Facebook and the new communication circles
When researching consumer behavior, we have been using the concept of communication circles for about 10 years. The main change from then to now is that people today have a completely new tool to reach out and stay in touch: Facebook.
The concept of communication circles is very simple. In the middle you have yourself. Then you categorize the people you are in frequent contact with in circles around you. Throughout the years the circles have been relatively constant. Until Facebook.
What a recent Ericsson ConsumerLab study conducted among Swedish teenagers aged 16 to 19 between 2005 and 2011 has shown is that Facebook has added a number of ‘new’ communication channels to the mix that are used differently depending on who is being contacted.
This is how the communication circles used to work:
The “Top 5” circle would contain your closest friends and relatives. The “Friends” circle would have been populated with school friends, childhood friends and so on. The circle of “Acquaintances” is inhabited mainly by school friends, old school friends and childhood friends.
In 2005, young people had about the same number of people in these three inner circles. It was unusual for young people to have more than 100-150 contacts in their circles, and many people had fewer than that.
The concept of an “Audience” – people who used to be acquaintances, perhaps in a previous stage of life such as distant friends or relatives – did not exist. However, today, the “Audience” makes up a larger group of Facebook contacts.
Back in 2005, there were no effective tools to communicate with the people outside the “Friends” circle. Basically, you had to be online on an Instant Messaging service and you had to communicate with your contacts on an individual basis, which obviously became a hassle with messaging pop-up windows all over your screen. Today, we have completely new means of reaching the outer circles of our contacts, or our “Audience”.
The study showed that in 2005, voice or mobile telephony was mainly used to communicate with close friends (see snapshot of this communication circle in 2005 by clicking on the image above). This remains the same in 2011.
In 2005, texting was used for the “Friends” circle, and in 2011 it is still mainly used for the “Friends” circle, but is also used to reach contacts in the “Acquaintance” circle.
In 2005, e-mail was used to keep in touch with distant friends and relatives, but in 2011, e-mails are not longer part of social communication – it is something used to sign up to an internet service, or as a professional tool to communicate with teachers or to apply for a job.
The respondents in the study today had somewhere between 300 and 1000 contacts. These contacts are not treated or approached in the same way; the communication channel is different depending on how well the user knows the contact and the nature of the relationship.
So, Facebook has not only added more people to our circles, establishing the “Audience” but has also added a number of ‘new’ communication channels to the mix, each used differently depending on who is being contacted.
Check back on Monday for more on these new channels and how they are used.