A report from Nielsen Online shows the total minutes spent on social networking sites has increased 83 percent year-over-year, while user time on social networking powerhouse Facebook increased its user minutes nearly 700 percent year-over-year, growing from 1.7 billion minutes in April 2008 to 13.9 billion in April 2009, making Facebook the top social networking site for the month.
Jon Gibs, Nielsen Online's vice president of online media and agency insights, said Facebook's rise has negatively impacted the user time spent on rival MySpace, which saw declines year-over-year. "Twitter has come on the scene in an explosive way perhaps changing the outlook for the entire space," he said. "The one thing that is clear about social networking is that regardless of how fast a site is growing or how big it is, it can quickly fall out of favor with consumers."
In April 2009, users spent a total of 13.8 billion minutes on Facebook, up from 1.7 billion total minutes in 2008. MySpace saw a 31 percent decline in growth, down to 4.9 billion total minutes from 7.2 billion minutes in 2008. Twitter posted the largest year-over-year percent growth at 3,712 percent, though its audience spent just 300 million minutes visiting the microblogging site in April 2009. In April 2008, that figure stood at a nascent 7.8 million minutes.
Despite Twitter's explosive growth, Gibs warns again that a rapid rise in popularity can become a distant memory if a similar, but better, competitor addresses the need of an ever-growing population of social networkers. "Remember Friendster? Remember when MySpace was an unbeatable force? Neither Facebook nor Twitter are immune," he said. "Consumers have shown that they are willing to pick up their networks and move them to another platform, seemingly at a moment's notice."
Case in point: An April report by Nielsen showed most Twitterers are quitters, with more than 60 percent of Twitter users failing to return the following month. By plotting the minimum retention rates for different Internet audience sizes, the company suggests a retention rate of 40 percent will limit a site's growth to about 10 percent reach.
Workplace professionals-oriented site LinkedIn also showed signs of growth, increasing its year-over-year minutes of time spent on-site by 69 percent to 204 million from 119 million in 2008. Blogger posted a 30 percent gain, up to 582 million minutes in April 2009 versus 448 million in April 2008.
One bright spot for MySpace came from Nielsen's video streaming and video viewing statistics. With 120.8 million video streams, MySpace.com was the No. 1 social networking destination when ranked by streams and total minutes spent viewing video. MySpace visitors spent 384 million minutes viewing video on the site, with an average of 38.8 minutes per viewer.
"So maybe the better question to ask is who does each site reach--not who is -winning'," Gibs said. "What audiences are they drawing and how are they building for the future to maintain the loyalty of their visitors, who to this point have shown little long-term loyalty to any specific platform?"