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The Rising Influence of Social Media, as Reflected by Data

A recent study found that in 2013, 75% of higher education students used social media in their process of deciding where to enroll. There were several articles on this, most highlighting the growing use of social media in the higher ed sector, but the point missed by many is that this stat is more indicative of demographics than sector. Yes, social media has had a huge impact on higher education process, providing new ways for institutions to connect and engage with current and prospective students, but it makes perfect sense that this age group, for whom social media has existed for as long as they can remember, would be most likely to conduct their research via social platforms. But it isn't just their future education this relates to. It’s everything. The shoes they’re going to buy, the movies they’re going to watch, places they’re going to visit – social media is where the next generation do their research, on all decisions. And this reliance on social as their go-to resource is only going to grow.

This Is What They’ve Learned

The increasing reliance on social media can sometimes be missed when looking at the effectiveness of social as a business platform. Many still see it as fun, as a platform for kids to share updates about what they had for dinner or pictures of themselves pouting in the sun. But amidst those interactions, habits develop, learned processes, and those actions become part of what they do, of how they live, in a wider sense. The best comparison is the internet – twenty-five years ago, the internet was a slow, clunky, dial-up service. At that time, many of us were using DOS prompts to navigate our own PCs, let alone have any sort of rational functionality on the web. But as the internet developed, people started to use it more – you’d check for something on Yahoo!, you created a Hotmail account, maybe you even used a message board to voice your thoughts. Over time, these things become part of your normal process till eventually you can’t imagine how you ever got by without them. You don’t send letters anymore, right? Young people these days don’t make phone calls at anywhere near the same rate. For the next generation, social media has always been - it’s a part of how they’ve grown, how they’ve learned to interact. Seeing stats like 75% of students are using social media for research is not only expected, it underlines the baseline trends highlighted by every study and every research paper looking at the impact of social on the global communications landscape.

Slower Growth Is Still Growth

This is also what’s interesting about seeing reports of Facebook’s slowdown in youth demographics or Twitter’s issues with attracting new users (somewhat alleviated by their latest results). While youth take-up has slowed, the fastest growing user-bases are in older demographic groups. This makes sense - five years ago, a large proportion of the 25-34 demographic were in the 18-24 category. Logically, as generations move through, you’d expect those high adoption rates from the younger brackets to continue to spread through into the older tiers, as those people continue using the platforms they’ve become aligned to. Slowing growth rates in youth categories generally reflect that they’re hitting peak take-up, its the increases among older demographics that represent the more important aspect for the future of social business. More generations active on social means more businesses heading there to reach them – and more businesses utilising social, leads to more of their competition doing the same. Rolling increases in user growth rates underline the need to take social seriously, and to initiate yourself and your business to the opportunities in the wider social space.

Look to Industry Leaders

While the numbers all indicate that social media isn't a fad and that social business is going to become a crucial part of all marketing strategies moving forward, there are still many businesses who aren't yet ready to allocate the time or money to undertake the necessary learning and monitoring of social platforms. Yes, it takes some time to understand, and yes, there will be additional requirements, in terms of posting, interacting and listening. But if the trends aren’t enough to sway you, maybe you should look to how social is being approached by leaders in the business world. As of 2013, 77% of Fortune 500 companies maintain an active Twitter presence. 70% have Facebook profiles, 69% have YouTube accounts. That is a huge amount, and while you could surmise that a Fortune 500 business would have more money to allocate to new media, you can also be assured that they wouldn’t do so without good reason. ROI remains a contentious point, one which marketers are still trying to clearly define, but one aspect that cannot be ignored is the numbers – the data suggests social business is only going to become more important. It’s not going to go away, you’re not going to see social media switch off and people revert back to phones and faxes. Do you think the internet’s going away? Imagine what it would do to your business if it did? In a few years' time, you’ll likely to be looking at social in the exact same way.

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