Microsoft Claims Fear Drives Net Use

Study says consumers log on less frequently to avoid addiction

The Web is dangerous and excessive surfing can take over an individual like a virus, or a drug habit—those at least are the conclusions Microsoft seems to want us to draw from the results of its just-released study titled Living with the Internet: What's Driving Web Behavior? The research, conducted in conjunction with the digital media agencies MEC and Mindshare Worldwide, sees the Internet as addictive, even threatening.

“Many recognize the pitfalls of their Internet reliance,” reads the report.

“The Internet has become so important that many people believe they can’t live without it,” wrote Tim Jones, Microsoft’s acting Head of Insight & Analytics EMEA (and one of the leaders of the research effort) in a blog post. “But they are also increasingly wary of the time they spend online—that it is taking time away from other more meaningful real-world pursuits.” But is the Internet really like heroin? Or worse, Angry Birds? Or is this all just a not-so-subtle attempt to buttress the current Bing marketing campaign?

The study surveyed 7,000-plus Web users in 10 countries across the globe and found that 79 percent of Web activity is planned, up 50 percent from 2007. In Japan, 89 percent of sessions are planned, far and away the leading nation in direct, non-surfing behavior.

The most popular response offered for why someone goes online was that they “always use the Web at this time”—indicating that routine helps Web users curb their tendency toward addiction.

“I connect more frequently but for a shorter time,” said a male from France quoted in the study.

“The Internet is an 'infection'; sometimes a person comes to the PC again and again even if he/she doesn’t want to; even if he/she doesn’t need it,” said a male from Russia.

“I spend less time on the Internet but I manage to do much more than before,” said another male from France.

These new task oriented, addiction-wary consumers still spend most of their time with old fashioned email – 23 percent of their online time versus just 6 percent for social media. Not surprisingly, mobile Web surfing is growing rapidly, as that medium lends itself to even more regimented usage. The mobile Web offers an average of 1.38 “motivations” for potential Web surfing, compared to 1.74 for PC-based Web usage, Microsoft found.

What does this mean for brands? Their online advertising simply must work harder, and be as relevant as possible. “The value of the Web in marketing communication lies in consumer pull," says the report. "The fact that consumers seek out specific content means it already draws engaged audiences. Therefore, the more a brand’s presence is naturally embedded into the user experience, the more its message will resonate.”