In the battle for our digital attention, social media appears to be winning. According to Nielsen, social networking is now the most popular activity online.

In contrast, email now occupies less of our time online than gaming. But rumors of its demise are greatly exaggerated. The email is still alive and kicking.

According to Nielsen, Americans spend almost a quarter of their time online on social networks and blogs. That's up from 15.8% a just a year ago (a 43% increase).

Meanwhile, email dropped two spots in time consumption online. In June of last year, email was the most popular online activity, occupying 11.5% of people's time online. Now it has been surpassed by both social media and online games, which take a 10.2% share of people's time, compared to the 8.3% that people spend on email these days.

Is email losing its value for consumers? Not exactly. As Nielsen puts it:

"Despite some predictions otherwise, the rise of social networking hasn’t pushed email and instant messaging into obscurity just yet. Although both saw double-digit declines in share of time, email remains as the third heaviest activity online (8.3 percent share of time) while instant messaging is fifth, accounting for four percent of Americans online time."

Can we expect people to replace email with social media? Not likely. Email may become more of a utility tool than the time waster it once was. Extended messaging and interaction between friends and coworkers now seems to happen in other venues. But email and instant messaging are not disappearing. Email especially remains a big part of the top trifecta of time consuming activities online.

According to Nielsen analyst Dave Martin:

“Despite the almost unlimited nature of what you can do on the web, 40% of U.S. online time is spent on just three activities – social networking, playing games and emailing leaving a whole lot of other sectors fighting for a declining share of the online pie."

Other than gaming and social networking, videos/movies was the only other categories that saw a significant rise in share of U.S. activity online. The other interesting sector to keep an eye on will be surfing at the major portals.

Both AOL and Yahoo are in the midst of a major content push to retain eyeballs on their sites. But the decline in viewership has been steep. A year ago, people spent 5.5% of their time online on portals. Now they spend 4.4%. That's a 19% decline.

But portals are still the fourth most popular activity online. And they're the second most popular activity on the mobile internet, with an 11.6% share of time. It will be interesting to see if any of the investment that the portals have been making pays off next year. Or if they start focusing more clearly on mobile going forward.

Meghan Keane

Published 2 August, 2010 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

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Comments (11)

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This post shows just how dangerous a little knowledge can be.

You've added 2 and 2 together and got 56.

Comparing time spent on social media against time spent reading emails is just plain dumb.

Of course people are going to spend more time on social media. It is, after all, suppossed to be social.

That's not about how much time is spent (wasted) on social media.

The point is how effective are these mediumsas a marketing tactic?

A recent report from Crossview discovered that both email and snail mail are actually four and two times better respectively as a marketing tactic than social media.

In other words people use social media to be social, and much prefer to have any marketing and branding communciations via email.

about 8 years ago

Neil Warren

Neil Warren, Publisher at 2N Media Ltd -

Indeed Mark.

Not to mention that, sooner or later, people are also going to work out that there is a difference between "marketing" and "selling". The former normally requires the recipient to spend time (or not) looking at a pre-packed message of some kind (and then responding or ignoring) whereas the latter normally infers becoming involved in some part of a buying cycle, and conducting Q&A activities or some other two-way negotiation/exploration activities.

We see "selling" activities probably mostly confined to email at the moment (assuming they have actually managed to wean themselves off just phone & car), whereas buyers are most definitely out and about on the networks ("social media" also being places like Econsultancy here, LinkedIn and so on with a very heavy business and B2B bias), so the sellers are shifting to have the conversations where the buyers prefer to conduct those.

Either way, B2B is obviously much lower volume in the overall traffic stats than B2C, but wherever a buying/selling dialogue takes place, it'll clearly absorb much more of the participants' time than skipping past a bit of email "spam" or avoiding a blatant (clumsy) social media "plug". As will the writing and networking of a well crafted (selling/communicating/reacting) blog, of course.

about 8 years ago



Social media is ruling the world now. Almost all business and all people are engaged in social media some way on the other. Facebook and twitter are growing to be more popular than even the search engines and all these show the improvement of social media sites. Nice sharing of helpful statistics and interesting content. Keep posting..

about 8 years ago

Trevor Munday

Trevor Munday, Managing Director at NewZapp Email Marketing

I couldn’t agree more with Mark. Comparing time spent on email with time spent on social media shows some people don’t understand what they’re dealing with.

Social media is largely about spending time, being social, indulging in small talk … and that’s fine. Email is far more business-like and the fact that it takes up less of our working day is because it is more efficient.

Or, to look at it another way, if email became less efficient it could take up more of our time as social media does – but I’m sure you wouldn’t report that email was “winning the battle for our digital attention”, would you?

Amazingly, people still see this as a competition in black and white terms with only one winner but they couldn’t be further from the truth. Social media is one of the best things that has happened to email marketing because by integrating the two you can create an even more powerful marketing tool than either on its own.

My company, newzapp, is actively helping our customers to integrate social media with their email marketing because we see it as a golden opportunity to show off how powerful our software is.

BTW this post took me 6 minutes to write and by the time I’ve posted links on our Facebook page and tweeted it to our followers it’ll be nearer twice that, or 1min 30 secs on your pie chart, which I did like.

about 8 years ago

Meghan Keane

Meghan Keane, US Editor at Econsultancy

Mark, you say, "Of course people are going to spend more time on social media." But that wasn't the case until recently. It's important to examine the marketing effectiveness of different media (we did that just recently in our How We Shop in 2010 report: But it's also important to pay attention to where people are spending their time, which is what Nielsen's research focused on.

about 8 years ago

Neil Warren

Neil Warren, Publisher at 2N Media Ltd -

Any idea what they're actually measuring in terms of "time spent on email" though Meghan?

I mean I could/have spent weeks building all sorts of stuff that I might want to link/attach to an "email" - but might only spend a minute or two actually pulling up a bit of stationery/template and then sending it in Outlook.

And if we compare that to "being on the phone", I mean both Outlook and the phone are both there, and "open" 10 hours a day. It just depends which one "rings" or "beeps" as to which I pay attention to. Ditto then whether the "beep" means I'm replying directly to an email, or coming in here for 5 minutes to write this.

about 8 years ago


Andrew Bonar

I agree with the previous comments. The "Digital Attention" Metric can be extremely hard to define. However I cannot see anyone offering any alternative methods for calculating this metric other than of course based on the time spent on email.

I also wonder about the methodology used in identifying time spent on email. Does preparation time count? Or is it only when your eyeball is on the email interface (I suspect this is the case).

In regards to social networks much like others I too find that I am spending an increasing amount of time on the social networks. However I find an awful lot of that interaction on social networks is driven by email.. ie the visit to LinkedIn when I am told there is a post by email, or the confirmaton of friend request on Facebook, alterted to me again by email.

I think it needs to be seen as less of a battelfield and the convergence of the technologies, email, mobile & social is something that should be embraced by the digital marketer.

about 8 years ago

Neil Warren

Neil Warren, Publisher at 2N Media Ltd -

Those are exactly the examples Gents.

We use the LinkedIn Outlook Social Connector (free download) which has also has a free – wider social networks - parallel in Xobni (Inbox turned on its head). And they too both also mean that “email” has sufficiently blurred with “inmail” and “other” digital communications (that I and all my contacts get up to) to make it increasingly pointless to try and separate the two.

But neither of which detract from such time-consuming issues as “reading” (I mostly do online, but am also nearly finished the 500-page blockbuster “The World is Flat” by Thomas L Friedman – also “discussing” all these issues globally) not to mention “writing” (I just did this bit in Word, as I normally do). So “where” did I spend the last 15 minutes doing “what”, having started with an “email” telling me that “A reply has been posted to the blog”? And anyway, I couldn’t possibly have ended up here, saying/doing this, unless I had spent the last 5 years doing all of that.

We’re also getting into webinars “big time” too, by the way – and I’m not sure that that even has a “category” up there, does it? But that comment also reminds me that we are probably mostly looking, in the piece up there (Meghan?), at what the “C” component of B2C is doing, rather than either of the “B” parties who make up B2B – where the Buyersphere 2010 report showed the buyers spending 25 hours of their activity online, as opposed to 12 hours offline, per month – and not much of that “playing games”. ;-)

Best regards - Neil

about 8 years ago


Jay Chambers

Only 5 minutes spent reading email?!

I wish. For me this would easily be 15-20 minutes.


almost 8 years ago

Neil Warren

Neil Warren, Publisher at 2N Media Ltd -

Only 5 actually writing (as in hitting the keypad) Jay.

The combined total reading activities, online and off, that fuel the knowledge, combine to make decades worth of "expertise" in whatever it is we have expertise in.

As "time spent communicating", for sales people, it'd need to be compared to all those years spent on voicemail, or in traffic jams!  ;-)

almost 8 years ago

Naval Kumar

Naval Kumar, Founder & CEO - ABSEM Limited at

No doubt Social Media is huge and it is going going to get bigger. Recently, through our Search Marketing News site we have published couple of pieces putting together how Bing, Facebook, and the now lacking Google (for Organic) are causing a massive stir in the industry and how this might actually effect the way Social Media Marketing is conceived and SEO is conducted.

over 7 years ago

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