Social by Design: Social networking comes of age

Laurie Young

2011 is the year that new media and social networking really came of age. The world watched as ordinary people found their voice and courage to face down guns in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and Libya. Similarly, it was appalled by the behaviour of London rioters but moved by the crowd-prompted clean-up campaigns that soon followed in places like Croydon and Ealing. Two powerful forces, youth and technology, made these possible; and they are forcing social media into mainstream marketing.

These iconic moments are symptomatic of the fact that social networking tools have moved from geeky enthusiasts and teenagers' bedrooms into normal life. There are now vast numbers of buyers who search the web for potential products on mobile devices. Twitter has become a major phenomenon which people follow and then connect with blogs to develop conversations. Facebook has emerged as the dominant digital channel amongst many. It is used to access video, photos and conversation with communities. A good number of people are now so fused to their smartphones that they refer to them during meals and bedtime. They use them to browse the web, email (even when near their computer) and buy goods. As a result, 'apps' have become common currency, with several hundred thousand in Apple's AppStore and many now paying for them. Although most seem to be forgotten soon after downloading, people do not want to be left out of this fast developing world. And, as 85% of iPhone users are well-heeled people under 45, this is an irresistible demographic for any ambitious brand manager.