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Richard MacManus (@ricmacnz)  of ReadWriteWeb asks a good question in this article about whether “social entertainment” (entertainment content experiences augmented with social  features) is leading consumers back to a consumptive, passive content experience.

(Richard’s article is in part a commentary on data from the GlobalWebIndex‘s Social Entertainment Annual Report 2011 report.)

For more than a year now, we’ve been observing consumers’ interactions with entertainment content/brands on Cisco Eos-powered web sites.  Based on that behavior, I’d agree with Richard’s conclusion:

(my paraphrasing) that as entertainment brands “find their footing” on the web, consumers are actively engaging with content through two-way social features.  These may be lower investment actions like commenting (versus producing a UG video)  but it is still interaction with, and around, content.

What Survey Data Doesn’t Tell You

We’ve observed a wide-range of behaviors and types of consumers engaging on the 100+ social entertainment sites powered by Eos.  As some of the GlobalWebIndex data suggests, this includes a vast majority of audience that display a passive, “consumer of content” profile despite the presence of embedded social features.

But you’d miss the real opportunity in social entertainment if you only looked at that top-line audience.

One data point GlobalWebIndex’s data misses (because it’s hard/unreliable to collect from survey data) is that more highly engaged consumers (as measured by repeat visits and site registration) DO tend to use more “active” behaviors such as commenting, rating, sharing, uploading content.  It is this active, more engaged audience that can drive value for media brands.

Let’s look at some real data about the audience behaviors across 65 of the Eos-powered sitesIncidence of active/passive behavior for Total Audience live in the Summer of 2010.  Of the more than 14.5 million unique visitors for these sites, less than 1% engaged in an “active” behavior (see graph).  The highest observed behavior — outside of visiting the site and clicking through pages — was the 30% of folks that watched at least one media asset during their visit.

Now, let’s look at those same behaviors (below) for folks that indicated they had a preference for that content / brand by taking the extra step and few minutes to register on these same sites.

Incidence of active/passive behavior for Registered Audience

Among registered users, the incidence of active behaviors — like commenting — increases significantly.  In fact, in this data set 1 in 4 registered visitors were interacting with the content through commenting (providing some support of MacManus’s hypothesis).  Not surprisingly, this audience even saw a significant increase in the incidence of a passive behavior like watching media,  to 43% of all registered users.

What Happens When you Have an ‘Active’ Audience

What’s really stunning is when you look at the content consumption among users that display both active and passive behaviors.

The attached chart shows the impact on content consumption when you look at the number of active social behaviors (the various lines) and passive media consumption behaviors (the X axis).Impact of active/passive behavior combinations on content consumption

In general, consumers that engage in active behaviors tend to consume more content — at least as measured by page views.

That impact on content consumption is most obvious when you  look at the heavy users; consumers who undertake 3+ active behaviors and 3+ passive behaviors.  In this data, those heavy active/passive audience members consumed almost 6x the number of pages of consumers taking no active behaviors and 2x the pages of consumers displaying 2 active behaviors consumed.

Using social features to identify and engage fans who are interested in your content is where the real opportunity for social entertainment is.

What do you think?  Read the ReadWriteWeb article here and let us know your perspective on what the combination of social with content means for the media industry.

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