NEW YORK: Web users around the world are spending more time on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, meaning that a growing number of brands are also turning to these platforms.

New figures from The Nielsen Company, the research firm, showed that 142.1 million consumers in the US accessed properties like social networks and blogs in December last year.

This audience spent an average of more than six hours viewing material hosted on these services, a total that had increased by 143% year-on-year.

Some 46.6 million Japanese netizens also logged on to these portals in the closing month of 2009, typically devoting almost three hours to this kind of activity.

More than 31 million Brazilians used offerings such as Orkut in the same period, with a normal "dwell time" of over 4.5 hours, while 29.1 million Britons dedicated six hours to this pastime during the month.

Across the ten countries assessed – which also included Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Switzerland – the overall "time per person" recorded on social networks and blogs rose by 82% in all.

Out of a total sample of 307 million people, Facebook received 206.9 million visitors, with the amount of time that US members remained on its pages improving by 200% on an annual basis.

Twitter posted an uptick of 368% on this measure, and was the fastest-growing social network in the US, with 18.1 million people posting or reading "tweets" in the final month of last year, up from 2.7 million in December 2008.

Coca-Cola, the beverage giant, has recently announced its intention to place a greater emphasis on using social media to connect with consumers.

Sapient Interactive, the digital agency, has now built a variety of widgets – downloadable tools similar to mobile "apps" – to tie in with the Atlanta-based firm's sponsorship of the forthcoming FIFA World Cup.

Rather than developing a specific campaign website, these widgets will be distributed in a variety of different ways, with Twitter being a key element in encouraging viral circulation.

One of the major benefits of using the microblogging service for this purpose is the ability to instantly track uptake levels among the target audience.

"The real-time aspect is the most interesting," said Freddie Laker, director of digital strategy at Sapient.

In the UK, Kellogg, the cereal manufacturer, has also stated that it will place social media at the heart of its online communications for the launch of a new brand, called Krave.

It plans to use PR to drive traffic to bespoke pages on Facebook and YouTube, and thus encourage electronic word-of-mouth about the product.

However, Gareth Lucy, assistant communications manager at Kellogg, suggested a nuanced approach will be required in establishing whether this approach should be applied for its portfolio as a whole.

"While Cornflakes and Bran Flakes may not be the best brands to focus on for social media, others, such as Krave and Rice Krispies Squares, are," he said.

Procter & Gamble, the consumer goods titan, employed a similar method when launching Pringles Extreme in the UK, with Facebook, in particular, playing a central role.

James Nunn, head of P&G's social media strategy in the UK, said "each campaign needs to be individually assessed before deciding which medium to go on. It's not a blanket approach but social media does work for some brands."

More broadly, Procter has outlined its objective of dramatically increasing the size of its customer base in the next five years, and digital media us expected to contribute this process.

Replying to a post on Venture Beat, Tressie Long, of P&G's external relations team, said its "stated goal is to serve 5 billion people with our brands globally – up from the 4 billion we serve today."

"We do see digital communication platforms as one of several ways to help achieve our goals."

Data sourced from Nielsen/Brand Week/NMA/Venture Beat; additional content by Warc staff