Facebook Effect: The Allure of Online Communities

September 14, 2010

Consumer and brand behaviour

Facebook has reached the 500 million user mark and continues to grow even as more social networking options emerge (consider the new Apple music social networking site – Ping). Facebook growth has been tremendous with about 100 million new users getting involved each 6 months.

Not only are more people joining Facebook but we are wasting(?) more of our time there. Back in February Nielson reported that the average American spends more than 7 hours per month on Facebook. This far outstrips the time spent on other online sites (think Google or Yahoo). Numbers for Canada are not presented but it is hard to imagine we are much different.

The Facebook effect is clearly profound…. we are breaking up, celebrating and sharing our lives in ways that seem (on the surface) to be so different from anything we have seen before. Of course, what we really mean is that somehow we have recreated the country village on a global scale – where your community is defined by your relationships not by your distance. And, of course, people living in that village, who you do not know, can access information about you that you might think is relatively private. Physical distance creates the illusion of distance that is not real.

Somehow we have recreated the country village on a global scale – where your community is defined by your relationships not by your distance

Despite the privacy dangers – see the news from last week about burglars who were aided in their crime by Facebook – the benefits of these connections in a world where our extended family (relatives and friends) no longer live within a short distance are driving more and more people (especially older ones) to join. Recent Pew Research Center results show that almost half (47%) of those 50 to 64 years old and 26% of those 65 or older in the U.S. are using social networking sites like Facebook. Both of these are dramatic increases over the past 2 years.

There are few other spaces—online or offline—where tweens, teens, sandwich generation members, grandparents, friends and neighbors regularly intersect and communicate across the same network (Pew Research Center).

Small or large depending on your definition of friends (including fleeting acquaintances or strong kin ties), the online communities are providing something that has been missing for many people who, perhaps, until now have viewed technological progress as breaking down rather than strengthening our human bonds.

New sites and apps are likely to emerge but Facebook has the potential to maintain a strong online presence because it is intergenerational and continuing to build momentum in the face of competition.

So it is worth asking yourself, why did I join/not join? If I am on Facebook, how do I view the time spent there?

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About Richard Jenkins

Market research professional and small business owner

View all posts by Richard Jenkins

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