The major challenge for MySpace, Facebook and every other social network: Figuring out how to turn their enormous online audiences into dollars. But they may have another problem: Figuring out how to keep their enormous audiences.
comScore has provided BusinessWeek’s Spencer Ante with user engagement numbers — time spent on each site, per month, per visitor — for a slew of social networks over the past year. The data looks particularly grim for News Corp.’s MySpace, which saw time spent on the site drop 24% from December 2006 to December 2007. But Spencer notes that all the social nets are either dropping or slowing.
It seems to be an industry-wide issue. The total audience of U.S. social networks seems to be stuck at a low-to-mid-single digit growth rate, while the engagement metrics are falling for just about everyone. Time spent on Bebo.com has been sliced in half over the last four months, while Friendster’s time spent has plummeted nearly 75% in the same time period. Overall, minutes spent per site fell 5% in December 2007 compared to the year-ago period.
Even Web darling Facebook can’t buck the entire trend. The good news for Zuckerberg & Co. is that the company continues to grow its U.S. audience. In December, Facebook claimed abut 35 million visitors, almost double its year-ago audience of 19 million. The bad news is that Facebook’s engagement is down sequentially, and only up 13% year-over year.
We’ll save the social nets the trouble of generating positive spin on these numbers and provide it ourselves: You don’t want to make too much of any single metric, and you can find good reasons for any particular site’s drop. MySpace, for instance, likes to play up the Facebook-like changes they’ve made to the site, which let you do more in less time (though those just went into effect in the last two months). And just because you spend less time on the site doesn’t mean you’re not engaged with it: We now use Facebook almost exclusively via our BlackBerry FB client, which allows us to check messages and status updates without ever logging in.
But it’s hard to see these numbers without reaching an Occam’s Razor-like conclusion: Engagement metrics are dropping on social network sites because people are getting bored with social network sites. Have a better answer? Let us know in comments below.
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