Marketers say they are promoting their products and services on social network sites for a variety of reasons. They believe consumers are spending more time on these sites and will notice ads in the same way they might have noticed ads in traditional media like newspapers and magazines. In addition, marketers expect consumers to use the linked nature of social sites to notify friends and family members about products they particularly like. But is this really the case?

New research from Pew Internet and American Life Project provides a snapshot of the changing demographics of the social networking sites (SNS) user. To begin, about half of U.S. consumers (47%) say that they use at least 1 SNS. This is a significant increase over the 26% of U.S. adults who were using these sites in 2008. In addition, the average age of these users has jumped from 33 to 38 in the past 2 years. And, women still outnumber men on SNS with a 56% to 44% ratio.

Mirroring the findings of other research shops, Facebook comes out on top as the most popular SNS:

  • Facebook: 92%
  • MySpace: 18%
  • LinkedIn: 18%
  • Twitter: 13%

The demographic characteristics of the Facebook friends feature are particularly interesting and could prove fruitful for certain types of marketers. The average Facebook user has 229 friends. Pew analysts suspect that a large number of these friends fall into the ‘dormant’ category. For example, 22% of Facebook friends, on average, or 56 people, are from high school. Another 31% of Facebook friends do not belong to family, coworkers, school classmates, coworkers or people from voluntary groups and could also be part of the dormant category or fall into the friend of friend group.

It’s unclear how many of these dormant friends are likely to be swayed by a “Like” indication on the part of a friend of a friend. In addition, marketers should know that  52% of Facebook users and 33% of Twitter users are on these site every day. But, only 7% of MySpace users and 6% of LinkedIn users check the sites daily. In addition, Pew researchers say that Facebook users, as a group, are more politically engaged than average consumers. These consumers are more likely to attend rallies, vote and attempt to persuade others about a vote.

Marketers are likely studying the changing characteristics of SNS users to be sure that their campaigns are not missing the mark.

[Source: Hampton, Keith et al. Social networking sites and our lives. PewInternet.org. 16 Jun. 2011. Web. 15 Jul. 2011]