A few stats and industry research findings caught my attention over the past few weeks:

On 10/4, eMarketer reported on the stickiness of user-generated content sites in the UK.  In summary, eMarketer found that the average minutes per visitor on sites like MySpace.com, Wikipedia, and YouTube.com was more than double the average for non-user-generated content sites – 141% more to be exact.  In addition, average page views for UGC sites was a staggering 217 compared to 52 for non-UGC sites.  While similar usage statistics for the US market weren't quite as dramatic, the UK statistics may signal a global trend, and US marketers know all too well that much of their growth over the next several years will come from overseas.  

On 10/12, WOMMA reported on the Pew Internet & American Life Project's finding that 48 million consumers (35% of Internet users) have posted content online.  The Pew report discusses content creation in the context of broadband adoption but it makes clear that user-generated content is not just for the "broadband elite" anymore.  48 million consumers is a LOT of people!  Suppose you aren't a content creator yourself (seems unlikely if you are a regular blog reader!).  The chances of your next door neighbor or co-worker or a casual acquaintance being a content creator – a blogger, a paid Flickr subscriber, an avid product reviewer, or all of the above – are extremely high.  This fact has far-reaching implications for online businesses and brands that may become the subject of online content or that fail to provide a forum for content creation activities that are relevant to their customers.  

Last, on 10/13, eMarketer reported on new data from Nielsen//NetRatings that indicated that almost half (46%) of MySpace's US visitors were 35 or older, while visitors in the 12-17 age group fell significantly in number (20% compared to 31.5% one year before).  Usage metrics for these two age groups are still quite different and indicative of the different ways that they use MySpace, but the Nielsen//NetRatings numbers are telling.

Lately, it seems that each week brings a new onslaught of online usage and demographic stats that, at face value, seem to legitimize many of the new start-ups and "Web 2.0" business models that I read about on TechCrunch on a daily basis.  As with "Web 1.0", there will be big winners (Flickr, YouTube) but 10X as many losers, so I don't read too much into the specifics of which sites are growing the fastest or attracting the largest audiences.  Those stats can change on a dime.  Just today, the Washington Post reported on MySpace's declining popularity among teens.  What's far more important is the underlying tectonic shift in online consumer behavior and content consumption.  The mainstreaming of social networking, much of which is conducted within a "community" of strangers, and the increasing preference for user-generated news, entertainment, and shopping assistance is at minimum a wake-up call for major brands that haven't yet dipped a toe in the water.  Get on with it!  I'm not suggesting a "follow the herd" approach, but I am strongly, absolutely, positively encouraging some honest and sincere experimentation – don't just pay lip service by starting a corporate blog!  Mileage will vary, of course, but don't let the next evolutionary step in online marketing and commerce pass you by.  As the industry research suggests, it's an exciting time to be an online consumer but an even more thrilling time to be figuring out how to seize this opportunity.  

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