Netpop: Consumer Use of Social Networks Exploding

Are you finding you are spending more time after work hours on the Internet instead of seeking other forms of entertainment?   More time on the Internet instead of watching TV or renting a DVD? 

In my household, we are all spending more time online and less time watching TV shows and DVDs.  Less time playing board games and more time playing online games.  My two teenage daughters are texting, ‘Facebooking’ (is facebooking a verb?), and visiting all other sorts of social sites.  I have dramtically increased my time with Linked In, Facebook ,and Twitter more the last 6 months.  My wife has not made the transition to social media yet, but I do see her on her laptop using email to communicate, instead of watching her favorite TV shows.  As our family spends more and more time on the computer, I am thinking more and more about stripping the digital TV cable services down to bare minimum.  We can always access TV shows from sites like NBC direct, Hulu, and YouTube.

Curious, I did some research to find if there were any research studies on this. 

Netpop Research recently released a study, "Netpop | Connect: Media Shifts to Social", that shows that the amount of time U.S. broadband users spend online has risen significantly in the last couple of years.   Netpop's study found that time spent social networking has grown 93% since 2006.  This rise means that around a third (32%) of U.S. Internet users' online time is spent communicating. 

So what are consumers spending less time doing if they're tied up in virtual conversation?  According to the study, communication has increased at the cost of time spent on traditional forms of online entertainment, which has fallen 29% over the last two years to just 19% of total online time.  

In an another report “Connect:  Social Networkers 2008” from Netpop published in late 2008, findings indicated that 76% of all U.S. broadband users actively contribute to social media sites in one form or another, and 29% contribute regularly to social

It seems the definition of entertainment online is changing from an "entertain me" standpoint to include hanging out with friends online and sharing opinions and information – socializing.    You could surmise that the boundaries between entertainment and communication are blurring.

This is a disruptive force to those companies that relied totally on traditional broadcast advertising.  Companies must now rethink how they reach consumers.   They must commit more of their online "space" to user-generated content and social media that enables direct communication with consumers.   If companies don't provide these spaces, they will find it harder to track and engage consumers because, suggests Netpop, they will simply go off and create their own elsewhere.  

So companies must figure out how to engage with users on social media sites, give consumers/customers a voice, spend time learning how to listen and learn on these sites, and figure out how to enable their 'fans' to influence others.  With over 40 million Americans now contributing to social networking sites in one form or another, this is clearly a lucrative market for advertisers, but also one that is very different from more traditional online and offline media sources. 

The other question in all of this is how is this transition of family time to social sites impacting the family structure?  How will the families of the future bond if they are all off on their computers socializing with others, instead socializing with family members (playing board games, watching TV shows, etc.).  The burden will be on parents to force family time into everyone’s schedule….and it will be a tough task at that!!

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