More than one-third of Americans are now regularly using social networks. Facebook users are older than Twitterers. Women are more active than men in social networking. Men have more friends than women do. Those are just a few of the findings from a recent study by market-research consultancy Anderson Analytics focusing on the role played by Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and Twitter in the lives of 5,000 social media users in the United States.
While the report extrapolates from its findings that 110 million people in the U.S. are "regular users of social networking sites," those under the age of 35 continue to represent the majority, with 67 million regular users. (Anderson Analytics defines "regular users" as those who have logged onto the site at least once in the past 30 days. Statistics on "unique visitors," explains Tom Anderson, managing partner of Anderson Analytics, are often inflated.)
The report went in depth to determine the demographic breakdown and motivations for users of each of the four social networks. The average age of each network's users, in descending order, were as follows:
- LinkedIn: 36 years old;
- Facebook: 34 years old;
- Twitter: 33 years old; and
- MySpace: 29 years old.
Anderson Analytics also found that, although women represent the majority (55 percent) of the regular users of social networks, men tend to average more "friends" across Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn -- a result the report attributes to the fact that 29 percent of male respondents reported being comfortable connecting with strangers online, compared to just 10 percent of women. Males, the study finds, are more likely to share information regarding "hobbies, interesting articles or work-related topics" -- and, not surprisingly, tend to use social networking sites for making and maintaining business and career contacts -- whereas females tend to engage via photos, updating their current activities, and sharing information about their pets.
Another intriguing finding in the report is that, among members of the Gen Y generation who regularly use social networks, 55 percent are more likely to self-report happiness compared to 35 percent of nonusers. Moreover, 60 percent of Gen Y social networkers were reportedly dating or in a relationship, compared to 30 percent of nonusers.
Anderson Analytics also asked survey participants using multiple networks to gauge the value they place on each:
|Social network |
regularly use in addition to at least one other
|% calling that network their most valuable||% saying they could "probably |
Three of the four networks showed strong potential for future growth, based on the share of respondents indicating a likelihood to increase usage:
- Facebook: 59 percent;
- LinkedIn: 59 percent; and
- Twitter: 53 percent.
MySpace lagged behind, with 40 percent -- but Anderson admits he was surprised to see the site continue to pull any significant weight in the social networking space at all. "From previous research, we know people have been moving toward Facebook, [particularly] among the college demographic," he says, adding that he suspects MySpace is holding on in large part due to its active music scene. If so, it's an anchor that may not hold fast, Anderson says: Facebook will have an easier time breaking into music, he predicts than MySpace will in its efforts to attract general users.
But MySpace isn't the only network that needs to work on improving its user base. "All these networks have more things to do to get more loyal followers," Anderson says. When LinkedIn debuted, the site positioned itself as the more-serious social networking option, a branding choice that Anderson says may now be backfiring. "Even among older generations -- [Baby] Boomers and World War II generations -- people want to have fun," he says. While acknowledging an overlap among the individual networks, Anderson says that "the most creative and loudest" people are on Twitter. "They're using [Twitter] as a microphone to get the word out. They tend to blog more than anyone else," he says. "As people become more savvy with social media, they pick up Twitter as well."
Anderson's results also suggest that social media has become perhaps the best channel for brands interested in connecting with consumers, with 50 percent of respondents following a commercial service, product, or brand on a social networking site. Companies worried about losing control of the brand message can exhale -- a little: 46 percent of respondents report saying something positive about a brand on social networks, while 23 percent report saying something negative.
When social media first started out and blogs were gaining popularity, Anderson Analytics used text mining to determine that there were more negative posts being written, primarily because users could post anonymously. "But with social media, you have your profile linked to it so you can say negative things but you have to be truthful and honest," Anderson says. "Don't worry about a few bad eggs saying something bad."
While Anderson Analytics started out as a market-research firm, Anderson says that his clients are increasingly asking him for consulting advice. What's important to remember, of course, is that consumers are looking to engage, not to be pitched. This is especially difficult for the marketers who aren't social network users themselves -- a group Anderson is working with, in addition to users who understand the value but don't know how to leverage the tools.
Companies are looking to make sense of what all this means in terms of a marketer's strategic planning. The hype around social media certainly isn't new, but the technology and the methodologies are still being figured out. Social media can be great for public relations and advertising, Anderson says, but what he sees becoming more important now is tapping into these networks to create insight for the market-research department. "I think market research has forgotten about sociology," he says.
Social media, Anderson says, is a critical step beyond traditional focus groups, which, comprising no more than a couple hundred individuals, are inevitably influenced and moderated by researchers. As a result, focus groups have two critical flaws:
- The groups are often too small to be representative; and
- the results don't compare to what you can learn from going out and listening directly.
"You're supposed to investigate what's going on instead of affecting it," Anderson says. "Go where the customers are and listen to what they're trying to talk about instead of trying to control and influence everything."
[Editors' Note: Due to an editing error, this article was originally uploaded with a different headline ("Social Media Usage Going Strong"). The editors regret any confusion this may have caused.]
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