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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.

Originally posted to Michael Connery on Sat Oct 07, 2006 at 03:01 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Funny you should mention this. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Just last night I went to craigslist and in the "jobs" catagory for several major cities both "red" and "blue" I decided to type in the words "democrats" and "republicans".

    I found that there were several ads for progressive and democratic campaign positions, mostly with GOTV. MoveOn seemed to have ads at most of the city sites.

    Meanwhile I only found postions for Republicans or republican organizations in the DC craigslist site. And in that case they were essentially all with one organization called the International Republican Institute.

  •  Presence (0+ / 0-)

    You hve to maintain a presence where they congregate, even if only a token presence. I've advocated using of these sites by politicians and fellow kossacks in the past.

    I'm not saying they should throw money behind this, just throw SOMETHING out there.

    •  The Party has a token presence on Facebook! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      And I really mean "token".

      But, in fact, "The Democratic Party" is the only Facebook group I'm currently a member of:

      The DNC also has "Election Day" as an event:  (There are several "Election Day" events in Facebook's system, but apparently this one's just for us.)

      So I've joined the group, RSVPed the event, and even voted for some local candidates on Election Pulse --

      After that, what?  Nothing, so far as I can tell.  A message board -- be still my heart!

      Hundreds of groups show up if you search Facebook for "Democrat."  Most of them are disposable "bumper sticker" groups for people who want to make a statement like "christian democrat" or "Conservative Democrat".  I'm pretty sure most of those groups aren't used to organize anything.

      If the Democrats on Facebook need anything, it's fewer groups -- we should ignore all those bumper-sticker groups, and concentrate on real activist groups that do something: put useful news on their group page, schedule some events, anything.

      (I'm trying to convince my city's Democratic Club to announce their events in some online venues, but it's hard to get through to them, because they're mostly retirees.  I'm almost to the point of doing it without their permission.)

      OK.  Enough ranting.  I have to go canvass my precinct now.

  •  We are absolutely using Facebook (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SarahLee, hartboy, Mother Mags, BB10

    Facebook is an incredible mobilization tool. Remember how meetups helped build the grassroots a few years back? This is better. And easier to use. And incredibly popular. Getting people organized for a protest, a political event, or, as we're doing now to get out the vote... It's something that I'm glad people are starting to realize.

    The good thing about Facebook is that you can easily tell the real people. It's easy to find your friends. And if you want to get something organized quickly on campus or in your city, it's not hard at all to get it done. We'll see how well it does for our GOTV efforts in a month's time, but it's a good way to get young people actively involved.

  •  I don't buy these numbers (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DoctorScience, hartboy, skeptic1205

    Until recently, Facebook required a university email address to sign up. I don't see how there can possibly be higher percentage of adults in the 35-54 range when most university students are between the ages of 18-24.

    •  alumni (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I got in via an alumni university email address. Granted not all schools will do that, but that could skew the numbers a little.

      •  Those facebook statistics are simply impossible! (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        It is possible for alumni to get an account but if they have an email address but those who are over 35 were in college before email was widespread. Professors can also get facebook accounts but in my experience (and I'm a college student), very few professors actually participate. Yet these statistics suggest almost 45% of facebook users are over 35? Something's wrong.

        •  EDU (0+ / 0-)
          Can also mean university employees. I also suspect a lot of that demographic are people going back as adults to finish, like I did back in 1989. I would qualify as alumni, and when I go back for my bachelor's, I too will have an .edu as well on that account. Physicians who practice in educational institutions could well have an edu as well.

          A Dean Democrat-because I could have been an evacuee.

          by CarolDuhart on Mon Oct 09, 2006 at 06:11:23 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Reasons to suspect these numbers (7+ / 0-)

      I'm in this industry (social networking websites), so I can give a little commentary on these numbers.

      First off, in this study the 16 year old who spends 5 hours a day on Myspace is counted the same as a 35 year old who visits once.  So these percentages are not at all representative of real usage, since there is HUGE variability in usage between types of users.

      Secondly, I heard that this study may miscount younger users because they're on their parents' computer.  Not sure of the details on that though.

      Criticisms aside, I'm surprised social networking isn't a hotter topic here.  Facebook should be obvious as a grassroots enabler -- just looks for the users in a region that list progressive issues as important to them.  You have a GOLDMINE of young, energetic, self-identifying liberals.  It's like we're being handed the answer to Republicans' stronger hand for GOTV.

      •  Accuracy (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Mother Mags

        Thank for the comment, Molton.

        I too am not entirely certain of the numbers, but I think it raises some questions that need to be asked when we measure successes and failures with social networks come November.

        I suspected that usage would be different, but thanks for clearing up just how radically different they might be.

        I have doubts about your second claim, as all these sights ask for an age.  i would guess that self-identification is used to determine age.

        I was actually talking about FAceBook and MySpace today with my friend who runs the Jack Carter page.  In our conversation it came up that for many younger folks and more hardcore users, people are leaving the big networks - FaceBook and MySpace - for more niche networks.

        So these are probably going to turn into broadcast towers you use to microtarget evangalists who then go forth into the niche networks on behalf  of the campaign.  

        And I agree - this is going to be a huge part of all future campaigns.  I can't believe it doesn't get more  play here on Kos or MyDD.

        •  asdf (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Mother Mags

          About that second claim -- comScore didn't use users' site-based self-identification for determining age.  The AP article says "The study was based on comScore's regular panels for measuring Internet audiences, rather than MySpace's registration information, where users often lie about their age."  I think their metric scores a computer as having a primary user and then attributes all use to that demographic profile (further evidence for this is that comScore counts only one person if they have multiple accounts).

          Also, I'm not aware of a trend away from MySpace and Facebook among younger/hardcore users...why do you think there is?  Either my boss didn't tell me about some major market movements or this isn't quite the whole picture.

          •  Bleeding edge (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Mother Mags

            Thanks for the clarification.

            w/r/t leaving the big two - leaving may be too strong a word.  Better maybe to say that they are spending less time on those networks in favor of more niche networks.  

            The evidence is totally anecdotal,but the idea is that the early adopters and younger folks with no brand loyalty are moving onto the next thing while the mainstream starts to coopt the bigger networks.

            So Myspace and FaceBook could grow and grow even as the trend setters start to leave.

            •  ah (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              collapse, Mother Mags

              In that light I see where you're coming from.  I think the shake down of all of this will be very interesting to see -- I know people often keep multiple profiles, but will that be the steady state?  Or is that just how the more hardcore users feel out the space now?

              Personally, I think there'll be fewer small sites in the long term, either from large-site inertia or from acquisitions (or both).  But that's just a hunch.

              I'm just glad I'm not Yahoo, cause I definitely would not want to have to decide on a billion dollar bet on a site like the facebook right now.

        •  I'm a high school teacher, and my students (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          are ALL on MySpace and talk about it constantly.  Problem is, NONE of them put their real ages.  They list as 99 years old, or just their favorite number.  In discussions about this topic, they have said their parents want them to list as a different age so that they won't get preyed upon by pedophiles, which makes sense.  There is a lot of fearmongering here in CT about MySpace predators.

          Just another angle to think of with the whole age thing.

      •  I was very concerned when it was announced that.. (0+ / 0-)

        Rupert Murdoch, the uber consrvative media mogul was acquiring Myspace. Not sure how that has played out but the mere presence of a Murdoch having access to that many young minds made me nervous.

        "I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is over self." --Aristotle

        by java4every1 on Mon Oct 09, 2006 at 06:15:25 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  For what it is worth (0+ / 0-)

    I am 52, my husband 42, and my daughter-in-law are all on Myspace. It is a quick easy way to keep up with my grandchildren who are in Phoenix while we are in Georgia. But once on there we did expand and have found new friends (quess online acquaintances is a better description.)

    FRODO FAILED BUSH HAS THE RING "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results." Einstein

    by FrankieB on Sun Oct 08, 2006 at 08:37:15 PM PDT

  •  The campaign I'm working on is using Myspace (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    We see it as just another avenue for reaching voters, especially ones that may not be as readily reached through other media.

    Our site has led to several great connections that have lead to bigger things that we otherwise probably wouldn't have made.

    With that said, I don't buy these numbers either. How did they get these demographic numbers? On myspace, the biographical information is self-reported, and there is a significant percentage of users who report themselves as 99 or 100 years old (69 years old is also popular).

    Personally, I report myself as much older since my actual age and gender is heavily targeted by cam profiles and I got sick of the spam.

    •  Discounting 54+ (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:


      I thought  of that too.  That's why I  completely discount the 54+ demographic.  Since the 100+ is a well-known practice, they might have controlled for it in the study, but it's likely that this is a highly suspect percentage.

      I'm guessing that those percentages would most likely distribute into the 14-24 demographics.  

      What has your campaign been able to accomplish through MySpace?

      •  myspace (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        BB10, java4every1

        We've had a few people recognize our candidate from myspace at events. We've been able to communicate with several folks one-on-one that haven't heard about him. Probably the biggest thing was finding an independent coffee shop that had a profile. We held a meeting there that was attended by other local business-people and a rep from the chamber of commerce, which in turn led to planning for a large town-hall type event in november right before the election.

  •  A little skepticism (0+ / 0-)

    A lot of myspace seems to include messy unreadable sites, horrible music, and "thanks for the ad" type messages.

    These kinds of sites also tend to fill-up with webpages that people forget to update.

    Granted, most media have terrible yields, but I think you have to pinpoint the sites that really engage people and the people who really use these to network (as opposed to one minute logins or infrequent logins).

    •  Is there much/any substantive discussion taking (0+ / 0-)

      place on these sites?  Most web interaction seems to be  of the text messaging variety in that it's about nothing (a la Seinfeld).

      Is it more likely that the kids who are interested in politics are more likely to come to a site like this for that kind of info?

      Author, DOUBLETHINK: A Tale of Unintended Consequences

      by JESchwartz on Sun Oct 08, 2006 at 10:54:30 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Evan Bayh has to be the 1st to say "Facebook Me" (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sacrelicious, norahc

    He said it back in July at the College Democrats of America Convention and now has over 4,500 supporters on the site. He has also gotten a lot of press for it such as this clip by ABC News.

    Evan Bayh's Facebook Profile.

  •  a comprehensive youth strategy for Democrats (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    That's very interesting analysis.  Ultimatley we need a comprehensive new youth strategy for the Democratic Party and the progressive movement.  You can find my comprehensive new youth strategy on

  •  How we measure what (0+ / 0-)

    Maybe I'm just an old grouch, but I got a bit disturbed while reading this piece: sorted by age sounds altogether too much like the chickens on the farm that we are to the corporate entities that be. It's far too easy for this to happen in the internet world.

  •  An article which should interest (0+ / 0-)

    you and thread participants:  That's one Cool Prof! on Coturnix' blog.

    N.C. State Professor Tom Hoban is offering Sociology 395-M, "Social Movements for Social Change," on the popular social networking site [MySpace] that claims to have 100 million active users worldwide. But administrators say it's the wrong space for teaching a university course.

    The article explains why he is using MySpace and why his employer is objecting.  The comments discuss why (some) college teachers prefer MySpace to WebCT.

    The Republicans are defunding, not defending, America.

    by DSPS owl on Sun Oct 08, 2006 at 09:56:51 PM PDT

  •  MySpace is mostly 35+? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Wow! That's a lot of pedophiles!

    (-7.38,-2.51) 76% of dKos readers think I'm a secret wing-nut operative!

    by Gustavo on Sun Oct 08, 2006 at 10:24:07 PM PDT

  •  be skeptical all you want. (0+ / 0-)

    they work. or, at least work as well (or Could work as well) as whatever ranks second. since we have zero networks in place, MySpace and Facebook pretty much are the best substitutes we have.
    here's how it works, or Could work...
    somebody puts up a 'Group' on MySpace (or Facebook): CD 23NY dedicated to one specific congressional district. once up, we now have a gathering place for like-minded progs in our own District, a cyber place where we can invite them to join in the conversation, maybe get some "boots on the ground" to help local campaigns.
    each new "member" gets their very own page where they can post info about themselves and run their own Blog if they're so inclined. each Cong. Dist. 'Networks' with neighboring CDs. NY23 networks with NY24 and NY25. NY25 would network with NY23 and NY26. eventually, the CDs 'Network' their way from sea to shining sea, everyone connected on MySpace. and, all for Free. what's not to love?

  •  My experience (0+ / 0-)

    Google started a social networking site called Orkut (from the name of the Google employee who I believe created it during his "10% time").  Some bigoted US members wanted to make English the language of the entire site, prohibiting discussions in other languages, largely because of the sizeable number of Brazilians participating (some only in Portuguese) in Orkut's early days.  Well, Brazilians responded by inviting jillions of their friends, and ended up completely taking over.  
    Today, according to self-identified "where you are" in profiles, Brazilians represent over 63% of the "population" of Orkut.  Self-identified USians represent under 14%.  I know there are actually more Brazilians, because many Brazilians have used other nationalities.  Some do it because they think it's cool or cute.  Others are still doing it because they believed a message in Portuguese that was circulated a lot, saying Orkut was slower if you identified yourself as Brazilian.  I tried to tell people that first, Google/Orkut wouldn't be so stupid as to give worse service to the people that are a majority of the site's members, and that even if they did want to do that, they'd do it by IP address and not by self-identified nationality.  Anyway, the point is that Brazilians have "taken over" Orkut.  It's a big part of Brazilian internet culture.  Any young person down here who's on the internet either has an Orkut profile or doesn't want one.  I put in "young person" because it's biggest among the 18-25 set, and even among people under 18, even though the site is supposed to be only for people over 18.  
    One more quick aside, and then I'll get to the part of this post relevant to the thread.  The pronunciation of "Orkut" is supposed to be something like "OR-cut," but Brazilians don't say it that way.  They say something more like "or-KOOTCH."  
    Anyway, due to the importance of Orkut in Brazilian internet culture, it was inevitable that campaign stuff would show up before the recent election (the first election day was October 1st, and the runoff elections, for those races where no candidate got a majority, will be held on October 29th).  I got messages from candidates, and many people put campaign stuff in their primary profile pictures.  
    I doubt anything done on Orkut influenced anybody's vote, but that didn't stop candidates and partisans from trying.  
    It's pretty clear to me that new strategies need to be adopted for internet campaigning.  I don't vote in Brazil, but even if I did, my attitude toward the campaign SPAM I received and the profile pics with candidate names and ID numbers would have been about the same.  When I got SPAM, I promptly deleted it, with attitudes ranging from "ho hum" to "dammit, shove your SPAM!"  And I thought the people with the campaign info in their profile pics seemed a bit silly.  Simply taking "real world" campaign things like signs, bumper stickers, and radio and TV ads, and trying to do the same thing, "only on the internet," just doesn't seem effective.  I'm sure the communication and information access the internet provides allows for something effective for political campaigns to be done, but I just don't see it happening here yet.  I did watch with interest how the Howard Dean presidential campaign used the internet in interesting ways, and I could tell it was effective, because it became clear that he scared the crap not just out of the Republicans, but also out of a lot of the Washington Dems.  I was therefore not at all surprised when all the TV channels in the US repeatedly broadcast the version of "the scream" from the PA system feed, with no background noise, rather than the version with background noise, where it was clear that he was yelling to be heard over that noise.  Without the noise, he sounds like a lunatic, and that's exactly what those media outlets wanted.  
    I have to admit I'm kinda surprised more Dean-like internet-based work isn't being done.  The fact that Dean didn't win doesn't mean the internet stuff doesn't work.  In fact, the way the media moved to try to kill his campaign proves to me that the campaign was on the right track and scared a lot of people in power.  

    •  spam is a terrible idea for campaigns (0+ / 0-)

      Ethics and reputation damage aside, the odds that somebody will find the right people to complain to (most AUPs forbid spam) or if that fails, find more direct methods (e.g. botnets) to shut one's campaign Internet presence down are entirely too good.

      Looking for intelligent energy policy alternatives? Try here.

      by alizard on Sun Oct 15, 2006 at 04:38:26 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Are parents monitoring MySpace? (0+ / 0-)

    A lot has been written for parents on how to monitor sites... I would wonder if a large part of the older audience is parents monitoring.

    Just a thought.
    Nice article, Mike, and also good for political communications thoughts.

    All the king's horses and all the king's men...package and sell it to win it again...

    by MP Three on Mon Oct 09, 2006 at 06:38:45 AM PDT

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