It’s hard to keep up with – let alone assess or interpret – the myriad statistics and reports related to social media. But a few recent studies all suggest one basic fact: Web traffic and use of social media platforms continues to boom. The discussion is no longer whether social media is a fad, but how dominant and important it has become – impacting everything from communication and purchase behavior to advertising and journalism.

One regular study of Web users by Universal McCann suggests – among other findings – that social networks are becoming the dominant platform for the creation and sharing of content for active Internet users. (By the way, McCann estimates there are now about 625 million “active” Internet users – about 1 in 3 surfers.) Other key findings: nearly 2/3 of users are managing a profile on a social network; users are moving towards the increasing rationalization of their content (across platforms); and the creation/sharing of video content is booming.

Statistics gathered by Socialnomics echo this trend. (Check out the great video embedded in this post.) There’s too many amazing stats to list here, but a few that struck me:

  • 1 out of 8 couples married in the U.S. last year met via social media
  • Facebook has added 100 million users in less than 9 months
  • 80% of companies use LinkedIn as a primary tool to find employees
  • The second biggest search engine in the world is YouTube
  • 80% of Twitter usage is on mobile devices
  • 34% of bloggers post opinions about products and brands

And the list goes on.

Want a real-life example? I just read an article in Maclean’s (yes, I try to keep up with news in my native Canada) with a great summary of how some organizations are using crowd-sourcing to find great ideas and even to save money…getting the “crowd” to do work for free, as it were. The most interesting example is Netflix’s contest to have online geeks come up with the best algorithm for improving the site’s movie recommendations. According to Maclean’s, so far there have been nearly 50,000 entries. (In this case, Netflix is offering a million dollar prize.)

The lesson here for any organization is that ignoring this seismic shift – which is cultural and economic as well as technological – has become strategic, and probably financial suicide. Organizations need to study and understand these trends – particularly how they impact their customers and employees – and develop credible strategies to engage in the on-line conversations and market their wares. Consumer habits have shifted dramatically, and the Web is playing a huge part in how they access and share information, do their work, buy products and services and even find their mates. So why do some companies continue to party like it’s 1999?