Marketers to Spend More on Social Media as Usage Skyrockets

Rumors of a Facebook decline have been greatly exaggerated, according to a new Nielsen report that says the average person spent five and a half hours on social media sites in December 2009, up 82 percent from December 2008. Significant traffic increases for Facebook and Twitter led the way.

Not surprisingly, an Alterian report released simultaneously to the Nielsen findings says that marketers will also be spending more time and money on social media sites in 2010.

Facebook is still by far the most popular social networking site worldwide, with 206.9 million unique visitors in December. Sixty seven percent of global social media users visited the site during that month, spending an average of about 5.5 hours there per month, up from just three hours in December 2008.

While Facebook is the most popular social media site, Twitter is still the fastest growing, at least in terms of unique visitors. The site received 18.1 million unique visitors in December 2009, up from 2.7 million in December 2008 (a remarkable 579 percent rate of growth).

Such numbers are not typical for the entire category, however. Time spent on blogs and other social media sites increased 210 percent year-over-year, and the average time spent per person increased 143 percent. Australia led the world in time spent on social media sites with 6 hours and 52 minutes per person. The United States was second (6 hours and 9 minutes) with the United Kingdom close behind (6 hours and 7 minutes).

Such numbers are not lost on marketing professionals worldwide, 66 percent of whom said they will invest in social media marketing in the next 12 months, according to the results of the Alterian study. Of those executives, 40 percent said they would be shifting more than a fifth of their marketing budget to social media — number that is particularly notable given the relatively low expense of most social media campaigns.

Mike Fisher, SVP of sales for Alterian, said he expects the investment in social media to be less about advertising and more about engaging consumers one-on-one.

“It will be less about marketing promotion and more about engaging people in conversation,” he said.  “Listening to what’s happening and responding to that is very different from episodic campaigns that drive push marketing or push promotions.”

Fisher added that he thought the proportion of budgets marketing executives planned to apportion social media sounded low, and that the number would rise as marketers realized the value of the channel. 

Pressure to account for that investment — or perhaps skepticism about the effectiveness of social media — is leading 36 percent of marketers to commit resources to measuring their efforts in the space this year. “This is a significant percentage considering the maturity of the channel and reflects the growing understanding that a social media marketing strategy needs to be based on listening to customers and prospects and its ROI needs to be measured,” the study said.

Alterian, a marketing services firm based in the U.K., surveyed 1,068 marketing executives from Europe, North America, and Asia Pacific for its study.

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