Thesis 23: Everyone uses social media today

The growth of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter has been phenomenal, particularly in 2009. Facebook now boasts 350 million active users, while Twitter grew by more than 1,500 percent during 2008 – and then the growth really started to take off in 2009.

Thesis 4 would be reasonable, I think, based on these factors alone. Social media are the defining communications trend of this millennium, which is not to say they are the only important means of communication or that they have supplanted TV, radio and newspaper. (OK, well maybe newspaper.) But they embody the communications characteristic that defines our time: that anyone

But Thesis 23 says social media already are bigger than most people realize, because they don’t just include networking sites for which you need an account to participate, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and MySpace.

YouTube is in essence a social networking site for videos, and it is the world’s second-biggest search engine after Google. So everyone who watches a YouTube video is in essence participating in social media. Those videos may even be embedded on  mainstream media Web sites. But the reason we even get a chance to see them is because there is a site like YouTube which is open for anyone to upload a video at no cost. This again is how social media are defining this era.

The other reason I say everyone uses social media comes from the nature of blogs. I heard Susannah Fox of the Pew Internet Project speak at a conference in October, and she said something that validated an opinion I’ve long held. She said she expected that her organization would soon retire one of its standard survey questions because it doesn’t provide reliable information. That question asks whether respondents read blogs or not, and the affirmative percentage has held steady at about 30 percent for the last few years.

But the reality is that a blog is just an easy-to-publish Web site that allows comments. So lots of people are reading blogs as they search and surf the Web, and in most cases there isn’t a flashing icon that alerts readers that they are on a blog. I believe that anyone who spends appreciable time on the Web spends at least some time on blogs. Especially given how search engines like Google favor blogs and YouTube videos, it’s almost inconceivable that someone could do 20 Google searches without ending up on at least one site with social media elements.

So between YouTube, the most popular video source on the Web, and blogs, which are the easiest way to publish a Web site, I believe the overwhelming majority of Web users participate in some way with social media, even if it’s only as a consumer of content.

In Thesis 23 as originally posted I said:

Almost all Web surfers use social media today. They just may not know it.

For the headline of this post, and in keeping with the provocative nature of social media, I just rounded up and said “Everyone.”

I don’t think it’s much of an exaggeration. Everyone uses social media today, whether they know it or not. Even more than that, social media dramatically affect the types and amounts of content available to be consumed.

As social media grow, the proportion of time people spend on sites with social capabilities also will increase, as will the proportion of participants moving from strictly consuming content to at least commenting or rating. And many users will move from the ranks of consumers to producers, especially as the user interfaces continue to get easier.

The fact that you are reading this post means you are a social media user, at least at this moment.

Welcome to the revolution.

Thesis 1: Air was the original social medium


Note: This post is part of the 35 Social Media Theses series, providing amplification and an opportunity for discussion of one of the theses originally posted on Reformation Day 2009.


In one sense, as I will argue in Thesis 4, the social media revolution is historic. But the fundamental issue to understand about social media is that, in their essence, they have been around from the beginning of human civilization. Or, as I put it in the first of my 35 Social Media Theses posted 492 years after Luther’s 95:

Social media are as old as human speech, with air being the medium through which sound waves propagated.

I have boiled that down further into the title of this post and in my presentation slides, in keeping with Seth Godin’s advice. I don’t completely agree with his arbitrary limit (never more than six words on a slide), but it’s good general guidance, so I try to comply when I can. And it’s nice to see that he relaxed the hard-and-fast limit with these helpful presentation tips.

For several millennia, “spreading the word” happened mainly by the propagation of sound waves through the mix of Nitrogen, Oxygen, Argon, water vapor, Carbon Dioxide (which is not a pollutant, by the way) and other chemicals that make up our atmosphere.

So whether it was news about a miraculous healer in the countryside of Judea or which merchant in the marketplace had the freshest produce, the way it was disseminated was almost entirely verbal, from one person to another (or a small group at a time), via the medium of air.

In other words, through a social medium.

I work at Mayo Clinic as manager of syndication and social media, but social media have been at work at Mayo long before I was even born. For more than a century, and even after the advent of mass media like TV and radio, word of mouth has been the most important source of information influencing preference for Mayo Clinic. It’s been all about people sharing their experiences as patients (or accompanying family members visiting Mayo) in a social context. In the equation above, S! stands for satisfaction, and as it is multiplied via sound waves through air, it leads to word-of-mouth. Putting it in a formula like that creates the illusion of scientific rigor, but it’s really pretty simple.

In considering the tools (as we will see in Thesis 2) social media are new, but in another sense they are just the way we as humans have always communicated.

YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and blogs are new.

Social media aren’t.

Oklahoma Hospital Association

I’m delighted to be in Oklahoma City today for a presentation with @EdBennett and David Harlow (@Healthblawg) on use of social media in healthcare. I’m excited that we have this case study going on even while the presentation is happening. I will be inviting the Oklahoma tweeps to join the #wristpain twitter chat, as a live, hands-on experience with social media and synergy with mainstream media.

e-Patient Connections

Tomorrow I’m giving a presentation at the e-Patient Connections conference (#ePatCon) in Philadelphia, at the Park Hyatt Bellevue. It’s a really neat hotel, but the broadband “tubes” have a serious case of atherosclerosis.

Here are my slides.

e-Patient Connections from Lee Aase

I’m really looking forward to meeting a lot of people with whom I’ve only Tweeted previously. Just met @epatientdave in the lobby on the way up to my room. Will hopefully see @PhilBaumann, @MeredithGould and @DanaMLewis tonight too…and lots more tomorrow, including @SusannahFox.


Here is the presentation I am offering at the Reshape09 summit in Nijmegen, the Netherlands.

Note to self: Next time you travel internationally and take a brief afternoon nap and therefore set you iPhone alarm to wake you in time for dinner, be sure when you reset the alarm for the next day that you change the designation from “p.m.” to “a.m.”

I overslept by about two hours this morning, but thankfully I had planned to get up four hours before my presentation, and thanks to Cisco (the guy, not the company) for the timely wake-up call.


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