Social Media Traffic Explodes, Up 82%

By Steve Smith

That large sucking sound you hear may be the rush of eyeballs and time spent online moving to social media sites this past year. According to Nielsen’s latest figures, global consumers spent over five and a half hours on social networks in December, up 82% from the same time last year. A year ago, most users were spending a little over three hours a day on social sites, a group that includes networks like Facebook, blogs, and the Twitter micro-blog service. Social media is now the most popular activity online. Gaming and instant messaging are the next most popular categories.

Not surprising, Facebook emerged as the leading destination in the category, with 209.8 million unique users, or a staggering 67% of the world Internet population. The social site kept most users for nearly six hours during the month. Twitter continues to grow at a faster pace than any other social destination, with 579% more unique (18.1 million) in December 2009 than in the same month in 2008. Nevertheless, there is still reason to suspect that Twitter has peaked, in that traffic to the site actually declined 5% in the last month of 2009. Both Classmates and LinkedIn showed incremental declines year-over-year.

In the U.S. the time spent at social media sites has been even more pronounced. Total time spent at network and blog sites has increased 210% in the last year, Nielsen says. The average person is spending 143% more time on these sites than they did a year ago at six hours and nine minutes. The U.S. is second only to Australia in time spent on social media.

Putting it into the perspective of overall Web traffic, it seems that content publishers indeed have some cause for concern in this shift. Using Nielsen data, the Online Publishers Association’s running Internet Activity Index finds that the share of overall Web time spent on content has been in decline consistently over the past year. In November 2008, 44.5% of online time was spent at content destinations, compared to 9.7% at community sites like Facebook. In November 2009, however, the share of time spent on content had declined sharply to 37%, with community spiking to 24%. This is an impressive and undeniable shift in user mindshare that no publisher can ignore. It underscores the importance of media brands learning the language of social media and having an active presence in the social networking places users are now treating like their Internet portals.