The remaining skeptics who argue social media is more a fad than reality should check out a recent study by Nielsen, which provides more empirical evidence that social networking has become a very popular online activity.

According to the study, Americans spend nearly a quarter of their time online on social networking sites and blogs, up from 15.8 percent just a year ago (a whopping 43 percent increase.) Not surprisingly, games are also a favorite activity – a fact which will probably give fuel to grumpy executives that argue social media is more fun than substance. (I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive.) Despite falling in popularity, email remains a popular activity (third most popular) though there are signs more surfers are using tools on social networks to communicate rather than separate emails. Another interesting statistic is the notable boost in time watching videos, though the activity remains in 6th position in terms of time spent online.

Online use (for U.S. users) on mobile devices paints a somewhat different picture – with email being the dominant activity, followed by access to Web portals (e.g. Yahoo) and social networks. This likely reflects the prevalence of corporate use for mobile devices.

A recent study on UK online habits confirms a similar trend over the pond, with Web use up almost 70% since 2007 and social media activities increasing 23%.

Though this study had no real surprises, it confirms the Web is a fluid, crowded media environment that offers multiple choices for users. For marketers and communicators, there is plenty of potential but no easy answers. Getting the attention and sustained interest of users remains a huge challenge.