Cross-posted at Future Majority
By now there is a standard story about social networks and politics. It goes something like "Young people congregate on MySpace and other social networks. If politicians want to tap the power of the youth vote that emerged in '04, they need a presence on these networks. This is starting to happen, and FaceBook and MySpace administrators are actively facilitating it."
But who really is on social networks? A new study suggests that social networking isn't just for young people. In fact, it's mostly for folks over 35.
Clearly social networks aren't just a young person's game anymore. These numbers are a little misleading since the four sites receive radically different traffic numbers. 10% on MySpace isn't all that different from 30 or 40% on Friendster or even more on Xanga when you are talking real numbers. But it helps to know who, exactly, you are talking to when you create a candidate page on a given network.
The big surprise to me is that 40% of MySpace users are over 35. That's a huge number. Do they use MySpace the same way that younger people do? Could MySpace be a viable tactic for campaigns to reach that demographic? What happens when you have to reach more than one demographic on a given social network? Do your messages get channelled to the lowest common denominator and become bland like the rest of the campaign media - negating the personality that could help the candidate appeal to specific audiences?
At this point, I don't think that campaigns alter the focus of their work on social networks to cater to older demographics, but it will be interesting to see what happens when CIRCLE or the New Politics Institute report on campaign use of these tools. Will we find that these really were good vehicles to engage young people? Or will we see that the vast majority of MySpacers who actually did something for the campaign were the older voters who also happened to use social networks? Of course, this all also presupposes that campagns actually run effective programs through these social networks. Failurue to engage young people could just as easily result from a slew of bad campaign strategies.