You cannot ignore social networking

Social networkers are going to be more important to your business than you ever thought possible. Data from several different sources is revealing just how important social networking has become online – and how the search engines are beginning to suffer as a result.

Let’s look at some basic data to begin with. According to All About Market Research, at the end of 2008 there were 1.57 billion people online and a year prior to that there were 1.31 billion – a 19.85% increase during the year.

Social Networking StatisticsAs always, these additional online users all want different things. Some go to specific web sites, others use it merely for email, while others love social networking or searching for information. According to eMarketer, back in 2007, search engines were used by 84% of people online. In 2008, that figure rose to 85.9%. That’s a year-on-year rise of 1.9% – around an extra 5m people using search, compared with the previous year. But take a look at the other statistics in the table (right). There is even less interest in general web sites and those produced by software manufacturers. However, email has increased its penetration by 2.6% (almost half as much again as search engines) – and social networking sites have increased their “reach” by 5.4% (almost a three-fold rise compared with search engines). Indeed, according to these figures, social networks reached a further 14m people during the year.

Even though, overall, search still attracts the greatest number of people online, its growth is slowing. To some extent, when you are so far ahead that’s inevitable. Five out of six people use search engines, so gaining that extra one person is going to be tougher than social networks who still have four out of ten people to attract.

But take another look at the statistics; they tell another story. The lowest growth in web site reach is looking at ordinary web sites – especially those from manufacturers. What more and more people want to be able to do online is keep in touch with other people – hence the dramatically increasing popularity of email and social networks, in comparison.

If your business has an “ordinary” web site – a typical brochure or static site, these statistics should be a warning bell to you. The data suggest that socialising is becoming much more important to people very quickly online. Your web site needs even basic social features, such as commenting on articles, if it is to be seen as providing the kind of web site that people are looking for. True enough, “ordinary” web sites are still immensely popular, but the three-fold increase in reach for social networking sites compared with standard web sites shows an increasing appetite for all things social. Ignore that at your peril.

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