Many young people are effectively being ‘raised online’ spending in excess of 20 hours a week using sites such as bebo, Myspace, Facebook and YouTube, according to new research to be published by the Institute for Public Policy Research (ippr) next month. Behind the Screen: the Hidden Life of Youth by Kay Withers with Ruth Sheldon is published in April.
The report used original qualitative research with young people aged between 13 and 18. This included deliberative workshops with 30 young people from a range of socio-economic backgrounds, diary research and indepth interviews with 12 young people. All young people interviewed had broadband access at home and owned a mobile phone.In 2006, Ofcom's audit of media literacy of children and young people concluded that young people spend an average of 6.2 hours a week on the internet. Ofcom's Communications Market Report from 2007 says that young people (12 - 17) use the internet on average 24.9 hours a month. Four out of five 5 – 15 year olds have access to the internet at home. Almost half of children (49 percent) between aged 8 and 11, and eight out of ten aged 12 to 15 have their own mobile phone. Two in five (40%) of 8-11s and over two-thirds (71%) of 12-15s say they mostly use the internet on their own at home.
UK adults spend more time on social networking sites than their European neighbours, with 4 in 10 UK adults saying that they regularly visit the sites. The UK adults who visit the sites spend an average of 5.3 hours each month on them and return to them an average 23 times in the month.
This summary press release of the report's key findings confirms what many people suspected and what most people who are active online, probably know. But what impact does it have in the publishing world: on the author? The publishing houses? The agents? And as an indirect and less discussed impact, on language?
For any author, about to have a book published, whether by a large house or in the self-publishing route, it seems generally agreed that unless you are already well known and established, there is little if not no publicity and budget to promote your book - which means, up to you. There are lots of book and author related sites which reference the importance of social networking via these sites as mentioned in the report, but few note, what I feel to be a very important, if not key factor, in getting your approach right. Yes, you can sign up for every social network available, get yourself a profile and start 'connecting' to groups and individual 'friends' very quickly, and all with the intention of sharing your news of publication with like minded souls, presumably in the hope of increasing sales. (That, after all, is usually pretty high up on the goals plan of a new book launch.) However, I increasingly see notices to individuals, or on group terms and conditions, where it is noted that such blatant 'spamming', (sending the news release type text as a wall posting, adding an item, adding a discussion topic on the board, and while you're at it the image o the book cover, and if you're really organized links to a podcast or video.), in-your-face self promotion is disliked and may often be deleted by the group founders. I believe the key to getting the most out of social networking, is just the same as in real life. Consider if you will, facebook and friends, to be the online ' school playground' for users, that the tarmac version was for Harry Potter author, JKR. You want your friends to know about your book, read it, like it and recommend it to others, and thus spread the word, interest and by default, sales. But the underpinning factor in that chain, is trust. Because you trust the taste and judgement of your friends you will be willing to act on what they tell you. If you want to use SN sites for self promotion, watch out that you don't bomb that out of the water before you even begin. If people feel blatantly that you only want to be my friend so you can sell me something, then you have not made a friend. You may have another name in your list, but it doesn't necessarily mean it is an effective network contact. In my opinion, your better bet, is to set yourself up on the groups well in advance of publication. Or delay your promotion via these methods until well after the publication date and aim for the slow and steady approach. You need trust and respect, whether in real or virtual life, and that is not made overnight.
So how to do it? Just as in real life, people with solutions to problems, genuinely helpful advice and news are interesting and welcome, because they add value to a community. Go get involved in a group or two, but be prepared to invest time in being an active part of the community. The part that is fast on these sites, is the news spreading, across the playground and out to the other 'school playgrounds' where your contacts have their friends. The initial set up needs time and patience, then let the good old fashioned word of mouth effect, do the leg work for you to move your news from place to place. Don't rush in to a place you don't know and ruffle an established group's feathers the wrong way. The book business needs time, and what you may start to promote today, may only pay off in several months, even a year or three according to some.
For editors, agents and publishers, it additionally provides a way of reviewing you as an author, as a candidate for their listings, well before you get near their office. So, as it is said time and time again, be careful what you put out there. The other online aspect of sites that is on the increase, are the number of sites just for authors' networking, designed to have concrete and positive outcomes, typically reviewing each others work. Such as the bebo site, or youwriteon.co.uk. Some in addition to reading and rating work, offer competitions and may lead to printed publication of winning author's work, such as scriblist.com or thegreenstory.co.uk. These sites are not only interesting for authors, but agents too, on the look out for promising talent. Some sites even offer established agent reviews, as part of the site goals.
The other side aspect I find of this news, is the impact that social networking and online time has on young people's language. With so many people having contact in a way that they did not previously, terms and phrases can be invented, changed and shared to like souls in a very much faster timeframe than would have been possible in the past. English may be the global language of choice, but how many new words are created or words used in a new context with new meaning, through their international interpretation. Even in Britain, new meanings are being associated with regular words everyday. The term “happy slap” being just one.
Let's hope there are lots of positive associations and friends made - whether in online playgrounds or the real world, and that the term happy slap, will go out of fashion and disappear again soon, in our ever changing worlds. But I think the social networking sites are here to stay. It's up to us to choose our friends wisely.