Stuck In Traffic

25 01 2010

There’s nothing worse than being stuck in traffic. Unless, of course, you’re trying to run a destination web site and want to sell advertising. Eyeballs are everything in this game; fortunes are made and lost as a result of them.

And right now the eyes are upon social networking sites. Who in their wildest dreams in the mid-1990s could have foreseen that 2010 would be the era of sites whose primary purpose is to connect people with people, and not people with products?

Depending on who you rely for web traffic stats, Facebook is the hands-down winner of this battle, with somewhere around 100 M-as-in-million unique visitors in December 2009. With over 350 million users worldwide, Facebook has grown from a digital version of the Harvard handout, to the ultimate means of finding long-lost friends and cousins.

And with that many eyeballs, you can bet your bottom budget dollar that advertisers are giddy at the prospect of getting on your screen.

Surprisingly, MySpace still carries some weight, and came in second in this month’s rankings with about 60 million visitors, with Twitter in third with about 25 million. The big eye-opener, though, is Classmates.com, in 5th place with over 10 million visitors (out of its 40 million members). Classmates has the distinction of being the very first social networking site (launched in 1995), and uses a “freemium” model (basic service for free, but enhanced service costs $39 per year). The other big sites are completely free.

All numbers aside, the real story to write home about is how we are using the web. Sure, we continue to shop at Amazon, bid at eBay and browse corporate brochureware sites. But we are spending increasing amounts of time (shameless plug: see tomorrow’s blog) at social networking sites to either communicate with our legions of friends and/or play another round of Farmville. Oh yeah…and let’s not forget all of those “fan” pages at Facebook used to promote celebrities, organizations and companies.

But advertisers really do not care so much what people are doing, but where they are doing it. Network and cable TV stations would kill for such numbers. For example, American Idol on Tuesday 12th January was the highest-viewed broadcast TV show in the US for the week ending 17th January. It had 15.5 million viewers. Facebook, MySpace and Twitter are killing TV (and Twitter still hasn’t even figured out how to monetize its business, still wondering how it might incorporate advertising in its product offering).

Yet American Idol isn’t having trouble selling ad slots.

Sure, we are talking completely different presentation formats and advertising methods here, but the point is still the same: The real traffic is in the social networking sites. Which means more and more advertising dollars are going to be redirected from older traditional media vehicles to Facebook, et al.

And while I never like getting stuck in vehicular traffic, this is one traffic jam I can see a lot folks really getting into. It’s gridlock out there, and everyone is eye-to-I with one another. So when is that Facebook IPO?

Dr “Take Stock In That” Gerlich


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