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The Facebook and Twitter social networking sites both experienced triple-digit growth in 2009, according to the comScore Digital Year in Review.

Facebook surged to the number one position among social networks for the first time in May 2009 and continued its strong growth trajectory throughout the year, finishing with 112 million visitors in December 2009, up 105% from about 55 million visitors during 2008. Twitter finished the year with nearly 20 million visitors to its website, up 900% from just 2 million visitors in 2008. Much of Twitter’s extraordinary audience growth occurred during the first few months of 2009, at one point jumping from 4 million visitors to 17 million visitors between February and April.

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Meanwhile, 2008 category leader MySpace has experienced some softening in its audience. However, a new strategic focus on entertainment content is exhibiting signs of success with MySpace Music having grown 92% in the past year.

Facebook Shows Across the Board Usage Gains
In addition to its surging population of users, Facebook grew substantially across nearly every performance metric in 2009. Unique visitors, page views, and total time spent all increased by a factor of two or more. Frequency metrics such as average minutes per usage day (up 6%) and average usage days per visitors (up 37%) also saw gains.

As more people use Facebook more frequently, the site has grown to account for three times as much total time spent online as it did last year. The only metric by which Facebook decreased was the average minutes per visit (down 11%), which comScore says can likely be attributed to the increasing frequency with which people are visiting the site.

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MySpace Skews Younger than Facebook
MySpace saw its user composition shift toward younger audience segments in 2009, with people age 24 and younger comprising 44.4% of the site’s audience in December 2009, up more than 7 percentage points from the previous year. Facebook’s audience, by contrast, was evenly split between those younger and older than 35 years of age. The most noticeable demographic shift on Facebook during the year occurred with 25-34 year olds, who accounted for 23% of the 2009 audience, up from 18.8% in 2008.

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Twitter Gets Younger in 2009
As Twitter’s audience grew in 2009, the site experienced interesting shifts in its demographic composition. All demographic segments achieved substantial gains in visitors, but certain segments grew more rapidly than others to gain in terms of their share of audience. The initial success of Twitter was largely driven by users in the 25-54 year old age segment, which made up 65% of all visitors to the site in December 2008, with 18-24 year olds accounting for just 9% of visitors.

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According to comScore, this older age skew varied dramatically from the traditional social media early adopter model, in which younger users tend to drive the lion’s share of usage. Despite Twitter’s initially older skew, as it gained widespread popularity with the help of celebrity Tweeters and mainstream media coverage, younger users flooded to the site in large numbers in 2009, with those under age 18 (up 6.2 percentage points) and 18-24 year olds (up 7.9 percentage points) representing the fastest growing demographic segments.

Other Findings

  • Nearly 80% of US internet users visited a social networking site in 2009.
  • Social networking accounts for 11% of all time spent online in the US, making it one of the most popular online activities.

Adults Favor Facebook
Adults of all ages favor Facebook, according to recent data from the Pew Internet & American Life Project. Seventy-three percent of all adults 18 and older who use social networking sites have a Facebook account. Broken down by age demographic, this includes 71% of adults 18-29 and 75% of adults 30 and older.

In contrast, 48% of all adult social network site users have a MySpace account. The younger generation is much more apt to use MySpace, with 66% of social networking adults 18-29 having a MySpace account, but only 36% of the 30 and older bracket.

Twitter and other status-updating sites are more popular with younger adults than older adults. Thirty-seven percent of online adults 18-29 use Twitter or another status-updating site, compared to 9% of 50- to 64-year-olds and only 4% of online adults 65 and older. The overall Twitter/status-updating site usage rate among all adults is 19%.

About the Survey: The comScore Digital Year in Review’s social networking research is based on comScore Media Metrix Internet audience measurement services that report details of online media usage, visitor demographics and online buying power for the home, work and university audiences across local U.S. markets and globally.

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