Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
August 31, 2012 1:31 PM

The Problem With Time Spent

How long do people engage with your media and content?

This is the question that publishers must answer to media companies. Why? The longer people spend with a media property, the better it is for the brand, right? Not always. Long before Google existed, I worked for a search engine selling Internet advertising. We got asked the "time spent" question all of the time, and our results were pitiful. People were spending no amount of time on our site. We were sunk.

Not so.

The Internet is not a traditional media channel (no new news here). In fact, we had such a strong search engine algorithm, that our users were finding the right results faster (remember, this was pre-Google days). Our search worked better than other search engines (at the time), and the reward for this was getting people in and out as quickly as possible. Funny enough, not much has changed. Google's search is all about speed and accuracy.

Comparing apples to apples.

Yesterday, I was asked by a media outlet to comment on this this infographic: The Power of Facebook Advertising (if you read French, you can find it here: Facebook en quête de nouveaux revenus). The first section of this infographic tells the tale. The average person spends 6:35 hours per month on Facebook, but they spend 3:20 hours on Google. In this scenario, it makes Facebook look like a much more superior advertising, doesn't it? But it doesn't tell the tale. Are you the same person on Facebook as you are on Google? Do you have the same intent? On Google, you're doing fast searches and looking for answers. On Facebook, you're connecting to friends and socializing. Yes, that's a generalization but I'm sure if someone had the hardcore data, it would tell a similar tale.

What this means.

Sometimes, the more time you spend, the worse the user experience is. Sometimes the more time you spend in a media channel, the less open you are to advertising. We have to be extremely vigilant in these times when making our media planning and purchasing decisions. This is a new world, where advertising is not generic (and, if you're not up-to-speed on the concept of "native ads" please read this: Investors, startups: Here's what you need to know about native ads). Trying to pump up your media metrics by saying that consumers spend more time on your property when compared to a property that is driven by results and speed may look good to a traditional advertising professional, but it's not a universal truism. Don't cry for Facebook, they're doing just great when it comes to advertising (read this: Reduced Estimate for Facebook Revenues, but don't be fooled by the provocative title. Revenues for Facebook will reach $4.23 billion this year, which is a 34.1% increase over 2011).

This is not about Google vs. Facebook vs. Yahoo vs. Microsoft.

Yes, these brands may be fighting for the same advertising dollar, but make no mistake about it, each media channel offers a very different kind of advertising to a very different type of user. This is another reason why we're going to start seeing demographics and psychographics take their place next to media intent: what the consumer's needs are when they're engrossed in a specific media platform. For my dollar, I would argue that the Mitch Joel on Twitter is nothing like the Mitch Joel on Facebook who is nothing like the Mitch Joel on YouTube.

So, start putting on your thinking caps... what will become some of the better metrics we can use to make better comparisons?

By Mitch Joel