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Consumer Online Behavior: Community or Content as King
An Ad Age story is headlined "Content Trumps Community" and notes that only 7.5% of consumer time online is spent in community sites like Facebook, MySpace, etc. True enough, but the stats say social networks have less of an issue with the number of users and page view consumption than with their users' fleeting attention.
First, kudos to the Online Publishers Association for recognizing that community is its own category. That alone is a statement about how far "social media" has come in the last couple of years.
I've followed the OPA's Internet Activity Index for several years and I often quote it to show how the Internet is different from other media: other media are 100% about content, but the Internet has always been a balance of content and communications (email and IM), with a healthy dollop of commerce thrown in.
While the Ad Age article implies that the focus and attention paid to social networks is overblown compared to the time spent, I beg to disagree with my friend Ms. Klaasen on these grounds:
- Time spent on social networks is 50% higher than search -- and we all know how big search is.
- Contrary to Ms. Klaassen's observation that social network time is coming primarily from communications, content's share of time dropped 6 percentage points from December to January, making up the bulk of community's 7.5 percentage points. With this drop, content's share of time is lower that it was in January 2007.
- Look also at page views per person: content dropped 225 pages, which suggests that in the reclassification, a number of sites formerly in the content group were moved to community. Communications, meanwhile, had 404 pages, the second highest number in the past 12 months.
- Another interesting angle is that content sites show 480 pages per month per user while community sites show 380 pages. In other words, community sites already have 80% as many places to put ads in front of each user as content sites.
- Only 59.5% of online users used community sites in January, while the other categories ranged from 78% - 93%. Given that these sites are only a couple of years old, that is a healthy number.
- Even more important, and not reflected in any of these numbers, is the degree of influence this time has on users' brand perceptions and purchasing decisions. Word-of-mouth continues to be the leading influence and roughly twice the influence of online ads, which would imply that this 7.5% of time is likely to have disproportionately higher impact than content pages.
I don't think social media's issue is with having sufficient space to sell -- the audience will continue to grow, and if the past is any indication of the future the number of pages per user will grow as well.
I wrote a while ago that social networks have a difficult tightrope to walk, between monetizing their user's attention and alienating those very users.
These numbers also imply that the users' attention is so fleeting (users are cramming 380 pages into about 1/4 the time they spend on content sites) that creating an effective marketing communication/ad format is the real challenge. Like email and IM before it, banners and other display ad formats are probably not the answer; unlike those communications media, word-of-mouth marketing techniques can be employed to involve brands in the conversations taking place.
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