Have you been fooled by the social media hype?

19 November 2010 ,

Old radioA newly updated version of the YouTube Social Media Revolution film is doing the rounds and winning praise along with lots of “ooh, aah, look how quickly the world is changing!” messages.

There’s a little problem, though.

In its enthusiasm to makes its case it makes some very dodgy arguments about how the rate of technological change is speeding up.

The bit about “Some universities have stopped distributing email accounts” should raise sceptical instincts. Is that 1, 10, 100, 1,000 or 10,000? Sorry, according to the film that doesn’t matter. Because “ooh, ahh, look how quickly the world is changing!”.

The worst example of this is the often made comparison about how long different technologies took to get going. It features in the film but has also been for decades a staple of those excited about the future and about change.

Radio took 38 years to get to 50m users, the internet only four years, the iPod a mere three years and so on.

Except jump off the hype-train for a moment and consider:

a) The world’s population was a heck of a lot smaller in radio’s early days than it is now. So 50m then was something far more than 50m now, and

b) The radio figure is, when it is sourced, for take-up in the US. The internet and iPod figures are for global take-up.

So let’s adjust the figures to make them a proper like-for-like comparison. At the time radio hit 50m listeners in the US the US population was around 132 million, making radio’s penetration 38%. Currently the world’s population if around 6.8 billion, so to hit a similar 38% figure the iPod would have had to have got to 2.6 billion users. Kind of makes the iPod’s current take-up levels look rather puny compared to what radio actually achieved.

Of course under all this there are some serious, robust points about how the world is changing and how – for example – new technologies now often get unleashed across many countries at the same time rather than staying within one or a handful of countries for a long time.

But the next time someone says how amazingly quick a change has been compared to the radio, chances are like-for-like figures make its take up look an awfully long way of hitting the heights radio got to. And if you really want to understand the world, mixing and matching incompatible numbers can make for fun, but it doesn’t make for understanding.

UPDATE: I’ve since expanded on this idea and used it in the Engine Strategy Battle of Big Thinking:

Add your comment...
Please be polite, on topic and don't use multiple different names. Thanks!

2 comments
Ciaran
Ciaran

Well said. I hate that video and would like to believe that every time it's played a self-proclaimed social media guru dies. There are, as you say, some serious points to be made about the web (both mobile and desk-top) and the sites and services that they are being used to access, but this video covers very few of them.

Trackbacks

  1. NigelBarlow says:

    Very very interesting post RT @markpack: Blogged: Have you been fooled by the social media hype? – http://bit.ly/9cLaYs

  2. NigelBarlow says:

    @jonclements have you seen this ? RT @markpack: Blogged: Have you been fooled by the social media hype? – http://bit.ly/9cLaYs

  3. Have you been fooled by the social media hype? http://t.co/I3Q6OKn < @markpack puts some stats in context

  4. John Meffen says:

    RT @malcolmcoles: Have you been fooled by the social media hype? http://t.co/I3Q6OKn < @markpack puts some stats in context

  5. RT @malcolmcoles: Have you been fooled by the social media hype? http://t.co/I3Q6OKn < @markpack puts some stats in context

  6. Have you been fooled by the social media hype?: http://t.co/PQ76Cnl – shrewd comment from the ever forensic @markpack

  7. theEword SEO says:

    RT @malcolmcoles: Have you been fooled by the social media hype? http://t.co/I3Q6OKn < @markpack puts some stats in context

  8. Ian Miller says:

    “@malcolmcoles: Have you been fooled by the social media hype? http://t.co/I3Q6OKn < @markpack puts some stats in context”

  9. UX Feeder says:

    Delicious: Have you been fooled by the social media hype? | Mark Pack: http://bit.ly/cygfpA [social media]

  10. Rob Millard says:

    RT @malcolmcoles: Have you been fooled by the social media hype? http://t.co/I3Q6OKn < @markpack puts some stats in context

  11. Hacker News says:

    Have you been fooled by the social media hype: http://bit.ly/a7WVDQ Comments: http://bit.ly/aEIBFg

  12. Have you been fooled by the social media hype?: Comments http://bit.ly/cygfpA

  13. Have you been fooled by the social media hype? http://goo.gl/fb/zctTK

  14. Have you been fooled by the social media hype? http://goo.gl/fb/8CibC

  15. pok rap says:

    Have you been fooled by the social media hype?: Comments http://bit.ly/cygfpA

  16. Adrian Payne says:

    RT @markpack: Blogged: Have you been fooled by the social media hype? – http://bit.ly/9cLaYs

  17. Have you been fooled by the social media hype?: http://t.co/3BsIfWe

  18. John Rentoul says:

    Radio vs iPod take-up – technology not changing as fast as we think, says @markpack http://bit.ly/bDCDaq

  19. Just read: Have you been fooled by the social media hype? http://is.gd/hB8ko

  20. RT @neillyneil: Just read: Have you been fooled by the social media hype? http://is.gd/hB8ko

  21. Martin Fearn says:

    RT @neillyneil: Just read: Have you been fooled by the social media hype? http://is.gd/hB8ko

  22. Tracy Playle says:

    RT @neillyneil: Just read: Have you been fooled by the social media hype? http://is.gd/hB8ko

  23. There would need to be 2.6bn iPods to rival radio's penetration when it hit 50m http://bit.ly/bVzDSC @markpack via @urbanfly

  24. Mark Horrell says:

    RT @ markpack Have you been fooled by the social media hype?: http://t.co/dAXsrpT <- argues social media impact no greater than radio was

  25. Via @neillyneil: Have you been fooled by the social media hype? http://is.gd/hB8ko > Important to use consistent figures for spread of tech

  26. Mark Horrell says:

    RT @markpack Have you been fooled by the social media hype? http://t.co/dAXsrpT <- argues social media's impact no greater than radio's was

  27. RT @markpack Have you been fooled by the social media hype? http://t.co/dAXsrpT <- argues social me… http://bit.ly/bd33am #socialmedia

  28. timpaa says:

    RT @neillyneil: Just read: Have you been fooled by the social media hype? http://is.gd/hB8ko

  29. Paige Turner says:

    RT @neillyneil: Just read: Have you been fooled by the social media hype? http://is.gd/hB8ko

  30. Timothy Ball says:

    RT @neillyneil: Just read: Have you been fooled by the social media hype? http://is.gd/hB8ko

  31. […] will know this is a regular theme of mine, so let’s first clear out of the way some of the common mistakes people make, which to its credit the Harvard Business Review’s argument doesn’t repeat. The data in […]

C-