social mediaThis social networking thing is gonna be big, man. Really big. Bigger than email.

A confirmation of the absolute “big bang” expansion theory of social networks came from Nielsen Online today. Its “Global Faces and Networked Places” report shows that by the end of 2008, 66.8 percent of internet users across the globe accessed “member communities” last year, compared to 65.1 percent for email.

The most popular online activities remain search and Web portals (with
around 85 percent reach) and the websites of software manufacturers.
“Member Communities” now reach over 5 percentage points more of the
internet population than it did a year ago – a growth rate more than
twice that of any of the other four largest categories.

The study also
found that users spent 63 percent more time on member communities than
they did in the previous year. However, within member communities,
Facebook saw growth of 566 percent in time spent on it by users
worldwide. Facebook’s fastest growth demographic is older users – the
social network tacked on 12.4 million people between ages 35-49 in 2008
according to Nielsen.

But as with every social network, someone is going to be left out. In this case apparently advertising is going to waving at the velvet rope when it comes to reaching those Facebookers, LinkedIns, Twitters, and the rest. The report calls the advertising situation “challenging,” and says the “current level of advertising activity on social networks isn’t consummate with the size – and highly engaged levels – of the audience.”

“Members have a greater sense of ‘ownership’ around the personal content they provide and are less inclined to accept advertising around it,” the report states. “A well used analogy is that advertising on a social network is like gate-crashing a party.”

This advertising challenges are compounded by highly personal content supplied by the social network members.  As recently seen in the brushback Facebook members threw at its aborted change in TACs , personal data is a gold mine for the site owner, and a treasure to be protected by the site users. As the site becomes more attractive to advertisers it becomes less appealing to members
who see highly-targeted ads as invading privacy.

A Nielsen Online survey in Australia shows that the challenge could get more difficult. Down under consumers are actually growing less tolerant to advertising on social media. In December 2008, 38 percent of Australians online considered advertising on social networking sites to be an intrusion compared to 29 percent the year before.