Social Networks See Back-to-School Drop-off

NEW YORK Social media site traffic dropped in September as teens and college students returned to classes, according to data compiled by an Internet measurement firm.

Visitors to social network heavyweight MySpace dropped to 47.2 million in September from 49.2 million in August, a 4 percent decline, per Nielsen//NetRatings. The decrease was more striking at YouTube, which Google just agreed to acquire for $1.65 billion [Adweek Online, Oct. 9]. Compared to August, traffic in September fell 19 percent to 27.6 million.

Corinna Chang, a Nielsen//NetRatings data analyst, said the traffic dips could be attributed to the start of the school year, when “activities like blogging and video searching would experience a decrease as students are focusing on schoolwork and not leisure activities.” She noted that overall Web traffic slipped in September.

Social networks have enjoyed a tremendous run in 2006. Since the start of the year, MySpace traffic has grown 65 percent and YouTube’s has increased eightfold. The hefty price paid by Google for YouTube was attributed to the buyer’s confidence that it could effectively integrate advertising into the site’s existing user-friendly features.

While Nielsen//NetRatings detected a decline in the unique visitors to these sites, it reports they continue to keep visitors for long periods. Average time spent by MySpace visitors in September was just over two hours, a slight increase from August. On YouTube, visitors stayed 33 minutes, up from 26 minutes the previous month.

MySpace and YouTube were not alone in seeing fewer visitors. Facebook, which is a fixture on college campuses, had visitor counts drop 12 percent to 7.8 million. Earlier this month, Facebook opened its registration process broadly for the first time, allowing anyone to join the network that was previously available only to students and members of certain professional networks.

The lower traffic due to heavy student populations on social networks somewhat contradicts recent studies that social networking sites are boasting an older demographic profile. Nielsen//NetRatings rival ComScore Media Metrix this month said half of MySpace users are over 35.