US online consumers who use social networking services (SNS) such as MySpace and FaceBook are less receptive to SNS ads overall, click less on SNS ads (57%) than they do on other forms of web advertising (79%), and make fewer purchases as a result, according to a study from IDC.
The research reveals that social network users use SNS often and for long periods of time during each visit. More than three quarters of SNS users visit at least once a week, and no less than 57% visit at least once a day. During each session, 61% of SNS users spend at least 30 minutes on the respective site or stay logged in permanently, and 38% spend at least one full hour per session (or stayed logged in).
However, this intense engagement with SNS does not translate well into advertising engagement because viewing ads is not one of consumers’ primary motivations for visiting SNS, the study found.
According to IDC, there are four major reasons why consumers use SNS:
- To connect and communicate: The top reason cited for using SNS was to keep in touch with people they know (72% of SNS users) and with people they know but have lost track of and want to find again (49%). A minority of respondents reported they used SNS to find like-minded people they do not yet know (26%). Sharing photos and videos is a major tool to support one’s social fabric (48%).
- In response to peer-pressure: “Because my contacts use it” is the #2 reason why US consumers use SNS (56%). Peer behavior is a slightly more important motivation for men than women to use SNS.
- For entertainment: 38% of respondents said they visited SNS because they wanted to entertain themselves with content other users had uploaded. SNS-based gaming is an attraction for 12% of users. Men are more likely than women to be entertained by the content other people post and to play online games with contacts.
- For work-related purposes: SNS destinations such as LinkedIn, Plaxo, or Facebook have not made a lot of inroads for work-related purposes so far. Only 7% of SNS users report using it to hunt for a job, only 5% use it to support themselves in their jobs, and 2% use it to fill jobs. However, this only means that a majority of users do not use standalone SNS for job-related purposes; it does not mean that users do not use social networking software or applications in their jobs.
Because the primary motive for using SNS is communicating with others, advertising is not as effective on SNS, IDC said.
“The thinking has been that the popularity of SNS will attract a big audience and generate a lot of traffic, which in turn will produce enormous amounts of user-generated content (UGC) and therefore advertising inventory – any expenses for editorial staff or content distribution deals,” said Karsten Weide, program director, Digital Marketplace: Media and Advertising. “All of the above has proven true – except that almost invariably, SNS have had a hard time selling this inventory.”
Additional report findings about SNS:
- SNS now reach 54% of the US online audience, up from 43% less than a year ago. This reach is equivalent to 44% of the overall US population.
- Though SNS penetration among 13-34 year-olds is nearly universal, SNS now also reach older, better-educated users with higher annual household incomes.
- SNS usage is more frequent among Asian-American and Latino users, but somewhat less likely among White users.
- More female survey respondents (66%) rated SNS as “useful” than male respondents (57%), but the degree of perceived SNS usefulness declines with age.
- Major services such as MySpace (33%) and Facebook (26%) offer as much reach as tier-2 mainstream services such as MSN (27%) or AOL (21%).
- Consumers tolerate advertising on SNS no less than they tolerate the best-tolerated forms of online advertising, though advertising is less effective overall.
- The share of users who never clicked on an ad in the past year is only half as big for online users in general than for SNS users (21.1% vs. 42.7%).
- Leveraging information on users’ contacts on SNS for ad targeting (to increase ad effectiveness) is not an option for advertisers because only 3% of all US online users would consider allowing publishers to do so.
In the futue, IDC expects that lower-than-average ad effectiveness on SNS will continue to contribute to slow ad sales unless publishers get users to do something beyond just communicating with others. If the major services succeed in doing so, they will become more like portals, such as Yahoo or MSN, and they will come closer to the audience reach of the top services.
About the survey: The recently released IDC report, “US Consumer Online Attitudes Survey Results Part III,” examines SNS audience reach compared with mainstream services, such as Google and Yahoo, the demographics of SNS users, and consumer tolerance for SNS advertising compared to online advertising in general. Data was collected from June 19-26, 2008 using a structured online questionnaire. Respondents were recruited by email invitations that were sent to members of e-Reward’s consumer panel. Results are based on the responses of a sample of 3,000 U.S. residents age 13+ who use the internet at least once a month, including quotas by gender, age group, ethnicity, region, and income (reflecting US Census data). Respondents who completed the survey qualified for an incentive.