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It’s a Small (Social Media) World

How many people are ‘in’ this thing?

How many people do you think are really active in the social media profession/community?

Millions use different social media sites, but they aren’t ‘in’ it (‘Gotta be in it to win it – as my Atlantic City fan mother-in-law says). The millions on MySpace and Facebook aren’t the early adopters who are constantly trying out, analyzing, and literally designing and building social media’s future.

What’s your guess? My guess is about 5,000. I think there are about 5,000 core people, around the world, who are working independently, actively moving the technology and the community forward. Even 10,000 or 20,000 is tiny, when one considers the millions of people that will be using the technology in the coming years, how the social media world will change how people use the internet. A few thousand isn’t enough to assure diverse and comprehensive design. This number includes venture capitalists, marketers, voice over IP types, coders, and software developers. The numbers dwindle when we look for the academics. I’d number them at about 50. This is a problem, of course. All revolutions need the scientists for solid theory and design.

The naturalists among us will say that committees will organically form, that as the profession is recognized more and more by the mainstream (what I call ‘normal people’) that a governing professional body or two will grow from the need of a center point. The industrial revolution mostly worked in a “market demand” way, so why not the WEBolution?

I’m mildly concerned that this particular social renaissance needs a bit more than the naturalists would claim. It is all moving very fast. Conferences are popping up all over the place, products are tossed around like potato chips, and a few big egos in the group are more interested in what should be late-stage competition for market share. I may be a dreamer, but I can see a future where this social media movement has changed economies and in turn changed the world. I’d hate to see the spirit of global community be crushed under the weight of too many market-hungry egos.

What do you think?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • paisano 4 April 2008, 10:10 am

    Excellent piece! I’ve always wondered about this as well but you articulated it all so much better than I would’ve!
    It is indeed a micro-world when compared to the big picture but the good news is that it is growing rapidly.

    Take a look at the top dogs with the largest “fan-base” or audience and even their numbers are tiny in the grand scheme of things. Jason Calacanis and his annoying Jason Nation is the fastest growing legion of followers on Twitter according to http://www.twitterholic.com at 17,369 followers. Still, 17k in an online world of millions?
    The number one spot has that Obama guy at just over 20k but we all know he has millions of devoted followers in real life. Only 20 k of them are on twitter I guess.

    I think all of these online communities will continue to grow and spread into every facet of life so expect our tiny world to expand exponentially with time.


  • PurpleCar 4 April 2008, 10:47 am

    Hey Pai! Thanks for commenting. Sure, there are a lot of fans out there of some of the big egos (and fans of some plain old nice people!); their participation in social media is needed. I’m asking about the movers and shakers who are actively asking questions and providing solutions. Frankly, I’m worried all this posturing by an ‘elite’ few will discourage the other types of people the social media webolution needs too.

  • Annie Heckenberger 4 April 2008, 11:21 am

    I hear ya, CC. I think the pool of innovators/early adopters is larger than 5,000, but it certainly is no critical mass. I’ve been observing the posturing fight for fame among some of our social media colleagues. It’s starting to look more and more like the wild wild west our there. Any day now I expect a shoot out in Second Life for ownership of top twitter stats;) Bring back the Tila Tequila’s!

  • Don Lafferty 4 April 2008, 1:05 pm

    A Congressman once told me that every letter his office received represented 10,000 voters; one who had the gumption to write the letter and 9,999 that felt the same way, but for whatever reason, didn’t write.

    Maybe the folks inside the fishbowl represent the tip of the iceberg, I don’t really know.

    I think I mentioned to you when I went to a recent Media Bistro event nobody was even documenting the event with a still camera, while at a typical Social Media get together, you’re likely to have more than one person streaming live video.

    I really think the current limited level of engagement has something to do with the general technophobia that permiates most of society, income barriers to Internet access, the ADD world we live in, and the passing of time.

    Sometimes it’s hard to believe that most people don’t engage in online social networking toi the level we do, but the truth is, we really ARE first adopters.

    But, remember this, MySpace has over 300,000,000 registered users. Last time I checked, Facebook was breaking through 60,000,000 while Twitter was only approaching the million user mark.

    It’s early for some of the sexier networks. People are jockeying for position to capitalize on the phenomenon represented by Twitter (and I DO mean REPRESENTED by Twitter) for the same reasons people have done so with the advent of every technological breakthrough.

    There’s gold in them thar hills.

  • Rick Wolff 4 April 2008, 2:19 pm

    You know what’s missing? The de facto sales force of this social media movement, with all its many services and more on the way, would penetrate the hinterlands as readily as we’re used to in other industries, if they were paid on commission. Problem is, with all the startups on zero-income during their shakedowns, they have to depend on word of mouth, which necessarily has a perimeter — what we’ve come to call the fish bowl.