The Sociology of Social Media

John Hope-Johnstone

In my seminars and books on social media I often remark that all social media platforms from facebook to Twitter are basically inert. They are like a telephone with no voice, an old telegraph key with no hand, a TV with no programming… you get the picture.

Participants in my seminars are often very focused on learning how the platform works and how best to tweak it. This is a good thing but most people can find someone to illuminate them on how to set up the platform, but after they learn all the little secrets what then? Basically it just sits there and does nothing, unless YOU give it life.

Understanding how to give social media a voice and how to create buzz, is worth far more of your study time than most people give it. That is why about 70% of people promoting their businesses with social media FAIL to achieve all the results for which they had hoped!

There is no difference to bringing social media alive good Public Relations practitioners have always known. It is capturing the attention of your fans and followers with good content and good ideas that relate to their life and work cycle of today.

Part of this lies in understanding the “sociology” of your readers and in particular what life cycle they are in. Have a look at the photos of your fans and followers. What age bracket do they seem to fall within? I understand there will be outliers but in the majority what age bracket?

When I look at my facebook business page, (yes, it’s the same as a “fan” page), and gaze admiringly at my friends, I realize that by and large (according to their photos) the majority fall into the age decade of 40-50 years of age. (Taking into account Photoshop and those who look amazingly like Grace Kelly).

Next, I want to ascertain is this a boom (in size) decade or a bust (in size) decade. The US Census bureau is a good source of information:

US Population Graphs Click to enlarge

40-50 seems to be a pretty good size and therefore has good potential to grow.

My next question, is to define into which cohort my fans on facebook fall. Each cohort have their own particular wants and needs and are in a particular life and work cycle.

Source: FDU Online Magazine: Click to enlarge

Using the above snap shot, my facebook fans are GenX with a smattering of the tail end baby boomers. (It’s good to note that my Twitter followers tend to be slightly younger with the majority being Gen X, more Gen Y and fewer Boomers, which is the general profile of Twitter users.)

Let’s take a look at the Gen X life cycle:

Click to Enlarge

Sociologists have often remarked that tail end Baby Boomers and the Gen Xers have more in common than the tail end Baby Boomers and the more advanced Baby Boomers.

Both cohorts are trying to make sense of Social Media with the Gen X trying to understand it more for work purposes having already adopted it for play.

The decade previous to the majority of my followers,  30- 40, researchers have noted, is perhaps the highest stress decade. It is the decade in which we awake and realize we are NOT the gazillionaires we had told everyone we would be by 35 (with the exception of Mark Zuckerberg). We often awake to 2.5 children under the age of 5 and a mortgage. We silently think to ourselves (male or female) “I don’t remember this in my dreams.” Does this mean we are, it just means we are surprised.

By the 40-50 decade things have usually settled down a bit. Over 50% of us are onto our next marriage or have sworn off marriage all together. Possibly we have gone through a mid-life crises but had more talent to cope with it than our many earlier multiple crises. We are either climbing up the corporate ladder or have been laid off and starting our own businesses. The latter seems to be a majority of my fans on facebook and definitely the majority of my Twitter followers.

Among Americans who are employed, 16% are self-employed. Close to one in three (30% of employed Americans) work for large corporations, and 28% work for small businesses. The remaining 39% of employed Americans work for medium-sized companies, for the government, in educational institutions, or in the non-profit sector, according to Pew Internet Project.

I think many of my facebook fans and a majority of my Twitter followers fall under the 16% self employed and the 28% who work for a small business.

They are looking for advice on how to work smarter, market better and save money. Now if I can answer some of those questions in an engaging and fun way the perhaps I am doing a good job with my social media time.

My next project will be to check some of the “profile” pages of both my Twitter and facebook followers to check and see if my assumptions are correct and to add any more profile information to my growing picture.

Once complete and checked I will develop an Editorial Calendar to guide my posts (yes I do give this some thought and planning to this rambling). This will also give my facebook comments and Twitter tweets the same aspirations.

The more original content I can produce, the more people will follow me and the more “thought leadership” I will gain.

Ok, that’s it for today. Thanks for reading. Give me a comment and let me know your ideas. More next Sunday.



  1. This is such a great post. It’s a bit intimidating to think so much planning should go into a post… but it should! Thank you for pointing that out.

    btw: do you have a twitter acct? It isn’t listed here (tsk, tsk)

    • buzzmaster says:

      Thanks for the kind words Kathi. You’re right to chastise me for not putting the Twitter button up. It’s @HopeJohnstone. All the best for 2011, John

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