For future services to the bottom line, arise, Sir Social Media

Love it or loathe it, social media has become an extremely powerful communications force in recent times. And, according to Nielsen’s 2010 Social Media Report, its marketing star continues to rise in New Zealand as users start interacting more with brands online and rely on their social networks to guide purchasing decisions.

The report, which tracked Internet users’ social media usage, found the most popular social media activity was content sharing (of course, there seems to be a fine line between sharing and showing off in this space). 81 percent of New Zealand Internet users sent or shared a photo in the past year, 75 percent posted photos online and 73 percent sent or shared a link.

The biggest increases in social media usage were reading wikis (up 26 percent), updating and creating social networking profiles (up 17 points and 16 points respectively) and looking at others’ social networking profiles (up 16 points).

42 percent of online New Zealanders are interacting with companies via social networking sites and social media is also playing an important role in product and service purchasing decisions – 44 percent have published opinions specifically about products, services and brands while 73 percent have read other consumers’ product opinions online. And that trend looks set to continue: of those who haven’t read consumer reviews and discussions, almost two thirds intend to do so this year (check out this story for some hints and tips about how to tap into the riches Facebook affords).

“The opportunities for brands and companies to tap into the social media phenomenon are really just beginning to emerge and to date we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg,” says Tony Boyte, research director for Nielsen’s online business. “Incredibly, nearly two million online New Zealanders (1.92 million) have looked to their fellow internet users for opinions and information about products, services and brands, and New Zealanders’ engagement with online word of mouth communication is going to increase in coming years as social media plays an increasingly important role in consumer decision making.”

In contrast to the 2007 report, Facebook has overtaken Bebo and now dominates the New Zealand online social networking space, with 82 percent of internet users claiming to have visited Facebook.

70 percent have a Facebook profile and 79 percent of social networkers name Facebook as their main platform, up from just 19 percent in 2007. Of those who say Facebook is their main profile, 54 percent visit the site at least daily, and 39 percent are on the site for at least four hours a week.

Micro-blogging site Twitter has also started to gain traction in New Zealand in the past year, off the back of much global and local hype: 27 percent have visited the site and 11 percent have created a Twitter profile.

Of Twitter’s user base in New Zealand, 44 percent say they have followed companies or brands via the site. And, not surprisingly, New Zealand companies are also jumping on the Twitter bandwagon, with 30 percent of marketers saying that their company has established a presence on Twitter (according to this survey commissioned late last year by the CAANZ Digital Leadership Group).

“For now, the battle of the social networking sites has clearly been won, and Facebook has proven its dominance by providing valuable and compelling content that has more than half of their users returning every day,” says Boyte. “These days, any New Zealander who cares to participate in online social networking has almost certainly been on Facebook. But looking to the future, who knows what evolution could take place in this space, and it’s certainly possible that Facebook could be usurped by another social networking star.”

Another interesting trend is the rise in Smartphone ownership and the lowering of mobile data charges, which has seen mobile social networking gain traction in the past three years. Nielsen’s report found that nearly one quarter of social networkers (24 percent) participated in mobile social networking in the past year, with younger consumers the most likely to participate in social networking via mobile (64 percent of mobile social networkers are under 35 years of age).

Facebook is the most popular social networking site accessed via a mobile (84 percent of mobile social networkers have visited Facebook), followed by Bebo (23 percent), YouTube (15 percent) and Twitter (10 percent). However, Twitter sees the most frequent mobile usage, with 16 percent of its mobile users visiting the site daily. In comparison, Facebook saw 13 percent of its mobile users visit the site daily, while seven percent of Bebo users were making daily visits.

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