Marketers have long relied on market research to determine where to spend their advertising dollars on television, radio and print advertisements.
In the last few years, research organizations have begun providing intelligence on how consumers behave on social networks.
The following article is based on new social media research studies.
These findings will help you better strategize your company's social efforts to match your customers' behaviors.
#1: Know Where Your Customers Spend Their Time
Three recent research studies show active Internet users spend anywhere from 16% to nearly 25% of their online time on social networks.
In comScore's 2012 U.S. Digital Future in Focus report, researchers found that 90% of all U.S. Internet users visited social networking sites in December 2011. Additionally, consumers are spending 1 out of every 6 online minutes on social networks (16.6%). That's up from less than 15% at the end of 2010.
Nielsen recently released the State of the Media: U.S. Digital Consumption Report, Q3-Q4 2011. The study found Internet users spend 21.3% of their time on social networking sites. This report shows a much smaller percentage of time spent on Internet portals like Yahoo!
PQ Media found the average U.S. Internet user spends around 33 hours per month on the Internet and about 8 of those hours on social media.
These researchers didn't disclose their methodologies, so we can't explain why the results differ so dramatically, though I imagine it's due to how they defined some of their terms. That said, all three reports show an upward trend in the volume and percentage of time spent on social networks.
#2: Find Content That Will Resonate Deeply With Your Audience
The comScore graphic above shows an upward trend in online entertainment consumption. Given the growing numbers of consumers ages 18-34 who watch videos and engage on social networks simultaneously, it is important for marketers to become skilled at engaging in conversations about hot cultural topics seen in the entertainment industry.
Nielsen's study revealed that owners of mobile devices are increasingly multi-tasking while watching a TV program. While the majority of people check their email, a significant 44% also visit social sites.
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The top two sites visited while watching TV are the social sites Facebook and YouTube. This paints an interesting picture of people watching YouTube videos while also watching a TV program. It suggests that people want to be engaged.
What if your brand could engage people in conversations about popular TV shows, movies or sporting events while they are watching it? What if your brand became a trusted thought leader on a hot cultural topic?
I'd like to introduce you to someone who did just that. While he stumbled upon this, maybe you could proactively learn from his experience.
#3: Focus on Facebook—It's Where Consumers Spend Most of Their Online Social Time
We've known Facebook is the biggest social media site in terms of monthly active users (last published as 845 million). But comScore's study shows Facebook dominates in two other ways.
First, Facebook is the premier player among all web properties in terms of time spent—and that means engagement.
Second, when compared with other social media platforms, Facebook has achieved an even more impressive percentage of mindshare. Facebook captures 14.6% of Internet users' time compared to a combined 2% for all other social networking sites. Facebook also captures 16% of all page views.
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The rise of Twitter and LinkedIn as the second and third most visited social networking sites is evidenced by another comScore graphic. Equally revealing are the rapid decline of MySpace and the ascendance of Google+ and Pinterest. (It should be noted that social sites like Twitter and Google+ likely get significant engagement through mobile devices, third-party apps and other forms of content.)
To highlight the engagement issue even more, comScore shows how Facebook keeps the average user onsite for 7 hours each month. Tumblr and Pinterest have also successfully engaged their users by keeping them onsite for more than an hour each.
A final sign that Facebook is getting more eyeballs comes through comScore's findings about display advertising.
#4: It's Time to Take Video Seriously
Americans are watching increasing numbers of videos online. According to comScore, this number has jumped over 43% to 100 million daily views (that's roughly one-third of the U.S. population watching a video online each day).
Of the 43.5 billion videos viewed in December 2011, over half of those were on Google properties (21.9 billion), primarily YouTube.
With the advent of long-form video content online through vendors like Netflix and Hulu, there's been an increase in how long users will watch a video from 5 minutes to nearly 6 minutes. This may open the door for marketers looking to produce edutainment videos (combining education and entertainment to produce engaging videos that keep people watching).
The way people watch videos is changing with the advent of mobile phones, notebooks and gaming systems. These differences are especially pronounced in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.
For example, Nielsen found that someone from the Asia/Pacific region is more than twice as likely to watch a video on a mobile device as a North American. However, a European is half as likely to watch on a mobile device as the average global consumer.
Learn From the Best
Many companies are using video channels well, but many small- and medium-sized businesses have yet to embrace this powerful platform.
I like what Whole Foods has done by creating over 500 videos that have been seen by over 2.8 million people. They provide a wide variety of videos including how-to's and a funny organic love story series. None of these require professional videography skills. All you need is just a bit of training on how to use YouTube to drive traffic to your website.
#5: Consider the Role of Mobile
PQ Media found that 100 million U.S. users access the Internet through smartphones, with 60% of those being business end-users. comScore determined that 8% of all Internet traffic comes from mobile devices.
The time spent on social networks through mobile devices is relatively low (around 5%), but the numbers are still significant. For example, Facebook found that 423 million unique visitors accessed their site in December 2011 through mobile devices.
Nielsen compared how men and women differ in how they access social networking sites. Aside from the obvious choice of computers, mobile phones take second place with women being 10% more likely to access social sites on their phones.
Mobile devices are changing the landscape of retail sales. Shoppers can compare prices, read reviews and get real-time opinions from their friends through social media channels all while on their smartphones. Smart marketers will take this into account when creating content and finding ways to engage customers.
Now it's Your Turn
What do you think? How does this research inform or inspire your social media plans for the next quarter? Leave your questions and comments in the box below.
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