The More Time We Spend Online, the Less Time We Spend Working

What are we choosing not to spend time on to make room for the hours we all spend each week on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and the like? While numerous articles have worried that such screen time might be coming at the expense of face-to-face socializing, a new paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests, happily, that that is a relatively small part of the tradeoff. But managers won’t find much comfort in the study’s conclusions. More than anything else, the leisure time we spend online comes at the expense of work.

In the paper, Scott Wallsten of the Technology Policy Institute attempts to measure the offline activities that are crowded out by our online recreation throughout the day, using data from The American Time Use Survey, a government survey that, since 2003, has been asking U.S. citizens how they spend their time. While there are several caveats to the research, it provides a quantitative view of what we do less of to make time for leisure activities online. For every additional minute the average American spends online recreationally, they spend roughly 16 fewer seconds working, nine fewer seconds watching TV, and seven fewer seconds sleeping.

Now for some caveats. In the time use survey, not all common online activities are collected in a single category, and some of the most common ones, including email, online gaming, and videos, are grouped with similar offline activities. (So, for instance, someone watching Netflix counts as “Watching TV and video” and someone playing video games counts in a broader games category.) The category of “computer leisure time,” which Wallsten uses to approximate online leisure time, mostly includes newer online activities that didn’t exist when the survey was created in 2003, including, notably, social media use.

In addition, the study deals with multitasking by asking respondents about the “primary” activity they were involved in at any moment in time, which one could argue fails to capture the use of computers and tablets alongside other offline activities.

Finally, time spent online and the offline activities it replaces vary significantly based on age, income, and other demographics. Not surprisingly, younger people spend more recreational time online, accounting for a higher percentage of their overall leisure time.


Other differences include the fact that women don’t let online leisure time crowd out household activities, whereas men spend eight seconds less on them for every extra minute online. And, somewhat disturbingly, 15- to 19-year-olds spend 20 fewer seconds on educational activities for every extra minute online.

While interesting, none of this will comfort managers concerned about lost productivity as employees spend more time online.

“If you imagine the tradeoff between watching Netflix and watching standard cable TV, that represents a huge fight within the video industry but it still might not affect the size of the economy,” said Wallsten. “But if you’re talking about it coming out of work time, then that could be a significant negative effect.”

And yet he cautions that such concern might be overstated, adding that “the numbers are still small enough that it’s conceivable it has no net negative effect on productivity.”

Indeed, other studies have suggested that workers can be be more productive when given regular breaks to browse the web. Moreover, for some workers at least, time spent on social media can improve work-related knowledge and skills.
If anything, managers should worry about that smaller chunk of sleep that gets crowded out by time spent online. The paper notes that those who can’t sleep might be spending more time online rather than time online causing people to sleep less. But if our online activities are in fact taking time away from sleep, that would mean a real impact on productivity.

– by Walter Frick

Originally at



Thu 24 Oct 13


Why Email Is Still More Effective Than Social Media Marketing

One-click management
All the marketing talk these days is about social media. But research shows old-fashioned email is still far more effective than social media in attracting customers to your business online.

A recent study by predictive analytics firm Custora discovered that customer acquisition via email has quadrupled in the last four years and now accounts for almost 7 percent of customer acquisitions. Organic search is the most powerful acquisition channel, accounting for 16 percent of customers acquired, while Facebook and Twitter lag far behind.

Facebook was almost insignificant as a customer channel. A minuscule percentage of customers connect and purchase via Facebook. Twitter is an even weaker way to draw customers.

What’s more, customers who come to businesses via email tend to shop more and spend more. The Custora study shows email customers are 11 percent more valuable than average. Organic-search customers are 50 percent more valuable than average. Facebook customers are average, and Twitter customers are 23 percent less valuable than average.

“Email will always deal with the reputation that it’s passe,” said Simms Jenkins, CEO of BrightWave Marketing and author of The New Inbox: Why Email Marketing Is the Digital Marketing Hub in a Social & Mobile World. “It’s not a sexy tool like Pinterest or Instagram or Vine. But the pendulum has really swung back in the last few years, spurred in part by the recession. People want things that generate revenue, not just bright shiny objects.”

Jenkins acknowledges that social media is a valuable tool—it’s great for customer engagement—but it’s not the best way to drive sales. “If you have just one bullet left in your gun to sell something, then email should always be that bullet,” he says.

Email is effective because it’s permission-based. The people on your email list have given you the go-ahead to send them messages. They’re bought in. And, with the prevalence of smartphones and tablets, they’re always listening. In fact, email is the number-one activity for people on their phones.

The “new inbox” that Jenkins references in the title of his book is an inbox that’s always on. People check email constantly, wherever they are, and that enables you to stay connected. But the window is narrow. When people read email on a mobile device they do it quickly. That means your emails must be powerful enough to grab attention.

At the very least, your emails should not annoy. One way to ensure they don’t is to allow your audience to decide when they receive your emails. You should set up a preference center where users can adjust their email options.

Also keep in mind that email requires a different tone than channels like Facebook and Twitter. You can’t simply duplicate your Facebook efforts in email. “On email people want offers,” Jenkins says. “On Facebook they want to be more touchy-feely with the brand. On Twitter they want breaking news and updates. The best brands understand that, instead of sending the same stuff across multiple channels.”

A primary reason why email is now a more powerful customer-acquisition channel is mobile devices: They enable better email marketing in many ways. For example, some brands put messages at the checkout counter that say, “Text us your email address and you’ll get 10 percent off your next purchase.” That way they build their email lists.

But mobile also presents challenges for email marketers. Forty percent of all emails are now viewed on smartphones, which means they must be coded to be attractive on a phone screen. Seventy percent of consumers will unsubscribe from your emails if they look bad on a mobile device.

“If you don’t optimize email, if you let it languish in favor of those cool new tools out there, your business will suffer,” Jenkins says. “I’m still surprised that in 2013 some people are just blasting out a monthly email to their subscribers. Too many people are chasing the new thing instead of investing in the thing that really works, which is email. Email is more important than ever, not less. And those who leverage email most effectively will be the big winners.”

– by Tim Devaney and Tom Stein

Originally at



Fri 04 Oct 13