With 40 million active users in the US, social networking has grown 93% since 2006 and is poised to play a vital role in the current economic downturn, according to a trend report from Netpop Research LLC, that also predicts a related increase in social media advertising opportunities.
The report, “Social Networkers US: Who they are and what they mean for next generation advertising,” draws from a projectable sample of 4,384 broadband users to pinpoint the specific demographics, online behaviors, preferences and “passions” of online contributors and social networkers.
Netpop finds that 76% of US broadband users (105 million) are active contributors to the web via social media (including uploading photos, blogging, rating products and other Web 2.0 activities). Moreover, approximately 29%, or 40 million broadband users are regular contributors to the web specifically through social networking sites and are spending increasing amounts of their online time communicating with each other, both one-to-one and one-to-many.
This, Netpop said, is signaling a shift in the content people consume and how they are entertained and is turning everyday users into natural connectors, promoters and influencers.
Key findings about US social networkers:
- Social networkers in the US are most likely to be single, employed women, age 18-39 and living somewhere between Indiana and the Atlantic Ocean, or along the west coast.
- A typical social networker connects weekly with an average of 18 people one-to-one, and 110 people one-to-many.
- Social networkers spend an average of 36% of their online time talking and sharing. This compares with 29% for non-contributors to social networks.
- Social networkers use multiple modes to communicate and stay in touch. These include IM, texts, blogs and microblogs.
- The top two social networks in the US are Facebook and MySpace. Currently, 60% of social networkers use Facebook, 63% use MySpace and 34% use both. However, Facebook has grown 500% between 2006 and 2008, catching up to MySpace in regular users in the past year.
- Other social networking sites are popular among subsets of US users with broadband, including employed networkers (who use LinkedIn, Friendster, Plaxo); students (who use IMeem, LastFM, and Veoh) and retirees (who use reunion, Groups.Google and Classmates.com).
Social Networkers and Consumer Behavior
Social networkers also are much more likely to shop and spend more online than their non-contributing peers. Social networkers buy a variety of products and services and spend an average of $101 online per month, the study found. This compares with non-contributors to social networks, who spend $80 per month.
The top sources used by social networkers when making shopping decisions are search engines, brand or manufacturer sites, online-only retail sales and auction sites. Some 6% also use social networking sites to decide what to buy.
This propensity, Netpop says, will only deepen as more people will spend increasing amounts of time turning “inward” online to discuss their own personal situations as the recession deepens.
“Social media will play the same role in this recession that movies played in the Depression,” said Cate Riegner, VP of Research, Netpop Research, LLC. “The growth of social networking is still accelerating and the bonds consumers are developing with friends and groups of like-minded people are just beginning to shape behaviors. Companies need to be there, talking to both their existing and potential ‘fans.’ Brands that experiment in social advertising now will be in the best position to leverage these important media channels when the economy turns the corner.”
“CMOs have been discouraged, understandably, by the poor performance of standard online ad formats in social media spaces,” said Josh Crandall, President at Netpop. “But current attempts at advertising in social networking environments have been limited to traditional, display advertising. Facebook’s new “engagement ad” unit is a new development, but there is a long way to go. Understanding those environments, and working on new approaches to advertising, will become increasingly important as social media consumption grows.
Social Networkers in China
Related Netpop research among broadband users in China also shows that social networking is taking off there, with 46% participating regularly – 15% more than in the US.
Today, 24% of all Chinese broadband users regularly participate in social networking – an increase of nine percent since 2007 -and social networking sites were influential in 20% of users purchase decisions, Netpop said.
The report also reveals a complex social networking market in China: Fierce competition exists between many local (Chinese) sites and global leaders Facebook and MySpace.
“Unlike the United States, where Facebook and MySpace dominate, China’s is a crowded market with many competing brands,” said Riegner. “Fortunately, Chinese social networkers are enthusiastic participants in social media who use many of these sites regularly – 6 sites on average.”