Everyone online knows about social networking–there’re even Twitiquette guidelines, for goodness sake. But that doesn’t mean everyone’s taking part, or that each network is the same. Even online there are class distinctions. Facebook users, hold on to your monocles.
Research supports the notion that there’s a class division between the online social nets, according to a recent piece on CNN. Nielsen looked into the matter, and found that you’re 25% more likely to be a member of Facebook if your background fits a “more affluent” demographic. Those users in the “less affluent” categories are 37% more likely to be MySpace users. There are absolute earnings figures to go with this too–23% of Facebookers earn over $100,000 per annum, while just 16% of MySpacers can claim the same.
While CNN’s being crass by equating this to a class divide since money is absolutely not the be-all and end-all definitive marker for “class” (whatever that term means in modern society anyway), what the data does illustrate is that different types of users are clustering to different social networks. There’s no attempt to define cause and effect here, of course. Is Facebook classier by design, hence its classier clientele, or is it merely that people tend to cluster and befriend people who are similar to them? I suspect the latter, but it’s fairly easy to point at the garish visual and auditory nightmare of a typical MySpace profile and deem it low-rent.
These stats aren’t just intellectually interesting, of course: Nielsen looked into this for a reason, and it too harks back to the subject of cold, hard cash. If you’re an online advertiser, with a clearly defined demographic for your products, this is exactly the sort of data you’d need to help you decide where to concentrate your ad efforts.
But even though every one and their pet of preference is going online today, there’s still a class of people who these advertisers may miss out on–social network refuseniks. Over at The Washington Post, there’s an interesting post about this whole sub-class of Net users, who come from a wide range of social and technical backgrounds but who refuse to take part in Twittering, Hi5ing, LinkedIning, or Facebooking. The Post’s piece highlights several examples of people “in their 20s or early 30s who have gone off the grid” social network-wise.
The Post, too, is slightly over the top about this underclass of people–the piece goes to some lengths to illustrate that these people aren’t “Luddite” at all, citing a “25 year-old physics graduate student” who’s a refusenik because he “considers social networking a time-wasting cesspool of pseudo-communication.” While we’re at the task of overly-classifying people, this particular example is easily shot down: Physicists aren’t traditionally the most gregarious of people in any social context, online or not.
Anti-social networkers do exist though–I certainly number several among my friendship group, and I’m certain you do too–and this fact is simply a reflection of the variety of personal tastes in lifestyles. This is a fact that marketers need also keep hold of: With seemingly every gadget getting its own little dab of social net power at the moment, assuming that this is 100% the way of things to come (for advertising purposes) is probably inadvisable.