Apparently April showers bring May-June overviews: There has been a remarkable spate of research about social networks over the last two months, and it shows no signs of abating as we move into summer. The latest study, the "2010 Social Networking Report" from Experian Simmons has some interesting findings about the who, what, and why of current social networking behavior -- but perhaps most interesting is the where factor.
Some of the data, will impressive, probably doesn't come as much of a surprise: for example, the fact that 66% of U.S. online adults have visited a social networking site in the last 30 days, up from 53% in 2008 and a more than threefold increase from 20% in 2007 (probably even more, considering the online population has increased over the same period). Like other recent studies, the Experian Simmons research suggests social networking is habit-forming, not to say addictive, with 43% of the social networking cohort -- 28% of the total U.S. online population -- checking in multiple times every day.
Experian Simmons also took a look at the motives of social network users, and found an increasing number use networks to stay in touch with their family (70%, up from 61% a year ago), while 88% use them to keep in touch with friends, and 39% use them to express themselves and their views. In terms of the age breakdown, nearly 90% of 18-34-year olds use social network sites, along with 69% of adults ages 35-49, and 41% of adults 50+.
To me, all this suggests that social networks are really following in the footsteps of email and the telephone -- a new technology which insinuates itself into our lives at the most basic, fundamental level, changing society forever. Obviously this is a good place for marketers to be, if they can figure out how to make it work. On that note, 68% of social network site visitors said they have become a "fan" or "friend" of a product, service, company, or musical group, up from 57% just one year ago. It's also very good news for Facebook: fully 46% of the U.S. adult online population said they visited Facebook in the last 30 days, giving it momentum and reach unmatched by any rival.
What I found most interesting about the Experian Simmons data was the geographic breakdown of social networking usage. There were hotspots in some of the places you'd expect, including most big metropolitan centers and college towns: on the Experian Simmons map, the group of high-indexing locales included Boston; northern Virginia and Maryland around Washington, D.C.; upstate New York around my hometown of Ithaca (home to Cornell and Ithaca College); central Texas around Houston, Austin, and San Antonio, and Wisconsin and Michigan around Madison and Ann Arbor, respectively. As one might expect there was also a very high concentration in the Pacific northwest and hip yuppie magnets like Colorado.
A bit more surprising was the fact that the Pacific northwest hotspot (by far the single biggest concentration of high-indexing areas) extended east and then south to encompass most of Idaho, western Montana, Utah and Wyoming. Having spent a decent amount of time in all these places -- my mom is a native of Idaho -- I will say I was a bit taken aback to see them so thoroughly enmeshed in the social network revolution. This is probably the result of some stereotypical thinking on my part: I guess I imagine the inhabitants of these rugged western states as being as independent and indifferent to all this modern fuss as the cowboys of old. But on reflection, there's no reason cowboys can't be on Facebook too nowadays.