With the world’s rush to quantify and understand more about social media, social networking and the like, more companies are diving in to research in the social space. Forrester Research isn’t the only one, though their recent Broad Reach of Social Technologies from Sean Corcoran provided confirmation, if anything else, that more people are using social tools and all this talk about social media isn’t for naught.

Face time is the overwhelming preference according to Brightkites survey.

Face time is the overwhelming preference according to Brightkite's survey.

Brightkite, which bills itself as a social discovery network, and GfK Retail and Technology also did some research lately. The “big” insight wasn’t really big at all, but now we have a number to attach to it. It appears 87 percent of people prefer face-to-face interactions than spending time online and would rather talk in person at a rate 44 times more than through online means. I know … duh. But the research also shows that consumer behavior contradicts their preference.

Two-thirds of respondents say they don’t see their friends as often as they would like and nine percent of consumers say they’re “addicted” to social networks. Now, nine percent isn’t that much, but even the implication reminds us of what we all know. When you get right down to it, we’re spending too much time online and not enough time with each other.

Brightkite, clever lads and lasses they are, are spinning the numbers to say you can use them to locate your friends, make new ones and get more face time. Use the online social networks to populate your offline ones. They’re not wrong. If you use Brightkite and similar geo-specific social networking tools the way they’re intended you certainly can find your buds and make new ones in the flesh. Provided, of course, you’re not too creepy in person.

But then again, if you use other social networks that way, you can do the same. I don’t use Brightkite regularly and have met hundreds of people, plus made a handful of really good friends through social networks like Facebook, Twitter and even (wait for it … don’t cringe) MySpace. I applaud Brightkite for drawing those lines and for the effort. I guess I’ll surrender and agree that Tweeting my exact location may have some value. (I’ve made fun of Brightkite Tweets before, saying things like, “I’m at 600 West Main Street in Louisville, Ky., and not a single person really cares.”)

So do these statistics tell us anything, indicate a trend … or reversal of what we think is happening, that more people are shunning the face-to-face for the online space-to-space? Is Charlene Li‘s prediction that social media will become, “Like air,” in danger? I don’t think so. Corcoran’s report shows all categories of social participation (in the Forrester Social Technographics Ladder) saw increases in 2009. Forum and message board participation is down, but that’s likely to increased participation on Facebook and other more sophisticated social networks, according to the report. Age groups are catching up with Gen-Y as well, proving that it’s not your college student’s web anymore.

All this means we’re on the right track. This is where consumers and, thus, marketing is going.

Even if it shouldn’t be.

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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