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Four Lessons From Nielsen's New Social Media Report

By Sree Sreenivasan | September 14, 2011 5:06pm

Nielsen, the company that measures ratings for TV and online, has released its latest report on social media, and there are some interesting numbers. You can find the full report at "State of the Media: The Social Media Report," but here are some highlights, and some lessons for journalists.

Social networks and blogs continue to dominate Americans’ time online, now accounting for nearly a quarter of total time spent on the Internet. Not a big surprise, as the use of social media has continued to grow dramatically. The report says that while social media use is at 22.5 percent of time spent online, the next biggest uses are online games (9.8 percent) and email (7.6 percent).

News-related sites are only 2.6 percent in the report, which has struck some experts as disappointingly low. While I wish that number was much higher, I don't think it's as low as it seems. To say that Americans spend three times as much time on email as news seems about right to me. It also doesn't account for the fact that a lot of the items bouncing around on social media streams are from news sites of all kinds.

LESSON FOR JOURNALISTS: More proof that we need to capitalize on this interest in social media and make sure our links, videos, stories are shared on the networks. And it won't happen by accident — news sites need to have a specific strategy and process to have their links show up more often in social media. In addition to SEO (or search engine optimization), newsrooms should work on SMO, social media optimization, for all their platforms (some tips from Mashable here).

At more than 53 billion total minutes during May 2011, Americans spend more time on Facebook than they do on any other website. "Facebook has become synonymous not only with social media, but with Web use more generally," the report says. Here's proof, in the five biggest web brands: Facebook, with 53 billion minutes; Yahoo, 17.2 billion; Google, 12.5 billion; AOL network, 11.4 billion; MSN/Windows Live/Bing: 9.5 billion. By comparison, Twitter is at 565 million; and LinkedIn is at 325 million. But it's not just Americans who are obsessed with Facebook. A recent survey by London's Science Museum of 3,000 adults there ranked Facebook at #5 on things they couldn't live without — ahead of free healthcare from the National Health Service (#6) email (#8); flushing toilet (#9) and a mobile phone (#10). The first four places weren't without a technology connection: #1, sunshine; #2, Internet connection; #3, clean drinking water; #4, fridge.

LESSONS FOR JOURNALISTS: Facebook's gravitation pull means that we need to better understand its various algorithms so that it can bring more traffic and attention to news sites.

Tumblr is an emerging player in social media, nearly tripling its audience from a year ago. Tumblr, which is one of the easiest blogging tools, continues to grow, becoming the eighth largest site in the US (with 28 million blogs and 623 million minutes a month). In May, it crossed 5 billion posts, but by September, it had crossed 10 billion posts (there are about 37.5 million posts a day).

LESSON FOR JOURNALISTS: No need to jump on the Tumblr bandwagon if it doesn't make sense for you. First, be familiar with what the platform does, and figure out how, if at all, using it will be better than your existing services. Do you have the bandwidth for another platform?

As examples of recent Tumblr accounts by news organizations, see Time's two new launches. One is TimeLightBox.tumblr.com, "a shorter, more social version of our first-rate photo blog, LightBox. Because of Tumblr’s strong artistic user base and its natural visual appeal, LightBox will no doubt prove to be an effortless fit (and frontrunner) in the Tumblr community," wrote Time.com managing editor, Jim Frederick. The second is TimeMagazine.tumblr.com, which "aims to be a digital scrapbook of this institution’s vintage work, its indelible cultural influence and our own anecdotes on the work we do."

Nearly 40 percent of social media users access social media content from their mobile phone. The Nielsen report says 37 percent of users use mobile phones to access social media content, though the biggest use is still through computers, at 97 percent (these are overlapping percentages, of course; gaming consoles and iPads, come in next, at 3 percent).

LESSON FOR JOURNALISTS: It's been obvious for a couple of years now that mobile phones are going to be the primary way in which people interact with the Internet, so social media's importance within mobile is only going to increase. Making sure their content is optimized for social networking on mobile platforms is going to be especially important.

What did I miss? Post your comments below using your Facebook account or on Twitter @sree.
Every week, DNAinfo contributing editor Sree Sreenivasan shares his observations about the changing media landscape.