are realizing that all that digital world has a unexpected and negative outcome.
Plugged in time is reducing our children’s face-to-face time with real live human beings. At stake: the strength of our bond with our children, strong family interactions, and the development of empathy. Child experts and parents alike are now realizing that one of the biggest dangers for the Net Generation may well be the diminishment of the parental-child relationship.
Beware: Research confirms that the more time kids spend plugged in the more likely there are to report a lower attachment to parents or difficulty forming that crucial relationship or emotional bond.
The fact is kids don’t learn crucial life and character skills such as empathy, communication, emotional intelligence, sharing, friendship-making, leadership, social skills, conflict resolution, listening, compassion, tolerance (the list goes on but I think you get my drift) by facing screens. Kids don’t acquire moral, social and emotional development from plugging in. And kids do not strengthen their relationships with their family when they attached to a digital device.
Remember: It’s not just what are kids are plugging in that matters but what they are tuning out of! If the answer is to their their family and friends, then BEWARE!
Strengthening Face to Face Connections in A Digital World
Your parenting goal is to ensure that you are the primary influence and filter in your child’s life. While there are dangers in a too plugged-in world, there also are solutions to ensure family interactions aren’t jeopardized.
Last week I chatted on the TODAY show with Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb about the challenges of parenting kids in a digital world. Here are tips I shared to strengthen your family’s face-to-face interaction, manage your time together, and ensure that your child’s social and moral development aren’t affected–despite the digital world.
Stay educated. Keeping abreast with what is new in technology and what our kids are into will certainly raise our chances of raising the Net Generation to be physically and emotionally healthy. Here are just a few ways:
Ways to Stay Educated About the New Digital World
Read the directions on each new digital purchase.
Have discussions with other parents about the digital world.
Attend workshops offered by your child’s school or the local police department.
Regularly assess reports in the news or online.
Ask your kids to teach you how to use the new digital device.
Sit down and watch or play that computer game with your child.
Learn to use what your child is using.
Get into your child’s digital world. Wii console and familyConnecting with your kids via their favored technology to communicate (such as Iming, texting or cell) allows you to stay in their world while nurturing your relationship. Kids are always more open to our involvement when we enter their world instead of insisting that they joins ours. Play the video game with your child. Ask your child to teach you to text. Skype as a family with the grandparents. Watch a favorite TV show together. But don’t forget to also turn and chat about what you’re doing!
Assess your family’s current plugged in habits. Over the next few days do an informal reality check of your family. Note the extent each family member is currently “plugged in” and to which type of technology (computer, video games, ipod, television). Some families set a post-it on each technology outlet to serve as an informal time card to jot the time the device was turned on and off. Identify those ideal times during the day such as the dinner hour, for face-to-face interactions. Is technology hindering those moments? For instance: Are kids watching TV instead of tuning into dad? Are they texting instead of listening to the bedtime story? Also check your family’s cell phones, texts and tweet logs. Add up the minutes. How much time is your family plugged in? Do you need to reduce that time? If so, when?
Turn off TV when not watching: 64% of 8-18 year olds surveyed say the TV is usually on during family meals [Kaiser Family Foundation]
Create “sacred” unplugged times. Set specific times to remain “unplugged.” Ask your kids for input. Prime family times might be family meal, those fire-side discussions, family meeting, or at an outing which involves other family members. The aim is to strike a balance between plugged and unplugged that works for your family. Then announce those “sacred times.”
The 3 T Rule: Set a family rule: “No Texting, Taping or Talking”–on cell–during our family times. Extend that rule to also include “Whenever a human being is in your presence and wants to chat.”
Turn off your cell! Make sure you follow your own digital rules. Kids say that family meals, school activities, sporting events and after school (pick up and welcoming connectors) are times when they are most bothered by their parents’ networking behaviors. Turn off your cell phone during those times!
Don’t be media-lenient. Studies show that children whose parents set clear technology rules -spend less time with media than their peers. In fact only 52% of 8-18 year olds say their parents set rules about what they’re allowed to do on computer.
Survey: Parents Set Too Few Media Rules
Relatively few 7-12th graders say their parents establish any rules about talking or texting on a cell phone
27% of tweens/teens have family rules about amount of time they can spend talking on the phone
14% of tweens/teen say they have rules about the number of texts allowed to send
-Kaiser Family Foundation
Reduce technology distractions during family time. Don’t put a TV in your kids’ bedrooms where they can retreat from family life. Turn the television off when no one is watching. Turn on your phone’s answering machine during sacred family times. Leave the computer in a central family spot where you can connect you’re your kids even for a short backrub. Let the off-switch work to create quality family interactions.
Turn the TV off: Research finds that leaving the TV when unwatched is a communication barrio especially to younger kids or those who are more easily distracted.
Focus on face-to-face interaction. One-on one communication enhances the parent-child relationship; boosts communication and allows parents to model (which is the best way to teach any skill) those essential interpersonal social and emotional skills our tech-dependent kids need. Take time for those crucial informal chats! Discussion topics are endless (if you’re needing some). A hint: use your children’s world: Clip interesting articles from the newspaper. Discuss the new movie reviews. Debate who is going to win that big game or the election (and who really should). Go online and peruse your kids’ school website to chat about those upcoming activities.
Use the “eye color rule”: To help encourage eye contact, face-to-face interaction and tuning into one another enforce one family rule: “Always look at the color of the talker’s eye.”
Add friends to your kids’ schedule. Friends do play an important role in our children’s social and emotional development. Friends are crucial to our children’s self-esteem and the development of social skills. Check your child’s calendar and make sure “be with friend” is added to the agenda. And when your child is with pal, make it an “unplugged play date.”
Stress “WE” vs “Me. Find ways for your family—and particularly your child – to do community service and empathize others not themselves. Work at a shelter. Deliver gently-used possession to charity. Pitch in together to help the elderly neighbor rake her leaves. Also point out other people’s feelings And ask often: How does the other person feel? All are important ways to help your child start focusing on the feelings of others.
There is no doubt that technology will help shape our children’s attitudes, behaviors and character, but remember: Fifty years of solid child development research confirms that the most powerful source of psychological impact on children are the strength of their relationship with their parents. For that there are no shortcuts or computer programs: it’s only achieved by applying that timeless, unplugged, good ol parenting strategy of quality face-to-face communication with our kids.
Originally posted: February 4th, 2011
The Benefits of Friends
Social media prove a rich source for data merchants
Nov 28, 2010
-By Brian Morrissey, Adweek
The real money in social media might not reside in the ads that sit on Web sites like Facebook and Twitter, but in the data produced by users’ frantic friending and sharing.
The rationale is simple. Internet users are now spending 22 percent of their time in social media, and Internet activity leaves behind a trail of data: what people like, what they share, and who is connected to whom with similar tastes. For publishers and application makers, licensing all that social data is a no-brainer—found money for what is in essence a waste product of their services. For advertisers, social data is a potential boon: a way to find likely customers based on their sharing and communication habits.
Facebook, the obvious key player in the social data game, is currently taking a backseat to scrappier startups, both to avoid overstepping privacy sensitivities and to focus on other growth areas. That’s left an opportunity for new companies like Media6Degrees, 33Across and RadiumOne, which are licensing large amounts of data from instant-messaging clients, sharing applications and blog services in order to piece together customized social networks for ad campaigns. For instance: A campaign for Nike based on social media data will show relevant ads to people connected to Nike customers, on the supposition they’re likely to have similar tastes.
“It’s your real social graph, not people you went to high school with 20 years ago,” said Eric Wheeler, CEO of 33Across.
Other companies are collecting data directly in order to target ads outside social media sites.
ShareThis, which has content-sharing buttons on over 1 million Web sites, collects as much as a terabyte of social data every day. Earlier this year, it took the search terms from skin care brand Mederma—stretch marks, dry skin, scar tissue and others—and identified people who had viewed related content, shared it or received it. ShareThis then built an audience segment of 12 million with the DoubleClick Ad Exchange. Frequent sharers were seven times more likely to view a Mederma coupon than the less-specified audience of previous campaigns.
ShareThis CEO Tim Schigel said that such methods could help crack the code on brand advertising online. While current Web-targeting methods are geared to direct response, social characteristics are more suited for awareness and consideration—the critical backbone of brand advertising budgets locked up in TV. “There’s a huge potential that’s not tapped,” he said.
Still, collecting social data is a tricky business. One social data outfit, Rapleaf, was rocked after a Wall Street Journal story questioned its tactics in collecting user information. As for Facebook, if and when it does enter the data-mining market—which several industry observers have predicted it will do, as the site marches toward an inevitable IPO—it will need to be careful because of its history of igniting concerns over privacy.
“The really big question is whether anyone but Facebook can make a big business out of it,” said Terry Kawaja, CEO of investment banking firm Luma Partners.