By Jannie Cahill, Marketing, Experian Hitwise

Social media continues to be one of the fastest growing sectors online and is now the second biggest online sector after Entertainment. In 2010 social media passed some important milestones, becoming more popular than search engines in April. By December 2010, visits to social networks and forums accounted for 12.55% of all UK Internet visits.

2010 was clearly a massive year for Facebook as the world’s most popular social network reached a global audience of over 500 million users. In the UK, Facebook continued its dominance in the social media market, accounting for over 57% of all visits to social networks by December 2010. On Christmas Day, Facebook became the most visited website in the UK for the first time ever, knocking Google off the top spot for the first time in over a decade. Although Facebook was only the number one website for 24 hours, it shows how narrow the gap has become between the UK’s top search engine and the UK’s most dominant social network.

In 2011 social media will continue its growth as social channels become more embedded with everyday life and companies in particular embrace the marketing potential of social networks. The benefits of using social media as a marketing channel have been praised for some years now, and most companies have taken their first steps into Facebook and Twitter even if they don’t necessarily understand how to leverage the power of such tools. However, 2011 should be the year that advertising and marketing through social media becomes the standard rather than the exception. Facebook already accounts for 1 in 10 visits to online retail sites, and with companies like BestBuy and ASOS launching Facebook stores, this could be a significant revenue generator for online businesses.

The future of business is through social interaction online; 2010 has been the catalyst for the first major steps in this revolution, 2011 will see these first seeds come to fruition.

Visit Experian Hitwise on Stand C22 at TFM&A, 1-2 March, Earls Court 2, London

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