Although social networking may be seen as a personal-communications alternative to e-mail, those that find themselves on several social-media sites throughout the day generally spend more time reading and writing e-mail messages than those that don't engage in as much social networking, according to a study released on Monday by Nielsen.
After considering the impact social networks have on Web surfers' activities online, Nielsen tested its assumption that "consumption of social media decreases e-mail use" to determine how social networking has impacted e-mail.
To do so, the research firm broke its test population into four groups based on the amount of time they spend consuming social media. The first three groups were labeled low, medium, and high consumers of social media, respectively. The fourth group featured people who didn't use social sites.
Using that data as a framework, Nielsen, which recently partnered with Facebook to gauge user sentiment around the social network's advertising, then examined how often people in those groups used their e-mail programs over the course of a year.
After analyzing the data, Nielsen found that its hypothesis didn't quite hold up. According to the researchers, "it actually appears that social-media use makes people consume e-mail more, not less, as we had originally assumed--particularly for the highest social-media users."
Although the study ended there, researchers said that correlation might be due to "social media sites like Facebook (that) send messages to your in-box every time someone comments on your posting or something you've participated in, and depending on your settings, can send updates on almost every activity." The researchers also believe that the connections people make through social networks cause them to "extend those connections to e-mail, a phone conversation, or even in-person meetings."
Nielsen concluded that the study was simple, and it plans to "take a more robust approach to develop correlations between platforms to understand if this relationship is different across specific demographics and behavioral groups--rather than by levels of consumption."
Nielsen's findings follow on the heels of another study the company announced in March finding that "member communities," like social networks and blogs, are more popular than e-mail.