You know you are lame when you finally decide to find out what Facebook is all about, create your page, and then realize that you don't know any of the 29 million other people there. So here you are, sitting with your Facebook page, faced with the stark reality that you just can't join in the reindeer games.
Now, of course, I'm 37 years old and married and can do just fine calling any of my 8 friends on the telephone. But I was curious as I just read that the 35+ age range is the fastest growing demo on Facebook and that Facebook is becoming a true threat to Google and MySpace in terms of it being based on connections between real people.
So I tried looking for connections with people I used to work with - no luck there. But I did decide to check out who all these other people's friends were. And then, as I saw lists of hundreds of friends for folks, is when I realized that the younger generations are growing up with a completely different definition of the word 'friend' than I did. Over the years, as I have moved through the stages of my life, from job to job and city to city, I have realized that I have a maximum capacity in terms of the number of friends I can handle. That is because I define a 'friend' as someone I stay in touch with and know what's going on in their lives, as someone whom I talk with at least a couple of times a year and someone I would definitely recognize if I saw him/her walking down the street. My max on those is about 10. I know, it sounds fairly small and limited, but I just don't have the bandwidth for much more than that.
The younger folks, though, have been taught that a 'friend' is anyone who has anything remotely in common in you and whose picture (real or fake) resides on your Facebook, MySpace or other social networking home page. And by using Facebook, they have increased their bandwidth for friends. It is much easier to keep a relationship going with someone when you never have to meet them in person or spend time on the phone. A quick update on your page or a quick note and you're good for another month!
And so, I wonder, in this evolving world of larger networks of relationships that are much broader and shallower than we are used to, does the population's capacity for increasing numbers of relationships carry over to brands? Does this re-define our definition of loyalty? Because consumers are much more comfortable having lots of shallow personal relationships, are they also more comfortable having lots of shallow brand relationships?
We are used to a world of black and white. Either you are a Nike person or a Reebok person. A PC person or a Mac person. A Democrat or a Republican. A ketchup on your hot dog or mustard on your hot dog person. But things are not as black and white for those growing not having to make hard choices in terms of who their friends are. One day they may be virtually hanging with Nike people - the next with Reebok. We've already seen it with Apple. Even though their commercials pit Mac vs. Windows, Macs have already been evolved to where you can run both on the same computer - allowing someone to be both a Mac and a Windows person at the same time.
This is good news in that a lot of brands left out of the picture in the past can find a nice niche without having to completely displace the behemoth brands that occupy the #1 slots. It's bad news, though, for the big folks who must figure out a way to cope with the fact that they can no longer expect undivided loyalty. Either/Or may be no more.