Many marketing managers and business owners are scratching their heads, wondering if they can just wait until this "social media thing" flames out. But we are witnessing a revolution in the way consumers interact with brands—and with each other—and that genie isn't going back into the bottle.

Think about it:

  • 96% of Gen Y (aka Millennials) use social networks and in 2010, they outnumbered the Baby Boomers.
  • For those under 40 years old, 70% of what they read was written or shared by someone they know. (Forrester Research)
  • But this isn't just for "kids"—one of social media's surprising stories is that those ages 65 and older have roughly tripled their presence on social networking sites in the last four years from 13% in the spring of 2009 to 43% now. (Pew Research Center, August 2013)
  • If Facebook were a country, it would be the 3rd largest in the world at 1.1 billion users.
  • Social media usage by US online adults has risen from 8% in 2005 to 72% in 2013, an increase of 800%. (Pew Research Center, study May 2013)
  • Startup Pinterest received 11 million visitors in the week ending 12/17/11—a staggering 4,000% increase in six months (HitWise, March 2012) and is driving more referrals than Twitter (Shareaholic, March 2012).
  • A 2012 Pulse Point/Economist study showed companies that fully embrace social engagement are experiencing four times greater business impact than less-engaged companies.
  • Broadcast and cable live TV viewership is down 50% since 2002 as viewers move to online and time-shifted viewing. (Morgan Stanley, Nielsen ratings data)
  • The mobility of content via smartphones is profoundly changing the way we consume media and interact with social networks. The International Telecommunication Union reports that in 2011 there were 6 billion mobile subscriptions worldwide. Some people may have more than one subscription, but with 7 billion people in the world, mobile is clearly widespread.
  • We have become addicted to connection. A July 2012 Time/Qualcomm study found that globally, 68% of smartphone owners sleep with them at their bedside.
  • Print media is in free-fall, with 24 out of the top 25 daily newspapers posting declines in circulation and layoffs. Newsweek magazine announced in 2012 it will cease print publication and move to a digital-only format. From 2008 to 2011, more than 160 papers closed and there were more than 32,000 layoffs and buyouts. (PaperCuts.com)
  • Aggregators Google News (100 million unique monthly viewers) and Yahoo News (138 million) have surpassed CNN (66 million) and NY Times (92 million) as news sources. (comScore, May 2010)
  • Facebook reports mobile usage grew from 30 million in April 2009 to more than 100 million by February 2010.
  • Twitter has passed the 2 billion tweets per month mark.
  • SMS texting raised $5 million in donations for Haiti in 24 hours.

What does it all mean?

The old model of top-down, one-way, push messaging has reversed itself to opt-in, in-bound, listening-based communications and marketing. Public relations has always been about influencing the influencers, leading to third-party endorsement and word-of-mouth buzz. But who those influencers are, and how we engage them, is a whole new world. That world is talking about your brand—are you listening?

For more statistics, here are two excellent overviews of the new media environment:

Social Media Revolution

Did You Know 3.0