'Real-time' radically changes social media


Tom Smith, founder of Trendstream, the company behind the GlobalWebIndex, talks us through their latest annual report, Welcome to Social Entertainment.

Since we launched the GlobalWebIndex research project in September 2009, we’ve witnessed massive shifts in the way that consumers utilise social platforms, towards “Real-time” involvement. This is orientating people to interacting with live events and professional content and away from publishing their own content and opinions. In tandem while the very nature of what we think of as the internet has evolved from the browser to a number of packaged internet platforms, which expands the reach of social media and reinforces the shift to “real-time”. As we move into 2011, this will transform the impact of social media and the opportunities for brands.

“Real-time” social eclipsing blogs and forums
Social media has reached mass maturity, with up to 90% of consumers active in at least one form of social media in certain markets. Today it’s no longer about massive growth but a shift of already active social consumers to ‘real-time’ technologies, such as status updates or tweets. Overall, monthly usage of social networking grew by 20% between July 2009 and September 2010, reaching 46% of global internet users. Micro-blogging, as led by Twitter, increased 21%, to 12% of global internet users. There is also a significant increase in uploading video online, rising 16%, to 25% of web users on a monthly basis.

This means that ongoing real-time contribution through status updates, tweets or link sharing is increasingly defining most people’s social contribution. Already over 10% of global internet users post a status update on a social network more than once a day, while 5% contribute a micro-blog update at least daily. In younger age groups, this rises to 17% of web users.

This is in stark contrast to the long form: text-based forms of social contribution that defined early social media adoption. The percentage of internet users writing a blog on a monthly basis fell by 4%, to 25% of web users, while contribution to forums or message boards fell by 11%, to 24% of web users.

Changing the forms of contribution
This major shift to “real-time” contribution has big impacts on how users create, publish and share. “Real-Time” focuses on interacting, commenting or building live community around live events. It also focuses users to share other peoples content, rather than create their own. This is clearly shown in the research, with the fastest growing form of Twitter behaviour, being to share news stories, growing 17%, while sharing personal photos fell 5%.

This is great news for professional media and big brands. They have the means to create the great content and associate or create the big live events that work so well in the “real-time” environment.

The open browser-based web is being surpassed by the packaged internet
The internet is being re-engineered, with mobile apps, internet connected TVs, tablets, e-readers, pc apps, gaming and video platforms leading the way. These packaged platforms are re-engineering the internet and destroying the notion of the internet being a singular entity.

These trends will revolutionise our view of the internet. In particular, the packaged internet will transform the way we get online, the content we consume, and the ways we can create, share and communicate. Going forward five years it is clear that many people’s internet experience will not be through a browser, but through some form of packaged platform.

This will re-enforce the rise of “real-time” social, as consumer opportunities to create and publish rich content will be limited. However the opportunity to Tweet or share with your social network will be standard. Imagine logging into your Sky TV or cable with Twitter, communicating with fellow fans around major TV events. It will be standard to view programming recommended by your social network.

The consumer will be the distributor, and it will extend the impact of social media outside of the browser. As the old models of delivering media, such as cable TV, satellite, radio or newspaper become surpassed by internet connected devices, social media will reach into all areas of the media.

The Data Source
The GlobalWebIndex is a tool that enables users to understand their target audience, business category, and market impact of internet enabled platforms. The tool is populated with the most detailed set of research data on social media, internet behaviour and attitudes ever compiled. The data is collected by Lightspeed Research, a leading provider of global online research panels and online surveys. The first year was taken from 3 waves of data from July 2009, January 2010, and September 2010, covering 51,000 web users in 18 countries. In 2011 this will expand to 3 sets, delivered in February 2011, June 2011, and October 2011, covering 26 key online markets and 90,000 consumers.