When you traditionally think of social media users, what image first comes to mind? Something like the image above?

We’ve grown accustomed to envisioning legions of hip college students and twenty-somethings when it comes to the people who use social media the most.

I’m guilty of this bias, too, but I recently thought about it a little more when I read a study last month that drew conclusions about the lifestyle of a “social media user” with a sample size of 6,000 people from Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Okay. So, let’s add up the 23,522,500 Germans, 30,783,600 Brits, and 157,233,760 Americans who use Facebook.

That’s 211,539,860 total users, which means 6,000 “social media users” is 0.00002% of the social media population among these countries.

Now, that’s when I thought: hey, I bet not all of these people are smartphone-wielding youngsters.

I did a little research on what a “social media user” is and… guess what? No archetype exists anymore.

Personally, I think it’s time to stop considering “social media users” as representative of a single demographic. It’s not just bad for research, it’s bad for business.

The stats

Since most small businesses and organizations focus on Facebook when they think of social media marketing, let’s take a look at who uses the network.

This galactic infographic (aesthetically galactic, I don’t think it’s actually a sample of all the known Facebook users in the galaxy) shows us that, as of March 2012, there were 845 million active users of the social network. (As of March 31st, 2012, the number of active users has grown to 901 million according to Facebook.)

Here’s the breakdown according to the infographic:

  • 46% are 45 or older
  • 22% are 35-44
  • 18% are 25-34
  • 14% are 0-24

About a quarter of Facebook users have a bachelor’s or master’s degree. Over half have completed some college. Approximately 57% of Facebook users are women.

This doesn’t actually matter

When you take into account that 901 million people are using Facebook, why bother looking at demographics at all?

Really, what this gargantuan number shows us is that, no matter what audience you’re looking to attract, it is very statistically likely that some of your prospects and customers are on Facebook.

The real question these days is how a “social media user” actually uses Facebook.

That’s why studies like the one I cited above are more aesthetic than anything else.

What we do know is that 91% of adults (at least those featured in one report) say that they use social media regularly.

Small businesses and organizations need to ask what their audience is doing on Facebook and that’s up to you to figure out. After all, you know your customers best.

Don’t know how your customers use Facebook? Ask them in an email… or ask them in a survey.

Honestly, don’t trust the “84% of Facebook users like coupons” statistics. That may be true, but what does that tell you about your core audience?

Your Facebook Page should be a community first and a resource second.

What does your audience get out of Facebook?

More than anything, the sheer immensity of Facebook’s user population shows that we need to start paying attention to Facebook users by behavior, not age or the fact that they use Facebook in the first place.

For example, I’m more of a bite-size user. I log in a few times a day and skim my news feed. I’ll admit it takes a lot to draw me in.

What does it? Funny pictures or news stories that strike a chord of righteous indignation. Not much else.

When I do click something from a Page I “Liked” at some point, I never want to feel like I’m wandering out of my traditional, scroll-and-click routine. Now, I’m a data point of one – I may use Facebook differently than the other 900 million people, but the reason I use it not to start buying things left and right.

That’s true of any Facebook user, because Facebook is a social network, not an e-commerce site. Users don’t think “Buy!” as soon as they log onto Facebook, but that’s about the only similarity between all of them.

Businesses and organizations need to think about what their audience expects from Facebook, then develop a strategy that complements those expectations.

In short, reach them where they already are. Build a roadside stop that acts as an engaging and entertaining experience … with the occasional chance of a reward.

At the end of the day, you know your customers better than anyone else. When it comes to managing your Facebook Page, don’t trust the mill of new reports sampling 0.00001% of Facebook’s population. Trust your Facebook Insights, Google Analytics, and, most of all, your long-standing relationship with your customers.

How do you think about the term “social media user?” Let us know below!