Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What if you gave a Revolution and Nobody Came? ... Social Networking Revolution (that Nobody Noticed)

By Ned Barnett, APR
Barnett Marketing Communications

There's been a revolution going on in social media - right under our very eyes - but to see it, you have to go to www.compete.com and plug in “myspace.com” and “facebook.com” - then hit the button for analytics. Then choose the Unique Visitors under the Visitors tab (http://siteanalytics.compete.com/myspace.com+facebook.com/?metric=uv) and Average Stay (monthly) under the Engagement tab (http://siteanalytics.compete.com/myspace.com+facebook.com/?metric=uv). You’ll see the charts that this blog is based on.

Why should you do this? It’s simple. There has been a dramatic – almost cosmic – shift in market share and online activity between these two leading social media sites – the most dramatic part of this trend occurred over the summer (I began tracking this in September, but wanted to wait until now to see if it held up).

The market leader in unique visitors remains MySpace – but they have lost 14.4 percent of their unique visitors compared to same month last year; at the same time, Facebook gained on them to the tune of 69.5 percent growth. At the start of the 12-month period ending in November, MySpace fell from around 66 million unique visitors to around 56.5 million UVs (that’s the 14,4 percent loss), while Facebook grow from just shy of 30 million UVs up to 49.5 million UVs (that’s the 69.5 percent growth).

However, as impressive as that is, I don’t think it’s the biggest news here. For that, look at the second chart.

While Facebook went up in average length of stay by 12.5 percent over the past 12 months, MySpace nose-dived – their average length of stay fell 59 percent – almost all of it in the summer months (from June to August). I thought MySpace might have rebounded after the summer ended, but after the school year started up in September, the MySpace length-of-stay flatlined. At the start of the year (November 07) the average visit to MySpace ran for a fraction under 25 minutes per session; in November ’08, it was down to 9:59 minutes. That’s HUGE. Facebook started the year at about 14:45 and ended the year at 15:56 – a small growth, but dramatic when compared to its leading competitor.

What does this mean?

To me, it says two things about MySpace, neither one of which is likely to make Rupert Murdoch happy. But it then says one more thing, not quite so obvious, that’s even worse news.

First, and obviously, fewer people are using MySpace – never a good thing, but when you’ve still got 56.5 million unique visitors per month, it’s not the end of the world. HOWEVER, their average length-of-stay at MySpace has crashed, and not recovered.

The worse news – by far – is what the reduction in length of stay means. In two months, a huge number of people spontaneously switched their social networking allegiance from MySpace to somewhere else. Not Facebook – it didn’t spike upwards as MySpace fell – but somewhere. Digging deeper, I believe this means that people who once “lived” on MySpace – who did the bulk of their social networking there – are now just dropping in to check their mail, before going somewhere else to network. Literally overnight, MySpace went from being the predominant social media site to a legacy site – like an old land-line phone that you keep in service, just to check for occasional messages, while you do all your phoning on your new I-Phone or Blackberry Flip. In two months, MySpace went from where it’s happening to has-been.

Obviously, the folks who own and run MySpace know this has happened. But just as obviously, they haven’t figured out how to reverse the trend. Three months after bottoming out, MySpace is still flat-lined at under 10 minutes per visit.

In short, a revolution has taken place. The King is dead (but doesn’t appear to know that yet). Who will be crowned the next king? Maybe Facebook, but probably not – it’s growth is, at best, unspectacular. Somewhere out there is the new King of Social Networking sites, waiting to don the crown he’s already won.

From a marketing and promotion point of view, this is incredible (and incredibly bad, at least for MySpace). Just how it’s incredible remains to be seen.