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Social media, in some forms, is quite popular. One need only look at the rise of social networks such as MySpace and Facebook to recognize this.

But there's an inconvenient truth that proponents of these sites tend to ignore - the average person just doesn't have the ability to participate fully in social media.

While individuals like Robert Scoble tweet 24/7 and amass thousands of friends on Facebook, the average person can't live a similar insane "social media lifestyle" and probably doesn't want to.

Sarah Perez at ReadWriteWeb published an interesting post last week entitled "Real People Don't Have Time for Social Media."

Sarah's post was inspired by a post on Museum 2.0 that asked "How Much Time Does Web 2.0 Take?"

It classifies social media users into three categories:

  • Participants who invest 1-5 hours per week in social media.
  • Content providers who spend 5-10 hours per week using social media.
  • Community directors who devote 10-20 hours of their time each week to social media.

After giving everything some thought, Sarah came to an obvious conclusion:

"Looking at all the various web-based activities and projects, what we can tell is that not everyone is going to have the time to be as heavily involved in social media [as] we are."

That said, I don't think stating "real people don't have time for social media" is entirely accurate.

According to Nielsen Media Research, the average American spends more than four hours each day watching television. When this is considered, the amount of time some users invest in social media looks modest.

Thus, the inability of the average person to participate in social media must go beyond the time consideration.

Television is a broadcast medium that requires little effort on the part of the viewer.

As such, even those who spend 10 hours each day between a job and commuting can still reasonably find a way to "tune in, turn on and drop out."

As a participatory medium that requires decent input to get decent output, social media not only takes an investment of time, but an investment of effort.

This is, in my opinion, the primary factor that limits social media's mainstream potential.

It's not simply that the average person can't invest 20 hours a week in social media. After all, the average American finds more than 28 hours a week to spend sitting in front of a television.

It's the immense effort required to actually get something of value out of the social media experience that makes social media an unattractive proposition for so many people.

That effort is something many aren't willing or able to make but the most avid social media users and social media entrepreneurs seem to be ignorant to this fact. They continue to invite everyone they know to each new social media service they sign up for and they continue to create new services that demand significant effort to produce value.

Given this, Perez's common sense advice is perhaps what these people need to be reminded most:

"If we're going to recommend a service or activity to a friend whose alarm goes off at 6 AM and doesn't return home from the office until 6 PM, then we need to respect that their 'spare' time is precious. Whatever new app or service we're trying to push on them should have real value."

But what constitutes "real value"? In other words, what type of value does the average person want from social media?

I've often asked myself - does social media primarily provide value in the form of utility or in the form of entertainment?

I think one could provide valid rationales for either but I increasingly tend to see social media as an entertainment medium.

While there is no doubt that people use social media in utilitarian ways (keeping in touch with friends, sharing information, etc.), it's the entertainment value (poking friends, browsing through photos, etc.) that I think the average social media user is most attracted to.

When looked at from that perspective, social media's challenge becomes quite clear - how can social media provide a compelling and satisfying experience while at the same time requiring the least amount of effort?

This challenge is compounded by another fact that I think many social media proponents ignore. While Robert Scoble is correct in stating that social media doesn't do much when you're not "connected," he doesn't seem to recognize that the more "connected" you become, the less favorable the signal to noise ratio becomes.

Thus, social media's greatest flaw is perhaps the fact that the effort required to obtain a decent experience always continues to grow because the more involved you get, the more effort is required to "manage" the negative aspect of the experience - noise. This essentially means that at some point, much of your effort is focused on maintaining an acceptable experience instead of on producing a better experience.

Most individuals simply can't make the effort required and unless the social media world recognizes this inconvenient truth, many entrepreneurs will continue to waste time and money creating social media services that don't truly offer value to mainstream users.

I believe that one of the most important things social media entrepreneurs can consider when designing a new service is how much input is required to generate valuable output.

I don't think it's any coincidence that perhaps the most successful social media service thus far, YouTube, has one of the most favorable input/output ratios. That is, unless you really want to, you don't have to contribute much to get something out. In that sense, it's similar to television.

Services like Twitter on the other hand don't have very favorable input/output ratios which is probably why thus far they are primarily relegated to the small world of "first adopters."

I'll have to address this topic at a later date. It's now time for me to log off. My favorite television show is on in five minutes.

Drama 2.0

Published 21 April, 2008 by Drama 2.0

237 more posts from this author

Comments (8)

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The same thinking prompted me to write to the NMA about Tesco's social media plans.


Will I ever have time to socialise with fellow shoppers on Tesco.co.uk? No. I don't particularly want to either.

I would very much prefer Tesco built smarter functions to allow me to find the food I like more quickly and easily.

over 8 years ago


Siobhan Tyrrell, MD at Tandem Digital

At a talk I was at last week the CEO of a young development company described their inhouse social media activity in the context of business development. A really great mix of apps, engagement, community building and social networking - at the end of the 20 minute presentation the audience was curiously both exhilarated and exhausted!

But we couldn't help wonder how effective the activity was and how it was measured. The answer seemed to be that it wasn't. As Stuart Rose might say "It's a bit like busy fools".

over 8 years ago

Alan Charlesworth

Alan Charlesworth, lecturer / researcher at University of Sunderland

Good article, whilst I generally agree that [most] social media is all hype over substance and that it can be a time consuming business/hobby ... a small point: A survey published by Blinkx (2008) revealed that 78 per cent of US adults are ‘double-dippers’ – meaning that they surf the Internet while watching television, with more than a third of them doing so always or often. Maybe surfing around myspace et al is something you do with half a brain engaged at the same time as watching a half-brained TV show?

Survey link =

over 8 years ago



Michael Birch's problem with Bebo was too much interaction "I think Bebo's single issue we've had is people being mean to other people and trying to solve these life disputes," he told Craiglist CEO Jim Buckmaster in an interview recently. "You get these e-mails like, 'Jennifer was really mean to me at school today. Can you cancel her Bebo account?'"

over 8 years ago


Kaye Olule

I have to say there is a lot missing so far above. If one starts by stating that social media allows connectivity and engagement then it should mean that it is not really just a medium of entertainment but includes other activities which can be measured by the passion of engagement, interaction such as brand communications and internal collaboration.

For example research conducted by on behalf of Select Minds showed that 77% of workers aged 20 - 29 believe that the social aspects of work are very important to their overall sense of workplace satisfaction, and 46% of these Generation Y rate the availability of support/networking programs as a very important factor in their decision to join and/or remain with an employer.

At viewmy.tv we have just developed a collaborative platform (http://www.brandstation.tv ) for a big brand FMCG group with all the functionalities of social media which the firm says is key to their future branding and marketing activities

over 8 years ago

Drama 2.0

Drama 2.0, Chief Connoisseur at The Drama 2.0 Show

Kaye: apparently you missed the point of my post completely.

The argument I make is quite simple: the reason that some social media websites find success in the mainstream market is probably due in large part to the fact that their users can get something out of them without having to put much in. Social media websites that require larger investments in effort are less likely to gain mainstream popularity because the average consumer is not willing to make that investment of effort.

That is all.

I have absolutely no idea what point you're trying to make with the Select Minds research. It has nothing to do with social media websites and discusses "social networking" in the context of how connected employees feel to each other.

over 8 years ago



I also disagree with some of your points:

RE: It's the immense effort required to actually get something of value out of the social media experience that makes social media an unattractive proposition for so many people.

With some of the newer on-demand social networking / collaborative platforms available today it's possible to setup a social network site in a few minutes. (Sure it'd take longer for a fully bespoke solution)


Sure on a personal level social networking takes effort and time but the network effects increase as more friends and colleagues join groups of similar interest / share documents and information relating to a subject be it private or public.

I work for a company that's getting 200,000 visitors per month and our site is represented on over 80 social networks... It's brand positioning, recognition, traffic and new marketing. (We've got over 50 Gigs of log files to prove it).

RE: If surfing around myspace et al is something you do with half a brain engaged at the same time as watching a half-brained TV show?

Well who cares if MySpace revenue is to top $800 million in fiscal 2008.

Corporate social networks are bringing web 2.0 functionality to Intranets which is so needed for increasing efficiency of staff communication and company productivity.

(If you don't think social media effort is worth it i dare you to cancel your accounts with linkedin, facebook, youtube, myspace ...)

over 8 years ago


Stuart Crowder, Internet Marketing Consultant / Social Media Expert at n/a

I agree with Sarah Perez's 3 categories, although to put a figure to these I would say the percentage split is around this:

It classifies social media users into three categories:

  • 80% - Participants who invest 1-5 hours per week in social media.
  • 15% Content providers who spend 5-10 hours per week using social media.
  • 5% Community directors who devote 10-20 hours of their time each week to social media

Most regular people use facebook (80% participants), this is becuase of the functionality and the appeal to all ages, demographics etc whereas sites such as Twitter are being adopted by regular users (content Providers and community directors) much slower because they hear about it, give it a go, dont give it a chance as they dont understand the point of it or how it works, and what to do with it and then give up.

anyone agree or disagree?

over 7 years ago

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