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Mobile increasingly important for social networks: Nielsen

Mobile is playing an increasingly important role in social networking, according to Nielsen.

Nielsen Online found that British mobile Web users have the greatest propensity to visit a social network through their handset, with 23 percent -- 2 million people -- doing so, compared to 19 percent -- 10.6 million people -- in the United States. These numbers are a big increase over last year -- up 249 percent in Britain and 156 percent in the U.S.

"Mobile plays a key role in helping social networks monetize their spaces, something they've come a long way on but still have considerable room for growth," said Nic Covey, Chicago-based director of insights for Nielsen. "Our research shows that mobile social networkers rely on their mobile access primarily to exchange messages and communicate via their network.

"Since social networks may have a difficult time monetizing the messaging aspects of their medium, this tendency suggests an opportunity for mobile to play a key role in the functional, if less monetizable, aspects of social networking while the extending the use of PC access to more monetizable aspects of the platform, such as content," he said.

"That said, there should still be keen opportunities for targeted mobile advertising through social networking, just to a far lesser extent."

Social networks and member communities now account for one out of every 10 minutes spent online, according to Nielsen.

"This underscores the importance of getting the social networking advertising model right," Mr. Covey said. "Though naysayers believe consumer reluctance is too grave -- fueled by purported privacy concerns or simple hesitancy to allow brands into a seemingly private space -- I think the data paint a far more optimistic picture.

"In some ways, for all of the time we've spent teaching brands to look at social networks as sacred ground to be tread delicately upon, I wonder whether we should instead view social networks in the online and mobile role they play today: as a first point of entry gateway to the broader online experience," he said.

"In some ways they are just portals -- communications-heavy portals where functionality and navigation reign supreme, but the opportunity for advertising, and in this case targeted advertising, is nonetheless ripe."

For mobile marketers in particular, social networking offers a nice bridge between content and communication.

"One challenge of the mobile marketing industry has been to consider how this platform, primarily a personal communications vehicle, can take on the role of content and advertising in the consumer experience," Mr. Covey said.

"Social networks connect the consumer need for communication with a broader content universe and should help mobile marketers to connect with consumers on their phone in a way that seems to the consumers like a logical extension of the mobile device's primary purpose," he said.

Convergence of online, mobile social networks
Now visited by over two-thirds -- 67 percent -- of the global online population, "Member Communities," which include both social networks and blogs, have become the fourth-most-popular online category -- ahead of personal email.

Social networking is growing twice as fast as any of the other four largest sectors -- search, portals, PC software and email -- according to The Nielsen Company's "Global Faces and Networked Places," a report revealing the new global footprint of social networking.

The channel has become a fundamental part of the global online experience and continues to make inroads into the mobile channel.

Social networking will continue to alter not just the global online and mobile landscapes, but the consumer experience as a whole.

According to the Nielsen report, Facebook -- the world's most popular social network -- is visited monthly by three in every 10 people online across the nine markets in which Nielsen tracks social networking use.

Worldwide, the total amount of time spent on Facebook increased by 566 percent between December 2007 and December 2008.

Orkut in Brazil has the largest domestic online reach -- 70 percent -- of any social network in these markets.

The report provides insights into the changing size and audience composition of the global social networking audience and the increasing share of Internet time for which it accounts.

The report also analyzes how the major players are faring and what advertisers and publishers can do to take advantage of the social network phenomenon.

Other key findings include the fact that, worldwide, one in every 11 minutes online is accounted for by social network and blogging sites.

The study also found that the social networking and blogging audience is becoming more diverse in terms of age. Last year, the biggest increase in visitors to "Member Community" Web sites worldwide came from the 35-49 year old age group, with an increase of 11.3 million.

Social networking isn't just growing rapidly, it's evolving, both in terms of a broader audience and compelling new functionality.

Among the markets Nielsen measured, penetration of visits to social networks and blogs was highest in Brazil, where 80 percent of the online audience visits such sites.

The share of overall Internet time for which social networks and blogs account is also highest in Brazil, where nearly one in four -- 23 percent -- of minutes spent online is spent on these sites.

Germany saw the greatest increase in penetration of social networks and blogs across 2008, from 39 percent of the online audience in December 2007 to 51 percent in December 2008, a relative growth of 39 percent.

Mobile Marketer readers can find more insights from the study on Nielsen's blog and download the full paper for free at http://en-us.nielsen.com/main/insights/reports.

"As social networks become have become staples of the consumer media experience, the need for ubiquitous access has been compounded," Mr. Covey said. "Already millions of consumers are relying on their phones to maintain access to their networks while on the go.

"The role of mobile in social networking will only strengthen as location-based features and real-time information become an even more ingrained part of the social networking experience," he said.