Personal Connections Drive Social Media Usage

FacebookMore than any other factor, what is driving consumers’ broad adoption of social tools like Facebook and Twitter? Connections with family and friends -- both new and old -- according to new findings from the Pew Internet & American Life project.

All told, two-thirds of online adults -- 66% -- currently use social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace or LinkedIn. Roughly two -thirds of social media users say that staying in touch with current friends and family members is a major reason they use these sites, while half cite connecting with old friends with whom they’ve lost touch.

By contrast, other factors play a much smaller role, Pew finds. Just 14% of users say that connecting around a shared hobby or interest is a major reason they use social media, while a mere 9% say that making new friends is equally important. Reading comments by public figures and finding potential romantic partners are cited as major factors by just 5% and 3% of social media users, respectively.

Moreover, staying in touch with family members is a major factor across a range of social media users, but it’s especially important to women, Pew finds. Those who say that keeping up with family members is a major consideration in their use of social networking sites are a demographically diverse group. Indeed, of the two-thirds of social media users who cite family connections as a major reason for using social tools, Pew found no major differences on this question in terms of age, income, education, race/ethnicity, parental status or place of residence.

The primary difference on this topic pertained to gender, as female social media users are more likely than male users to cite family connections as a major reason for using these sites -- 72% vs. 55%.

Staying in touch with current friends and reconnecting with old friends is most relevant for those under the age of 50. Compared with older adults, social media users under the age of 50 are especially likely to say that these tools help them keep up with existing friends and reconnect with old ones -- roughly seven in 10 users under the age of fifty say that staying in touch with current friends is a major reason they use online social platforms, and just over half say that connecting with old friends they’ve lost touch with is equally important.

Each of these is significantly higher than comparable figures for users ages 50 and older, although a relatively large number of older adults point to connections with friends as a major reason for their social networking site usage as well. In addition to age, Pew linked gender and parental status with users’ attitudes toward social media as a way to maintain connections with friends.

Women are slightly more likely than men to say that staying in touch with current friends is a major reason for using online social tools -- 70% vs. 63% -- while parents are more likely than non-parents to say that connecting with old friends is a major reason behind their use of these sites -- 56% vs. 47%.

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