Social Media and the Internet: Click … or Clique?

All of the hype about social marketing and social media might make you believe that people are flocking to this new form of communications in droves.

Well, if you think this … you’re right. And now we have the stats to prove it. The Nielsen Company has just released web statistics for the month of August that report that time spent on social networks and blogging sites accounted for ~17% of all time spent on the Internet.

Compared to August 2008, this figure is nearly triple the percentage of time spent on social networks and blogging sites just one short year ago. Seeing as how there is an upper-limit ceiling on the total amount of time available to spend online in any given day, the increased attention on social media is coming at the expense of the more traditional use of the web as an informational tool.

This is not to say that text and video content don’t remain central to the online experience, because that is clearly the case. But the ability consumers have now to use platforms like Facebook and blogging sites to “connect, communicate and share” is what’s driving much of the continuing growth of the web and online engagement.

Because of this new emphasis, is it any wonder more online advertising dollars are chasing social media than ever before? Nielsen pegs advertising on social media sites as representing ~15% of total online ad spending in August 2009. That’s more than double its proportion a year earlier.

Along with the shift in online ad revenues to social media sites, we’re also experiencing a major change in clickthrough behavior as it pertains to online display ads. Research published recently by comScore shows that the percentage of people who clicked on one or more display ads during a monthly period of Internet interaction – in this case March 2009 – was only ~16%.

How does that result compare with earlier surveys? It’s dramatically lower, and dropping. Just two years ago in 2007, ~32% of people online clicked on at least one online display ad over a month-long period – twice the proportion as today.

What’s more, the comScore analysis reveals that a very small portion of viewers represent the vast majority of the clickthrough activity. Specifically, only ~8% of the people are responsible for ~85% of all clicks. Of course, we can be sure that the robust clickthrough behavior of these 8% translates into equally robust product sales … NOT!

Clearly, any company that is attempting to promote products and services over the Internet needs to carefully study the composition of its market and the behavior of its online audience targets before making extensive online advertising program commitments.

The reality is, with the dynamics we’re seeing such as the behaviors noted above, it’s more likely an online promo effort will fail rather than succeed unless a dispassionate review of the situation is done beforehand and a practical, realistic program put into place.

But that’s so unlike many of the web advertising programs we’ve seen implemented up to now, which could be best characterized as: “Throw a bunch of advertising at the web and hope some of it sticks.”

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