Facing facts about Facebook

Report: Social media more popular than e-mail; ad models must adapt

Social networking has overtaken e-mail as the most popular Internet activity, according to a new study released by Nielsen.

Active reach in what Nielsen defines as "member communities" exceeds e-mail participation, 67%-65%. What's more, the reach of social networking and blogging venues is growing at twice the rate of such other large drivers of Internet use as portals, e-mail and search.

Nielsen concluded that the shift to social activity online will have profound effects on marketers and publishers. For publishers, social networks are eating into time spent on other online activities. For advertisers, the phenomenon at this stage represents mostly unfulfilled promise for a deeper connection with consumers.

The rise of social media coincides with the decline of portals. Social networking appears to be snatching users' online time formerly spent on e-mail, traditionally a large draw to portals.

Nielsen found that two-thirds of the world's Internet users visited a social networking site in 2008. All told, social media accounts for nearly 10% of Internet time. Facebook is leading the pack worldwide with monthly visits by three of 10 Internet users in nine global markets.

For now, user growth at social sites is outpacing advertising increases, said Nielsen, parent company of The Hollywood Reporter and Adweek.

"As the online industry matures and the value of online real estate is increasingly measured by time spent rather than pages viewed, a significant shift in advertising revenue from 'traditional' online media towards social media could be realized — if the successful ad model can be found," the report said.

Brian Morrissey is digital editor at Adweek.