Social networking ranked as the most popular online content category in worldwide engagement in October 2011, accounting for almost 1 in every 5 minutes spent online, up from just 6% of time spent online in March 2007, according to [download page] a report released in December 2011 by comScore. Time spent on social networking sites gained ground during that time primarily by taking share from web-based email and instant messengers. Social networks now represent a communication channel for 82% of the world’s online population, representing 1.2 billion users around the world.
Data from “It’s a Social World” indicates that the penetration of social networks has increased in each of the 43 countries on which comScore reports individually. Reach ranges from 53% of the online population in China to 98% in the US, with 41 of the 43 markets seeing penetration of 85% or more. For each region, the total time spent by users on social networking grew by at least 35% over the past year. Demonstrating its universal appeal, social networking accounted for at least 24% of all time spent online in the culturally different regions of Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East – Africa.
December figures from the Pew Internet & American Life Project show a similar consistency in the popularity of social networks. According to Pew, in 15 of the 21 countries it studied, at least 25% of the total population use social networking sites, with Israel (53%) and the US (50%) atop the list. The study points out that in countries such as Ukraine (30%), Turkey (29%), Jordan (29%), and Egypt (28%), where social networking is less prevalent, the percentage of users tends to be low because majorities do not use the internet at all. However, among the online population of those countries, more are using social networks than not.
The Pew study also shows that the percentage of adults who use social networking sites is determined in part by the prevalence of internet use, which is broadly connected to a country’s wealth, with a positive relationship between GDP per capita in the country and the level of social networking. The US, which has the highest per capita GDP among the countries surveyed, is among the countries with the highest percentage of adults using social networking sites, while Pakistan and India have two of the lowest per capita GDPs and the lowest levels of social networking.
Meanwhile, according to comScore, among the global online population, women spend more time social networking than men, consistently across regions. In October, the gap in time spent was most pronounced in North America and Europe, with women spending almost 2 hours (30%) more than men per month on social networking sites. Overall, women spend an average of 6.5 hours per month on social networks, compared to 5 hours for men.
Examining by market, Israel emerges as the most active country, with visitors spending an average of 11.1 hours on social networking sites per month. Visitors in Argentina (10.7), Russia (10.4), and Turkey (10.2) also spend a significant amount of time, with Chile (9.8) not far behind. Some regional differences exist, though: time spent on social networking category accounted for only 11% of total time spent online in the Asia Pacific region, compared to 28% in Latin America.
Although social networking penetration is highest among users aged 15-24 (84.4%), comScore’s data shows the elderly online segment rapidly catching up, exhibiting the fastest growth in reach of all age demographics. In October 2011, reach among users aged 55 and older was 79.9%, representing 13% growth since July 2010. By contrast, reach among users aged 15-24 grew only 6% in that period.
Penetration is next highest among users aged 25-34 (83%) and aged 45-54 (82.9%), with each segment growing roughly 11% since July 2010.
Reach among women is higher than men (83.9% vs. 81%), although the growth rate is stronger for men (13% vs. 7%).
From July 2010 to October 2011, global online users aged 15-24 experienced the largest decline in their use of instant messengers (-42%) and email (-22%), alongside the largest increase in average time spent on social networking (34%). In fact, females aged 15-24 demonstrate the highest engagement among any groups, at 8.6 hours per month.
Social networking leads all content categories in the number of display ads delivered, accounting for more than 1 in 4 US display ad impressions in October 2011, almost 10 points more than portals (19%). However, social networks, although accounting for 21% of page views and 17% of time spent online, only hold a 15% share of estimate display ad spending.
Facebook leads all publishers, with 28% of total display ad impressions in Q3 2011, more than Yahoo (12%), Microsoft (4%), Google (4%), and AOL (3%) combined.
About the Data: comScore’s Media Metrix reports on more than 70,000 entities, with audience measurement for 43 individual countries and 6 global regions, as well as worldwide totals. Pew surveyed 25,503 respondents in 21 countries by telephone or face-to-face between Marh 21 and May 24, 2011.
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