Is Social Media the New Cigarette?

I have asked before if social media is like taking a nap, going to the water cooler, or going out for a smoke? Here is a study from Retrevo that asks a different question: Is Social Media the New Cigarette? It other words, it looked at social media addiction and found a lot. Retrevo’s “Gadgetology Report” is an ongoing study of people and electronics from consumer electronics shopping site. The data came from a study of online individuals conducted by an independent panel. The sample size was 771 distributed across gender, age, income and location in the United States. So the results reflect active online users.

It found that their sample used social media in the car (over 35 – 9%, under 35 – 40%), at work (over 35 – 29%, under 35  – 64%), on vacation (over 35 – 41%,  under 35 – 65%), on a date (over 35- 9%,  under 35 – 34%), and after sex (over 35 – 8%,  under 35 – 36%).  This raises several issues. For example, I wonder how many of the at work users are doing at the companies that ban social media at work?  How many of the drivers are violating laws against this activity?

Twitter seems to be the most addictive. For respondents under age 35, 27% of those who use Facebook said they check it more than 10 times a day compared to 39% of Twitter users checking in on Twitter more than 10 times a day. I certainly find twitter more addictive. The activity is very fast and real time so you want to stay connected and it is easy to make a quick check.

The biggest enablers of this new addiction seem to be smartphones and other mobile devices, especially if you are under 35. In the Gadgetology study only 19% of the 35+ group use a phone as the preferred device for social media services with 81% preferring instead a desktop or laptop computer. This is me as I never use a phone, even though I have an iPhone. Perhaps I will as I get more used to my iPhone. Over on the other side of the generation gap they found 46% of those younger than 35 indicating their preference for a mobile device for all things social media.

This has already affected the workplace in several ways. Mobile devices are found to drive up business related social media use in other studies and observations.  Some organization like the State government in Utah have recognized these trends and acted proactively by creating guidelines that encouraged appropriate use. This is much better than banning it at work. However, there are situations when bans are the right thing. For example, the dangers of doing social at the wrong time are being recognized by such actions as the recent ban on Federal government employees texting while driving.

Social media will not go away.  In fact, it can be addictive for some. Work place policy and governance needs to recognize this and channel this addiction in appropriate ways. Bans are not the answer or even simple limitations. If your job involves business intelligence or customer service you might what to check Twitter at least ten times a day.

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