Madison Avenue Wants to Join Your Conversation

manoman.jpgSocial networking has overtaken email as the most popular form of online activity, according to a new study released by Neilsen.

Active participation in what Nielsen defines as “member communities” now exceeds e-mail participation by 67 percent to 65 percent. More significantly, in the view of online advertisers, the reach of social networking and blogging venues is growing at twice the rate of other large drivers of Internet use such as portals, e-mail and search.

What do these trends mean for the future of online advertising and the Internet as a communication tool?

The corresponding fall-off in in portal traffic has advertisers and marketers scratching their heads at ways to come up with a new model to reach consumers through venues where success is increasingly defined by time spent rather than pages viewed.

Nielsen found that two-thirds of the world’s Internet users visited a social networking site in 2008. Social media now accounts for almost 10 percent of Internet time, with Facebook leading the pack worldwide. The five year-old social networking vehicle received monthly visits by 3 out of 10 Internet users in nine global markets, according to the Neilsen study.

Growth in social media is not confined to the U.S.– Nielsen charted comparable or higher growth for Australia, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom.

Advertisers now see their challenge as one of finding a way to move from an interruptive role to one of joining in conversations.

Long-time internet users understand, however, that the trend identified by Neilsen may not be such a new phenomenon. The Internet was built on the foundation of interactions between people using message boards and bbs systems, gathering in chatrooms and walled communities such as the Well and AOL.

Social communities such as Facebook and LinkedIn have helped to popularize the idea of networked communication and obviously their growing memberships represent large gatherings of people advertisers would love to influence with their messaging.

The question remains how advertisers can comport themselves as members of a community. How will they target messaging within such large and diverse communities in ways that members will find add value rather than irritation to the experience of participating in them?