Around 6.5 million Australians belong to an online social network and two thirds of internet users looked at other people’s content on social networking sites during 2008 – this is according to Nielsen Online’s latest ‘Consumer Generated Media’ report.

The report, aimed at providing an analysis of consumer generated media (CGM) in Australia, shows that CGM has become a mainstream activity for the majority of internet users.

Not only growing infiltration of CGM, but also a deepening of the level of involvement of consumers, with 57% publishing their opinions online in the last year.

More than two in five (41%) published opinions specifically about products, services and brands, and 86% read through the content.

It also suggests a trend that Australia’s corporate marketers should take note of is consumers’ openness to engage with companies and brands through this social media – 23% of online Australians interacted with a company via a social networking site during 2008, while one quarter participated on an organisation’s website by uploading photos/video or placing comments.

The opportunities for companies to make use of social media are certainly there, with more than half of Australians who use social networking (52%) stating companies need to find new ways for consumers to interact with their brands.

The three leading destinations for the majority of CGM participants are Facebook, MySpace and Blogspot, with Flickr, YouTube and Photobucket being the biggest movers in 2008.

While Flickr posted a 14 percentage point increase, and YouTube and Photobucket each recorded 11 percentage point increases, Facebook racked up an impressive 32 percentage point gain on 2007 (see Chart 1 below).

For bloggers, MySpace maintained its lead, with more than one third of bloggers (31%) preferring it over any other site.

The uptake of newcomer Twitter remains slow in Australia, and around half of all Twitter users (44%) have only been using the service since October 2008.

According to the report, newer offerings are mostly being consumed in addition to already established players such as MySpace (see Chart 2 below).

“Australians are adopting CGM with gusto. It’s surprising to see just how involved we are becoming – CGM has certainly burst onto the scene and is now a very real mainstream media in Australia. If companies are not listening to what is being said about their brands and products through this media, they should be,” says Melanie Ingrey, director of market research, Nielsen Online.