How Consumers Spend Their Time Online

Note: This post is an excerpt from our latest report, Consumer Behavior in 2018: Trends to Watch. Interested in learning more? Click here to download the full report.

While the amount of time that users spend online has remained relatively stable over the past 12 months, our data shows that consumer attention or engagement is shifting, based on the amount of time that individual consumers spend in different content categories. While social media, email, and mobile gaming content have historically dominated the share of time that consumers access online, our data shows early signs of a shift to other types of content.

How Are Consumers Spending Their Time Online?

When we looked at the amount of time people spend online, we noticed four key trends:

  1. Communications and social media are seeing time spent per user decline for the first time: Sites and apps like Facebook, Snapchat, and Gmail attract the greatest percentage of consumer online time. As of July 2017, we spent more than 41% of our online time in this app category, which equates to an average of more than 25 hours per month per user of communications and social media apps. But, over the past year, the amount of time spent per user in these apps and sites showed a slight (less than 1%) decline, despite the fact that the overall number of users rose. While this decrease is relatively small, it may indicate that social media is starting to lose its grip on our online time. Are consumers choosing to spend their time in other places?
  2. Mobile games are a distant second: Mobile games are the second-highest ranking category in terms of time spent per user, but that number has stagnated at about 12% of the amount of time consumers spend online, 20.7 hours per user per month.
  3. The slow rise of entertainment apps: This app category (which includes YouTube, Spotify, and Netflix) accounts for about 11% of the amount of time people spend online and enjoyed an increase in user numbers between the months of November 2016 and February 2017 — prime binge- watching season in many parts of the country. The app category also saw a rise in the amount of time spent per user, to 11.5 hours per month, indicating that these apps may be doing a better job of owning the consumer viewing experience on their own terms (and through proprietary apps, rather than social media and other external distribution platforms).
  4. In light of the various “fake news” controversies that arose in the past year, it’s sobering but not surprising that news and weather apps and websites saw a large decline in time spent per user, despite a continuous rise in overall user numbers: users spent an average of just 3.3 hours per month on news and weather properties.

For social media and email apps, which dominate the amount of time consumers spend online, the fact that consumer time spent online is showing signs of decline could signal a major change in consumer online behavior.

Social media platforms like Snapchat, Twitter, and Facebook are also repositioning themselves as content creators and entertainment providers, having each launched forays into producing original or streaming content for the express purpose of capturing greater chunks of user attention. Facebook Watch, a new platform for original video content, launched in August 2017, while Snapchat has inked deals with Time Warner, NBC, and more to produce original scripted content as well as distribute existing network television shows. And Twitter has positioned itself as a hub for events, livestreaming major sports matches as well as the total solar eclipse visible across the U.S. earlier this year. But will these efforts pay off?

For brands and content publishers working in areas outside this short list, this presents a double-edged sword: while many brands and publishers have relied on an uneasy co-existence with social media platforms as a distribution platform, dwindling consumer attention signals a need to generate new ways to break into consumer habits and everyday digital behaviors. And this may prove even harder than ever, now that consumers are spending more of their time across an increasingly fragmented landscape of content, sites, and services.

Interested in our biggest takeaways on consumer behavior in 2018? Download a full copy of our report, Consumer Behavior in 2018: Trends to Watch.