How many friends do you have?
If you live in Maryland, chances are, quite a few – at least in the world of social networking.
According to a recent report, more than one-third of Marylanders had accounts on Facebook, the social media network with millions of users worldwide, as of July 2010 (2,078,478 to be exact.)
The state ranks 34th among the states in terms of percentage of Facebook account holders and 23rd for Twitter account holders.
DCI Group Digital, part of the DCI Group public affairs company in Washington, D.C., compared each state’s Facebook and Twitter accounts to numbers from the 2010 census. Washington State ranked first and second for Facebook and Twitter users, respectively. New Mexico ranked 50th for Facebook accounts, with Utah taking the bottom spot for Twitter accounts.
But just how much social networking affects Marylanders’ daily lives depends on whom you ask.
While most social network users in Maryland access the sites for personal updates and photos, more businesses are using the sites to connect to stakeholders. In 2008, the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore launched its Facebook page filled with medical tips and videos from physicians, information about upcoming events and success stories from patients. Its Twitter account followed shortly thereafter.
Ed Bennett, director of web strategies for the University of Maryland Medical System, said he knew the social networking sites would be a valuable tool in making the hospital accessible to the community. He was just surprised at how quickly the sites took hold. Close to 12,000 people “like” the medical center’s page on Facebook and more than 6,400 people follow the medical center on Twitter.
“It has become a basic way people stay in touch with each other,” Bennett said.
And, with people you may not even know.
For example, more than 510,000 people “like” the official fan Facebook page of Ray Lewis, star linebacker of the Baltimore Ravens. Hundreds of fans recently flooded his Facebook wall with “Happy Fathers Day” messages.
More than 2.7 million people “like” the fan page for Travis Pastrana, motocross champion, extreme sports athlete and recently engaged-to-be-married Anne Arundel County resident. More than 300 people congratulated Pastrana on his engagement through the site, with statements like “Nice bro! You have made some life or death commitments, but this is the biggest commitment of your life!” And, “Congrats Travis. Be the best husband u can be! It’s the best I can say I’m only 16.”
Even Dozer the dog has a Facebook fan page.
The 3-year-old Goldendoodle unknowingly ran most of the Maryland Half Marathon in Maple Lawn last month after he escaped through an invisible fence in his yard. Since then, he has received an official race finisher’s medal and helped raise more than $13,000 for the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center. He has more than 900 fans.
Many area lawmakers also find the sites beneficial when it comes to reaching constituents.
According to the DCI study, more than one third of state legislators nationwide have a Facebook presence and at least 10 percent have a Twitter presence.
Delegate Craig Zucker, a Democrat who represents District 14, created a Facebook “fan page”–separate from a personal page–and Twitter account about a year ago after announcing his candidacy for the House of Delegates.
“Social media such as Facebook and Twitter are amazing tools for instant conversations with people,” he said. “You can let them know about events, ways to help and get their thoughts and ideas. Using these tools, I can find out what my constituents are thinking in real-time, which helps me do my job.”
On March 11, Zucker used his Twitter account to report live updates on the same-sex marriage debate from the House floor. He “tweeted” or posted more than 25 entries about the bill, known as the “Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act.” Despite Zucker’s support and tweets, the bill did not pass.
The power of social media does come with caution, though. Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-NY, for example, recently resigned after admitting he sent a lewd photo of himself to a college-age woman through his Twitter account. Ryan Dunn, star of the MTV show Jackass, posted a photo of himself with a drink in hand just hours before he died in a car crash. Movie critic Robert Ebert faced controversy of his own after tweeting after Dunn’s death, “Friends don’t let jackasses drink and drive.”
Marketing and communications professionals like Susan Goodell, vice president of Warschawski in Baltimore, often warn clients not to be overly reliant on social media for marketing programs.
"It's not in and of itself a whole new way of marketing," she said. "It's just another tool for communicating and should be part of an integrated strategy."
For the millions of Marylanders not using social networks, here’s a brief description of some of the more popular sites:
Facebook – Founded in 2004, Facebook allows registered users to create profiles and upload photos and videos about themselves. Users can send messages to friends, as well as browse their profiles and writes messages on their “wall” – a virtual bulletin board visible to all of the user’s friends. The site has more than 500 million active users, with the average user having 130 friends.
Twitter – Founded in 2006, Twitter allows registered users to post updates on what they are doing and view updates by other users they follow. But there’s a catch: Users must limit entries to 140 characters or less. That means no rambling and lots of creative abbreviation. Twitter says it sees close to 500,000 accounts created each day, with users sending more than 140 million tweets a day.
LinkedIn – Founded in 2002, LinkedIn claims it is the world’s largest professional network with more than 100 million users. Users build profiles with educational backgrounds and employment history. The site then helps them connect with past and present colleagues, as well as classmates.
Foursquare – Founded in 2009, Foursquare is a location-based social networking site based on software for mobile devices. It’s used mostly for letting friends know where you are. The site has more than 10 million users.
How do you use social networking sites? Tell us below.