[SMCE] Comscore 2011 Social Report: 1 in every 5 minutes spent social networking globally

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It doesn't take a futuroloigist to tell you that this social networking thing we've been going on about for a while is getting pretty popular. Comscore have just launched their 2011 report and is packed to the brim full of useful stats and facts which are interesting even for the social media 'veteran', if such a title exists. It's easy to forget the scale of growth in the space and how much it is increasingly permeating all media, until some cold, hard facts, figures and easy to understand infographs tell it like it is. Think of this as an early christmas present from me to you.

For the stats fans and in a nutshell: social networking is now the most popular online activity worldwide accounting for nearly 1 in every 5 minutes spent online in October 2011, and reaches 82 percent of the world’s Internet population, representing 1.2 billion users around the globe.

It may surprise some that Israel is the worldwide leader in monthly social network use, spending twice as much time than the global average. They are followed closely by Argentina, Russia, Turkey and Chile.

Interestingly, it was found that consistently across all regions, women spend more time social networking than men. In North America and Europe, women spent an average of nearly two hours (30 percent) more than men on social networking sites in a month.

Which are the dominant networks? 

Of course, when it comes to social networks globally, Facebook was the largest player by virtually any metric and drives the behavior of the category as a whole. Facebook is the third largest web property in the world, trailing only Google and Microsoft properties. Back in October, it was analysed that Facebook reached more than 500m users in one month, accounting for approximately 3 in every 4 minutes spent on social networking sites and 1 in every 7 minutes spent online around the world.

According to Comscore, there are only 7 markets where Facebook does not have the largest audience in the category – Brazil, China, Japan, Poland, Russia, South Korea and Vietnam. Putting China aside, which currently blocks Facebook, the trend in audience growth suggests that Facebook will soon be the market leader in Brazil and potentially Poland; In Japan, it is second toTwitter, but is on the same growth trajectory. In a few of these countries, it even leads the category in engagement.

In South Korea and Poland, for example, Facebook trails regional social networks in audience size but shows highest average engagement, as measured by time spent. While Orkut still leads in Brazil in terms of both audience and engagement, Facebook is quickly closing in according to both metrics.

So if Facebook is not king everywhere, which are the top networks in other markets?

What about split out by age, globally?

The below graph illustrates social networking penetration among worldwide demographic groups and comparing July 2010 to October 2011.

If you've been told that the only age group using social media are teens, this is a myth. In years previously, perhaps there was some truth to this but within the last 18-24 months we have noticed a dramatic shift in usage from age groups you wouldn't expect. It may be a surprise to some but users 55 and older represent the fastest growing segment in social networking usage. 

As you can see above, North America and Latin America have reached at least 93% of online users age 55 and older significantly higher than the global average with Europe following closely behind, also above global average.

What about brands? Where are they spending their ad dollars? 

Social Networking strongly leads all content categories in the number of display ads delivered, accounting for more than 1 in 4 U.S. display ad impressions (28%) in October. In addition, 5% of all ad impressions viewed in the U.S. were “socially-enabled,” allowing users to click through to Facebook or other social networking sites.

Facebook is currently the single largest publisher of all U.S. display ad impressions. While this metric does not account for the size of ads (ads on Facebook are generally small as compared to other premium publishers), based on the sheer number of impressions, Facebook is by far the largest publisher. In the third quarter of 2011, Facebook delivered 28% of display ad impressions – more than the other four major portals combined. A key reason Facebook took over the leadership position in delivering ads was its early focus on delivering targeted ads for ‘long tail,’ or smaller advertisers. It's only really been in the last few years that it has made a concerted push on attracting dollars from much larger brand advertisers.

Which are the fastest growing social networks globally? 

Ok, so I get it, Facebook is big. Who else is out there that's experiencing rapid takeup? Twitter and LinkedIn have posted two of the highest growth rates for audience size over the past year, while microblogging sites Sina Weibo (Sina Microblogging), which exhibited the highest growth at 181%, and Tumblr, with a 172% increase. Badoo also posted strong gains at 64%.

In terms of engagement, Facebook and Russian social network Odnoklassniki were among the leading global social networks showing growth in 2011. The average Facebook user spent 6.3 hours on the site in October 2011, up 40% from a year ago while the typical Odnoklassniki visitor spent 6 hours on the site, up 36%.

Sina Weibo also showed one of the highest growth rates year-over-year, as the typical visitor engaged with the microblogging site for more than an hour in October, showing an increase of 81% from the previous year. Social content-sharing site Pinterest’s global engagement measures skyrocketed in 2011, showing an incredible 512% increase over the course of six months. I tip this now to be one of the hottest social web properties in 2012. What will see it rise to the top though is dependent on whether a) it can continue to attract new users, but also b) experience network effects through increased user engagement and participation that will keep people coming back over the long term.

It's clear that the soc-nets like Facebook and Twitter are viewing mobile devices as the future of social networking and it's obvious to see why. They provide the means for users to connect on-the-go, facilitating real-time interaction and with recent app updates, (eg new Twitter and Facebook timeline) users can enjoy the same experience that they would on the site, now on mobile. In October 2011, 32% of the total U.S. mobile population age 13+ reported accessing social networking sites on their phone at least once in the past month.

Across five leading European markets (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom), 24% of the total mobile population reported engaging with their social networks on their mobile devices. Among these EU markets, the UK showed the highest social networking penetration among mobile users at 35 percent.

What are people doing on their mobile when social networking? 

Analysis of mobile social networking activity in the U.S. and EU reveals that most mobile users who reported accessing social networks on their devices at least once in the previous month did so to connect with their personal networks.

In the U.S., 70% of mobile social networkers reported using their phones to post a status update, while 80% read posts from people they know personally. Mobile social networkers in the EU showed similar levels of engagement in these activities. Less than one-third of mobile social networkers in both regions reported “checking in” via location-based services.

Interestingly, a significant percentage of mobile social networkers reported using their devices to engage with brands, organizations, and public figures. More than 40 percent of U.S. and EU5 mobile social networkers reported reading posts from celebrities and public figures, and a slightly higher percentage reported reading posts from organizations, brands and events.

What does 2012 look like? Tablets and connected devices

Tablets have rapidly gained popularity in recent years by offering Internet connectivity and computing capability in a portable platform, with the iPad being a particular success story. In the U.S. alone, more than 150 new tablet models were launched over the last two years, reflective of a market growing to meet rapidly escalating consumer demand for these devices.

Could the popularity of tablets and other web-enabled connected devices further encourage social networking on-the-go? Initial data on tablet use from September 2011 suggests as much. According to a comScore survey, 59 percent of tablet owners reported having updated their social networking status on their devices during the month, while 46 percent also reported sharing their location using location-based check-in services on their tablets.

An analysis of digital media consumption across a sample of U.S. iPhone and iPad owners further illustrates the impact that mobile, tablets, and other connected devices have had on social networking thus far. When factoring in these owners’ usage of certain categories across all their devices relative to their usage on computers, there was an evident incremental effect on reach and duration.

The Social Networking category in particular saw an incremental audience reach of 13% via mobile, while time spent in the category nearly tripled. Because smartphones and tablets offer portability and constant connectivity, they have given users a greater ability to satisfy their desires to connect on-the-go. Users who once might have waited to post status updates on their computers now have the ability to post updates in real-time wherever they may be.

What we are witnessing is the dawn of a truly connected era, where social networking platforms integrate more seamlessly with our lives through mobile technology. As tablets and other connected devices gain even more popularity, bringing portability into our lives, we can expect them to further push the boundaries on the way we interact with each other socially in the digital environment.

Michael Litman is the Head of Engagement at 90:10 Group and Editor of You can follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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