Websites are old-fashioned: Jump into social media

"Is social media a fad or is it the biggest shift since the Industrial Revolution?" asks Erik Qualman, author of "Socialnomics." Consider his statistics and my analysis, then decide how connected you should be. Hint: Your company website is no longer enough!

As of 2010, Generation Y -- those born between 1980 and 2000 -- outnumbers baby boomers. And 96 percent of them have joined a social network! There is no initiation, no dues, no recommendations. Just a few taps on the keyboard and voilà! Instant connection to friends and family, immediate information sharing, and the ability to find the kid who sat next to you during kindergarten story time.

As technology improves and changes, it also changes the way we live. It took radio 38 years to reach 50 million users. It took TV 13 years, the Internet four years and iPod just three years.

Perhaps the star of the social media show is Facebook, which added 100 million users in just nine months and now has over half a billion users. Not bad for a company that began in a dorm room. If Facebook were a country, it would have the third-largest population behind China and India. The fastest-growing segment of Facebook is women ages 55 to 65. (The jury is still out on how many of those women's children have accepted a "friend" request from their mothers.)

We no longer search for the news; the news finds us. More than 1.5 million pieces of content (Web links, news stories, blog posts, notes, photos, etc.) are shared on Facebook daily. In the near future we will no longer search for products and services. They will find us via social media.

One out of eight couples married in the United States last year met via social media.

The youngest techies, born after 1995, consider e-mail passé. In 2008, Boston College decided to stop distributing e-mail addresses to incoming freshmen.

For those who prefer their communications in 140 characters or less, a Twitter account is a must. Ashton Kutcher and Ellen DeGeneres have more Twitter followers than the entire populations of Ireland, Norway and Panama. Approximately 80 percent of Twitter usage is from mobile devices; people update anywhere and anytime. The apps for Black Friday sales changed the way shoppers planned their retail strategy.

As a businessperson, I often wonder how we functioned before LinkedIn. Eighty percent of companies are using LinkedIn as their primary tool to find employees.

Remember the advertising slogan "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas"? That's a little misleading, because it also stays on Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, My Space, YouTube or other social media you use.

YouTube is the second-largest search engine in the world. It contains 100 million videos and receives 2 billion viewers each day. A whopping 70 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds have watched TV on the Web, while only 33 percent have ever viewed a show on DVR or TiVo. And 25 percent have watched a video on their phones in the last month. With a growing number of e-readers, 35 percent of book sales on Amazon are for the Kindle. Some publishers estimate that e-book sales will reach 50 percent in the next five years.

There are more than 200 million blogs, and 54 percent of bloggers post content or tweet daily. Without knowing who or what organization is actually behind the blog, here are some facts to consider:

•Thirty-four percent of bloggers post opinions about products or brands.

•Seventy-eight percent of consumers trust peer recommendations.

•Only 14 percent trust advertising.

Perhaps the most astonishing fact of all is that social media have overtaken porn as the No. 1 activity on the Web.

Successful companies in social media have learned the importance of listening first and selling second. Qualman says, "They act more like party planners, aggregators and content providers than traditional advertisers."

Social media represent a fundamental shift in the way we communicate. To stay current -- and competitive -- in business, don't be a "twit." Put your best "face" forward and "link" into these tremendous opportunities.

Mackay's Moral: If you want to have the world at your fingertips, brush up on your "social" skills.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman and author. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or send e-mail to harvey@mackay.com. His column is distributed by United Feature Syndicate.

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