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The Connected Web

Phil Wainewright

Does Social Media Hype Add Up?

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Some common sense caught my eye today from UK-based blogger Mark Pack, who is a an avid yet grounded observer of how corporations and political parties use social media. Commenting on the newly updated version of the much-hyped YouTube Social Media Revolution film, he questions the validity of some of the comparisons made in the video.

In particular, he picks on the oft-cited comparison of the adoption of modern-day technologies to the take-up of radio. The normal purpose of these comparisons is to demonstrate how much faster technologies get disseminated in the modern world. At first glance, today's adoption rates seem to be far more rapid:

"Radio took 38 years to get to 50m users, the internet only four years, the iPod a mere three years and so on."

But as Mark goes on to point out, the world's population was much smaller when radio got started, and the adoption figure that is quoted for radio is for the US only, whereas global statistics are quoted for modern technologies. This puts a rather different complexion on the figures, as he goes on to explain:

"So let's adjust the figures to make them a proper like-for-like comparison. At the time radio hit 50m listeners in the US the US population was around 132 million, making radio's penetration 38%. Currently the world's population if around 6.8 billion, so to hit a similar 38% figure the iPod would have had to have got to 2.6 billion users. Kind of makes the iPod's current take-up levels look rather puny compared to what radio actually achieved."

Looked at this way, radio's rate of adoption looks almost unbeaten, especially if you take into account factors such as lower per-capita wealth, less efficient distribution and slower communications of the day.

Social mavens certainly know how to hype, but does the hype add up? Apparently not so well.

Phil Wainewright blogs about how businesses are using the Web to get better plugged into today's fast-moving, digital economy.

Phil Wainewright

Phil Wainewright specializes in on-demand services View more

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