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June 03 2010

14:00

Is 70 percent of what we read online really by our friends?

Last month, we tweeted a remarkable stat:

Of everything under 40 year olds read online, about 70% was created by someone they know http://j.mp/bb0jgN

Our source was this article citing a recent panel discussion at an SEO conference in New York. Here’s how the stat was presented, in a piece in the newsletter Publishing Trends, as a product of Forrester Research:

In one of several panels on social media and search, Patricia Neuray of Business.com cited the Forrester research finding that 70% of the content read online by under-40-year-olds was written by someone they know.

(Someone who livetweeted the panel seemed to also attribute it to Forrester, although with a cryptic hint of IBM.)

It’s obviously a remarkable statistic if true, but I wanted to get a little more detail — like how the study defined “someone they know” and “content read online.” Are they talking websites, or are they including things like email? Does “someone they know” mean someone they know in real life, or does an Internet friend count? I engaged in some vigorous Googling, but couldn’t find the original study. Then I emailed Forrester to see if they could produce it. A spokesperson got back to me:

That statistic does not come from a Forrester study. We heard about it and investigated it as well to find out that the original author of the article that used that statistic was in error. I just rechecked his article – he removed Forrester as the source but did not cite another source other than a speaker from IBM at this conference: http://www.publishingtrends.com/2010/04/making-search-convert-search-engine-strategies-2010/

And indeed, now the reference in the original article is thus:

In one of several panels on social media and search, Leslie Reiser of IBM cited the recent finding that “70% of the content read online by under-40-year-olds was written by someone they know.”

I contacted Reiser last week to see if she has a cite for it; my very quick Googling didn’t turn up an obvious IBM reference for the number, either, but that doesn’t mean much. I’ll let you know if I hear back from her. In any event, since by tweeting it we played a part in spreading the number, I thought we should note that the original source is still a bit up in the air.

April 07 2010

17:00

Word of mouth trumps advertising for the kids these days

This chart sums up as well any the kind of shift that the “engagement editor” in your newsroom is trying to address. It’s from the April issue of the book-industry newsletter Publishing Trends (copy posted here) and it’s survey data asking book buyers how they became aware of the books they’ve purchased. Each bar represents a different age group, moving down from oldest (61-plus) to youngest (under 20).

For the oldest cohort, new books get discovered twice as often from an in-store display than through a recommendation from a friend. But for the youngest group (age 21 and under), a friend’s recommendation is a more common the path to a sale than those nice tables up front at Barnes & Noble. And the same trend line applies to the generations in between, too: The younger you are, the more likely it is that you learn about books through your social networks — online or in person — rather than through traditional promotion channels. (Note that print book reviews, bestseller lists, and direct email marketing from publishers and retailers also get less effective the younger the target audience — while a recommendation from an in-store sales clerk gets more effective.)

This shift is obviously a challenge for book publishers in particular and marketers in general, but it’s also a challenge for the news industry. Getting your content into the personal streams of your audience — where they can and hopefully will want to share it with their friends — is to 2010 what those “Make this site your home page” pleas were to 2002. And it’s more evidence that speaking with an institutional voice rather than a human one is not going to be effective with younger audiences.

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