A while back I wondered out loud if there was much research about social media use in regions or localities:
It got quite a bit of retweeting by both local goverment workers I know and by social media consultants, so it had a decent enough reach. Despite that I didn’t get a reply other than a couple saying they’d be interested themselves in the data if I found any. Of course that isn’t to say none exists, just people I know didnt have any to hand.
The reason I tweeted was twofold. Firstly I’d been looking at Dan Slee’s presentation that he gave at a national government IT event. Dan quotes quite a few stats around social media use as part of the rationale for using Social Media as part of his professional practice within a local authority. He makes this assertion:
I’m unsure of the source for the figures for facebook but presumably it’s extrapolated from the earlier quoted figure of 26 million facebook users nationally (now at 29.7m). The population of Walsall is 253,499 (2001 census). So whilst a third of the UK population uses Facebook, 88% of people in Walsall seem to use it.
That didn’t seem right.
My second reason for asking for local social media research was because I knew some was about to be completed for the West Midlands. An internal piece of research by Centro was looking at how to plan future media campaigns and how much note they should take of recent digital developments. So the research was to look at the correlation between public transport use and digital technology take-up.
My wife was key in putting the report together and she’s let me have a copy of it (PDF). Before we look at some findings let’s have some caveats although the survey is pretty confident so to speak. 2061 interviews were conducted across the West Midlands, a sample of this size has a margin of error of +/- 2.2% at a 95% confidence level. The data was weighted to each district (of which Walsall was one) so that the same number proportion were surveyed in Walsall as they were in Birmingham. Gender split was even, class split was even (to give it the lingo: ABC1s, well-off folk and C2DEs, poor folk).
- Caveat 1: when you get to the districts the numbers are fairly low. In Walsall the sample was 207.
- Caveat 2: Although the survey was to a quota (it tried to ask the same amount of young people as old people), that quota was for the region as a whole. So it may be that in the districts there’s a slight unevenness across age, gender and class.
- Caveat 3: under 16s weren’t interviewed, they never are in these things.
Oh and you have to see past all the stuff about buses. In summary, young people and old people use buses and in general they are C2DEs. But onward. Here are some findings for the West Midlands Metropolitan County only about Social Media use:
- Of those surveyed, 41% used Facebook weekly or more often, 21% used YouTube and 6% Twitter, 2% MySpace.
- Younger respondents were the most regular users of social networking sites especially Facebook (83%, weekly).
- Few respondents over the age of 44 used social network sites, this was particularly the case for the over 65’s (6%)
- Men slightly outpaced women in all forms of use of the internet, while ABC1 use was more regular than C2DE
- Females (42%, weekly) were slightly more regular Facebook users than males (39%, weekly) while male respondents were more likely than females to use Twitter (7%) and YouTube (25%).
But what about Walsall? That 88% figure? Well the ONS tell us that only 77% of West Midlands folk are internet users (Q1 2011 data .xls file, the stat is buried in table 2) compared to a national average of 82.2%. The Centro district info (caveats above) tells us that for Walsall the figure drops to 66% (poor old Sandwell is a mere 62%). Of that 66% (167,309 people), 54% use Facebook more than once a week. The upshot is, 36% of the entire population of Walsall, about 91,000 people, access Facebook more than once a week.
That’s a lot of people. It’s not 222,00 people, it’s less than half of that, but it’s still a lot. Further, they are predominantly young people. Indeed, across the West Midlands 83% of young people who access the internet use Facebook more than once a week.
So here’s my point. The figures stack up. They’re convincing in their own right and suggest that there’s a generation that is at ease with this technology across a range of devices. For Centro it actually creates a dilemma. Bus users are old and young – both ends of the digital divide. What to do? More cool digital stuff to keep the kids happy and attract more ABC1s out of their cars? What about the OAPs, of whom only 27% have internet access?
Centro’s marketing is now fairly informed. The headline figures used by Walsall seem uninformed – they’re over-extrapolated. And I worry about that. I worry that in local government there’s a tendency to want to create solutions ahead of doing the research. Research can be dull (I’m surprised you’re still reading), but it allows for targeted interventions. I wonder how much the sometimes very cool social media activities produced within local gov (some listed here) amount to anything more than marketing exercises. Typical of me of course but I’d like to seem a more cautionary, better informed approach. Less of the quick wins, less of the gimmicks and more solutions that target the citizens you need to reach.
I was going to talk about twitter but it’s pretty much a minority activity (of the 207 people surveyed in Walsall only 23 used and it’s very much for young, male, ABC1s). Also tweetathons and their benefits or otherwise are discussed elsewhere.
Thanks to Mrs H for access to the stats and for making sure I made clear the confidence level of the research but also its caveats – she rocks.