What the rise of “HMU” says about Facebook’s success in 2010

December 17, 2010

Facebook had an extraordinary year in 2010, bringing in $2 billion in revenue, being named best place to work and seeing Mark Zuckerberg named Time magazine’s Person of the Year. One key strategy that drove that success, as Zuckerberg made clear when he announced Facebook Social Inbox, was that the company built a platform that adapted to its most active users.

For Facebook, the most active users are students in college and secondary school. Zuckerberg hit on Social Inbox after high school students told him email was too slow. So it’s no surprise that the top status trend for 2010 – that is, the term whose usage in status updates grew the most this year – was “HMU.”

If you didn’t know what HMU meant before this week, you’re probably not in Facebook’s most active demographic. It isn’t a big part of the vocabulary of most people past their 20s; if you do use it, the older you are the more you risk looking like you’re trying too hard to be cool. Here’s how the British newspaper the Independent spelled it out:

The most popular phrase of 2010 was the (most likely) teenage expression “HMU,” short for “hit me up” or simply “contact me.”

HMU was so foreign to the editors at the Independent, they needed a definition to explain their definition. Facebook’s blog discussing the top status trend described it as a surprise, and its own explanation shows how the term seems to have grown out of student life.

In early September, an interesting pattern emerged in how people use HMU. Until that point, it was spreading like wildfire, but was being used with roughly equal frequency throughout the week. In September this changed, as usage rates started going through huge swings from day to day. The reason? Before September the demographic most likely to ask their friends to “HMU” was on summer break and looking to hang out most nights. Then many of these folks headed back to school, and HMU became a weekend-oriented request.

That the fastest growing term in Facebook updates would be one largely unused by its older demographics says something telling about Facebook and the social web. There are really two kinds of users of the site: Those who grew up with an Internet connection around them, and those who didn’t.

Each of those two groups sees the web differently. The former is more likely to see the social web as as more intimately integrated in their everyday interactions, while the latter view it as a part-time supplement. The latter, when bored, are more likely to use email or a phone call to contact a friend. The former would text or write “HMU” on an update.

As Facebook evolves, it’s catering to the needs and desires of its younger users and its reward is a phenomenal growth rate. If you’re not in that age group, you’re welcome to come along for the ride.

No comments so far

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/