Over the next twelve months, the media industry is likely to be split between those who master the Facebook system and those who don’t. A decade or so  ago, for a print publication, going on the internet was seen as the best way to rejuvenate its audience; today, as web news audiences reach a plateau, Facebook is viewed as the most potent traffic booster.

If you are looking for the ultimate cyber black hole, point your browser toward Facebook. Beyond the 500 million users milestone, even more significant gravitational pull await the media industry. Here are facts to keep in mind.

— While the average online newspaper is viewed about 30 minutes per month (see data from the NAA), users spend 12 times more on Facebook: a worldwide average of 5hrs 52 minutes, 6hrs 02 minutes in the United States and 4hrs 12  minutes in France. Globally, social networks represent about 10% of the total internet time; and 2/3 of the internet population visit one such network at least once a month. And the growth is about  30% per year; in three years, that’s 220%, a multiplication by 2.2!

— Facebook dwarfs other social networks: worldwide, measured in time per month, it weighs 6 times MySpace, and 12 times twitter and 30 times LinkedIn.

— Of the half billion users, 250 million are logging every day, for about 34 minutes.

— Just as important, or more, 150 million access Facebook through their mobile phone.

— In June alone, on the US market, users spend more time on Facebook than on sites owned by Google, Microsoft and Yahoo combined (source: Nielsen).

Update Aug.2:  Nielsen just released this study showing that American spend 23% of their internet time on social media, vs. 16% a year ago.

The time spent numbers are always spectacular… but some view those as misleading considering how users interact with Facebook: uploading videos or photographs takes inherently more time than glancing over Google News. Granted. Let’s then consider more media related metrics.

Referrals. The web analytics company Woopra provides a good insight into  the workings of internet referrals (see ReadWrite story here). Facebook accounts for 68% of social networks referrers, vs. 25% for Twitter and only 4% for LinkedIn. Woopra also measured social bookmarking, where StumbleUpon – 10m members and an excellent iPad app – captures a 51% share vs. 30% for Digg. And, in the media category, still according to Woopra, 99%  of referrer traffic comes from a mere four providers: YouTube, Flickr, Last.FM and  the quality video site Vimeo.

Needless to say, the segment comprising entertainment, sports and reality TV is entirely dependent (90%) of social networks for their referrals, half of them controlled by Facebook.

Logging in. Social Networks not only act as powerful traffic attractor and referrals, but also as gateways toward other sites: this takes place when users log on one site using their ID from another. Gigya, another analytic company, found out that Facebook captured 46% of third party login, vs. 17% for Google, 14% for Twitter, 13% for Yahoo, 7% for MySpace and 2% for LinkedIn.

Sharing and commenting. When interacting with news items, though, Twitter takes a large lead over Facebook with, respectively, 45% and 25% of third-party logins. Google remains at 16% and Yahoo at 10%. This demonstrates Twitter is, by far, the best tool for quickly sharing a news item. One reason is the simplicity of Twitter’s interface; against it, the Facebook process to send a link to friends takes too many steps. Another reason is the level of “noise” (read: pointless prattling) that plagues Facebook and makes it a much less efficient tool for news addicts.

“Like”it or not. The “Like” feature,introduced by Facebook last April at its F8 Developer Conference, seems to be a traffic booster. According to Mashable reports, a group of 1500 US bloggers using the Typepad platform with the new Like button have recorded a 50% increase in pageviews. (A caveat: the phenomenon is a little too recent for these numbers to be perfectly reliable.) The “Like” button is now deployed on 350,000 websites and spreading fast.

Buying. It was meant to happen: since July 27, Amazon and Facebook are now joined in their use of an obvious concept: recommendation – already one of the most powerful engine in the Amazon selling machine. “Improve your Amazon shopping experience by tapping into your Facebook network,” says Amazon. “Explore your friend’s profiles and see who has similar interests; see birthdays coming”. The e-commerce giant promises it will not share account information or purchase history, nor will it contact your Facebook friends (although it must be dreaming of doing so!).

The weight of social networks in buying advice isn’t news. ReadWrite Web quotes a Gartner study showing how a group representing just one-fifth of the population turns out to be the key influencers in the purchasing activities of three-quarters of the population! This leverage is the prime motivator for big brands to stake out a presence in the social galaxy.

Whether it is to channel traffic, to expand a brand footprint, or just to increase contribution activity, Facebook needs to be a prime component of any modern news strategy.

National Public Radio is – again – a great example of the best way to use social media (on NPR’s digital strategy see our recent story). In this interview in PoynterOnline, Andy Carvin, senior strategist on NPR’s Social Media Desk, explains how NPR collected one million fans for its Facebook page. Interestingly, says Carvin, it took the radio network 18 months to get their first 500,000 fans and the last 250,000 came on board just over the last two months. Facebook is used to spread NPR news as well as getting sources. Since last year, as part of a new feature implemented by Facebook, all “fans” gets their feed automatically updated when NPR issues a story. And, in turn, each story triggers hundreds of comments. Today, Facebook accounts for 7% of NPR’s traffic and is the n°2 referral behind Google. PoynterOnline listed many news organizations that benefit from Facebook.

We already knew that, on mature markets such as the US, 75% of people get their news through social recommendation (as shown in a recent Pew Research). But, now, we know there is only one network that counts. Better post a “Facebook wizard” in the jobs listing of your company.

frederic.filloux@mondaynote.com

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