Is social media the most ‘social’ media?

Social media lets us physically view a record of actual social interactions, which is marvellous. However, as leading social media practitioners know, of more interest are the reasons people socialise in the first place.

Getting to the heart of social situations

Dr Aleks Krotoski stated at IAB Engage 2010 that the behaviours and attitudes that bring us together online are exactly the same as offline. There is a lot of truth in this, echoed by a tantalising titbit from a study into online gaming among primary school children in China. The study by the psychology department at the Chinese University of Hong Kong concluded that socialising in online games had many of the same benefits as real-life, helping the children develop real-life social skills.

If we investigate video games further, we see that they’re engrained into everyday social activity both in real-life and online. If brands aren’t tapping into the sense of play in social media, they aren’t really ‘doing’ social media.

Playing is social

For brands, being part of a gaming environment aligns the brand at the heart of positive, engaging, social interactions and messages. From sports to video games there are benefits that make them premium opportunities.

People who play video games do so with other people. In fact, a study by IGN found that 89% of PlayStation 3 owners, 86% of Xbox 360 owners and 51% of Wii owners have played against other people online. This doesn’t account for the large number of families and friends that play against each other offline in their living rooms.

In online social environments people like playing games too. Some 53% of people on Facebook play games like Farmville and MafiaWars and 50% of Facebook logins are specifically to play games (AllFacebook 2010). What’s more, 62% of these social gamers play online with their real-world friends (PopCap Games 2010).

It is a myth that games are purely a solitary experience. Like films, blockbuster games can be enjoyed alone, and people discuss these games afterwards in exactly the same way. But playing with friends is a huge and important part of playing video games, and maintaining 100% focus on the media while socialising is unique to games.

Time spent playing

At IAB Engage, Roisin Donnelly of P&G stated that in-game advertising delivers “fantastic ROI”; but why is that? We know people spend a lot of time playing games. So much so that people who play games fall well below national averages for time spent with other media.

In the UK, 7% of time spent online is spent on gaming websites, the third biggest chunk after time spent in social networks – which also includes games – and using email, (UKOM 2010). In the US it’s number one (Nielsen 2010). On consoles, people spend an average of 7.7 hours playing games a week (GameVision 2010).

Given the earlier stats, a significant amount of this time must be attributable to playing with other people.

Unanswered questions

As someone who has played video games all my life, I know it has always been an incredibly social experience. I either play against my friends or, if I play a game on my own, I always discuss it with other people afterwards. Unlike social sites, you can’t always measure the social element but Games create first-hand memories that I want to share with other people.

I’d like to suggest four hypotheses for people to investigate further:

  • 1. People who play video games will talk about them as much as they do other premium media like films, if not more.
  • 2. Video gaming is the only channel that commands 100% attention while people socialise at the same time.
  • 3. Online video gaming is the only media that genuinely comes close to real-life social interaction (think of a 16 person online game with a purpose in Call of Duty Black Ops with voice-chat, not some plonky avatar chat room).
  • 4. Not only do people play games when they come together, but they can also attract and generate social situations.

Finally, watch some of this (search “Wii dance party” for loads more) and tell me if there is another media that is as social…

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    Revenge of the Nerds is here for real.