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The Growth and Changing Face of Social Networking

Posted on 07 Jul 09

Earlier this year, the Nielson Company, a global information and media company, released a report on social networking. The report includes: putting the growth of social networks -- popularity and engagement -- into context; how the audience of social networks is changing; factors contributing to the Facebook phenomenon, among other things.

In this write-up, we are sharing with you several of the report’s findings and observations that are pertinent to you as an agency and business owner.

Two-thirds of the world’s Internet population visits a social networking or blogging site and the sector now accounts for almost 10% of all Internet time. “Member Communities” has overtaken personal e-mail to become the world’s fourth most popular on-line sector after search, portals, and PC software applications.

The growth in popularity of social networks and its growing and broadening audience only tells half the story. The staggering increase in the amount of time people are spending on these sites is changing the way people spend their time on-line and has ramifications for how people behave, share and interact within their normal daily lives. The total amount spent on-line globally increased by 18% between December 2007 and December 2008. In the same period, however, the amount of time spent on “Member Community” sites rose by 63% to 45 billion minutes; and on Facebook by a massive 566% - from 3.1 billion minutes to 20.5 billion minutes.

The demographics of the audience on social networking are also seeing a shift. Social networks started out amongst the younger audience, however with Facebook’s successful formula, this has broadened. For example, the greatest growth for Facebook has come from people aged 35-49 years of age (+24.1 million). What’s more, Facebook has added almost twice as many 50-64 year olds visitors (+13.6 million) than it has added in the under 18-year-old category (+7.3 million). This changing audience offers advertisers the opportunity to use social networks as a vehicle for targeting all demographic groups. (The stats provided below are from Facebook.)

How do you connect with your targeted audience? There is no magic formula but it’s all about conversation. (This point is also reinforced in this issue’s “Face Time” interview with Rick Morgan on establishing a Facebook presence.) Since the point of social network members is that they are co-creators of content and therefore have a sense of ownership within the site, advertising should be about participating in a relevant conversation with consumers rather than simply pushing ads or promotions on them. The messaging within any advertising should come from a more authentic, candid and humble perspective. Social media has provided the motive, opportunity and means for brands to engage consumers in a more open and honest way.

As social networking is ultimately about relationships and friendships, where members add value to each other’s lives through interaction, advertising should follow the same philosophy – adding value through interaction and consultation.