Earlier this month, polling and research company Nielsen Wire published a new report that focused on some interesting data on what Americans are spending most of their time online. The conclusion that the study came up with is that over the past year, more people are spending up to a quarter of their time online on social networking sites and blogs – an increase of 15.8%. As you can see from the graph below, more time is being spent on dealing with social media and also with online games than with emails, instant messaging and web portals – most likely related to the previous “shiny objects” of the Internet age.

As I wrote in a previous post, more marketing is starting to take place in a more creative environment. Rather than just direct marketing, more engaging forms of marketing are being developed and implemented. People are forming a more global community by communicating with one another through social networks to share all sorts of information – whether it’s news, coupons, reviews or just random conversations, photos and videos. In essence, we’re now all about being entertained and the Internet has provided us this opportunity.

Nielsen Wire Study - What Americans Are Spending Online Doing

In fact, if you look at the complete Nielsen summary, 40% of all our online time has been spent on the following three activities: social networking, playing online games and even emailing. I suppose that it should be said that with social networking, it’s not surprising since more and more people are joining these sites daily – just like Facebook with its 500 million plus monthly users or the growing population of Twitter. And then there’s online games that have to be taken into consideration – surely this is also a very vague category because this most likely includes competitive games like Scrabble, Bejeweled, UNO, etc along with more social games like Farmville, Frontierville, Mafia Wars, etc.

So what does this all mean for businesses? This data will be very good at helping pinpoint where to prioritize your marketing dollars to reach your audience. Just take a look at the graph below compiled by Nielsen regarding how much time Americans spend monthly on various Internet sectors. In first place, obviously, is social networks. This isn’t a big surprise, but what might catch people off guard is the amount of time being spent – an estimated 906 million hours. What doesn’t surprise me is that it’s number one because there is more dynamic and flowing data being exchanged in social networks that people are always interested in. It’s a way to keep in touch with your friends, leave messages on message boards relating to popular subjects or industries and since that data isn’t subject to being updated on a set timeframe, more people are probably finding time to spend on these social networks in order to keep up-to-date on what’s taking place. I know for me, I’m spending more time on Twitter because I follow a lot of social media and technology influencers and newsmakers so it’s important that I stay on this service to always be kept abreast of any developments.

What kind of surprises me here is that not as much time per month is being spent online on search even though search marketing is still growing at a tremendous rate. According to the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO), it’s being predicted that more money is being increasingly spent on search marketing through 2010. But this is an interesting contradiction since Nielsen is saying that over the past year, not as much time was being spent on search – in fact, there was only a 1% increase in the amount of time Americans spend on search between June 2009 and 2010. In total, this study has estimated that the United States is averaging 138 million hours a month on search.

Nielsen Report on Number of Hours Americans Spend Online Monthly

While we’re all about social networking and playing games online, for businesses and personal usage, don’t discount email or instant messaging out at all. In fact, think about these two areas as analogous to public and private domains. Social media sites and online games have allowed us to communicate in short bursts publicly and with a massive audience without regards for who can see it or as long as they have an account on that particular site. Some people may even think that email is a dead art form, but rather, it’s still pretty popular and very useful as a means of getting your information across with as much detail as you want and to others in a much more private manner. So it makes sense that Nielsen reports that email and instant messaging hasn’t been pushed into obscurity yet. Businesses will still use emails for much of their operations and needs for many years to come. It’s not even realistic option for the next few years – just look at the telephone…we’re still using that to call businesses decades after it was invented and also after email was introduced. But with respect to the Internet, email is one of the heaviest activities online with about 8.3% of all monthly hours spent.

To put it in another way, take a look at the infographic below to see how our activity is spent in terms of time.

Nielsen Infographic Online Activity In Time

How has this information changed the way you are going to market your business?

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