MySpace is GrayPlace and Facebook is Facelift? Or is it really ISpy?

by Marianne Richmond on October 13, 2006

According to the latest data from comScore Media Metrix, adults 35-54 now comprise 41% of those claiming MySpace is their space; that is an increase from 32% since August 2005. In fact, comScore says, half of MySpace users are 35 or older. The comScore data is not based upon MySpace registration but on comScore’s internet measurement panels, presumably more accurate than the ages used to open a MySpace account. More accurate, maybe. Accurate? Not sure. Better question is, how are the terms being defined and how was the data gathered.

Data from Nielson/Net Ratings "confirm"s the comScore data, indicating that 46% of MySpace users are 35 or older.

The comScore data reported that Xanga skewed the youngest of the four major social networking sites with users under 18 accounting for 20%; MySpace is 12%. comScore reported that Facebook had the highest number of those 18-24 while MySpace and Friendster’s younger users were 25 and older.

So one obvious question is, so what do the numbers mean; now that all the grownups have accounts, what are they doing? According to eMarketer, spying on their kids is one common pursuit. This hypothesis is based upon page views. AdAge reported, although no source was given, that "The average 12- to 17-year-old spent 260 minutes on MySpace and viewed about 808 pages. By contrast, the average 35- to 54-year-old spent 179 minutes on the site and took in 560 pages,"

Fred Stutzman, blogger and PhD student in Information Science at the University of North Carolina, seeks to understand the data by questioning how the term "user" is defined. In other words, is a unique visitor (measured by IP address) the same as a "user?" Or is number of visits and/or length of stay an important variable in answering the question, "Whose Space?"

By using statistical methods and old fashioned common sense, he looks at presumed social network preference by age range and the visitor data and comes up with a null hypothesis: He concludes, "More young people visit Xanga. More college students visit Facebook. More twenty- and thirty-somethings visit Facebook. However, no 35-54 year olds demonstrate any preference (no significant positive relationship) toward any social networking site. These adults simply visit these sites, for many good reasons, but they aren’t joining them in a significant trend."

Danah Boyd also questions the data albeit from a slightly different perspective. She agrees that common sense does not support the 35-54 demo across social networking sites. She suggests that a teens using the family computer would skew the demographics since comScore counts computers. That’s one way for parents to keep an eye on the kids. Another way is for parents to create an account. Parents, teachers, police, and of course predators are all there creating accounts and skewing the "usage" data. Dana concludes her post by expressing horror at the number of bloggers and members of the press that simply reported that the social networking sites had undergone a dramatic change in demographics.

Well, this is hardly the first instance that logic defying data is blindly reported. Just ask Toby at Diva Marketing. Or look at the way the Nielson data on podcasting was repeated across many channels.

So, as marketers, why do we care? Well, for one thing, can’t "fish where the fish are" if the fish aren’t really there. Many companies are taking out space on MySpace. Is the audience they are seeking really there? See great post by Ann Handley at Marketing Profs Daily Fix for elaboration on the fishing concept.

Also, we really need to spend a little time understanding the numbers. Its not as exciting as the sweeping conclusions, but in honor of Friday the 13th, let me say; The devil is in the details.

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