Global Social Networking Report - some thoughts

As qualitative researchers who like to spend time with people understanding behaviour and attitudes, we always find big global numbers studies incredibly apt to making sweeping generalisations and at times offering little applicable to specific thinking on behaviours, brands or markets. That said they can help frame events at the micro-level and fuel greater thinking on specific projects. With that in mind we were interested to look over the findings of a Nielsen publication this week (mid-March 2009) into the global rise of social networking.Many of the 'findings' are without wishing to be too critical, things most of us probably are aware of (how do do Myspace audiences differ from Facebook etc). We have looked at this with a specific reference to 2 of the markets of most interest to us - which were part of the study - Brazil and the UK.

You can find the whole report here - click to download from here.

Or... take a quick look at a summary of the Most important findings here...

GLOBAL TRENDS (2007 - 2008)

1. A massive growth in membership and time spent on community/social network sites (up 65%) - within context of more Total Online time (up 18% ) 2. Massive growth is largely a result of the Facebook explosion globally  – but not in all territories (eg Brazil) and some countries growing faster than others

3. Social networks now account for more of global online time than emails

4. Facebook (the report doesnt look at other social networks as comparison) is growing mostly outside of its initial niche ‘young audience’ – now the 35-49 year olds are fastest growth area and in last year Facebook globally added almost twice as many 50-64 yrs olds as under 18’s.

5. The 50+ age group are increasingly important in this sector (*TWRAmericas are conducting a study of idosos and social networks)

6. Though Facebook is continuing to grow  - but Orkut like MySpace remains stable. Factors behind the growth of facebook – design/broad appeal / activity focus / architecture / privacy / media coverage

7. Music is the point of difference between Facebook and Myspace in terms of motivation to use. Sadly there is no mention of smaller niche markets (TWRAmericas have been looking at this in Lima, Peru)

8. Perhaps the most interesting element of the report is that it highlights the need to better understand the move to mobile social networking (something else we're already looking at here in Brazil).  The UK has highest unique mobile internet audience at 22.7% - Brazil does not even register above 5% yet

Some UK / Brazil factors UK - Facebook - if the average month-on-month audience changes over the last six months were to continue; by mid-June 2009 there would be as many 35-49 year olds on Facebook as 18-34 year olds.

Brazil – member communities/social networks (Orkut principally) account for almost one in every 4 minutes online – though declining from last year by 6%

In the UK social networks now account for 1 in every 6 minutes of online time (up from 13 a year ago)

Brazil – Facebook reach is only 2% compared to 30% globally: (47% UK / 33% US) Finally - the report lloks at the issue of online advertising in a rather superficial way with a few rather obvious claims

- old advertising models no longer work in online environment- The more appealing a site is to advertisers – the less appealing it starts to become to members

- social networks promote brand conversations and content that are authentic, engage and give something to the consumer (in line with our Generation Free studies in the UK and Brazil)

as we said at the outset such reports tend to leave more gaps than they fill - which is no bad thing - here's some things that interest us...

Since social network users and usage is not homogenous how can brands better understand the differing behaviours amongst social network users?

What is it that creates micro communities of behaviour and especially how are some online communities interacting offline (see an interesting small film we made about Pet Society users in Buenos Aires)

What are the factors driving people across different social networks - migrations from Hi5 to Myspace and Facebook in Peru for example

Please add to this list ....