Social Network Passes a Threshold

More than half of all adult Internet users in the United States either visit or maintain a profile on at least one social networking site, according to a new study conducted by Forrester Research.

Where IT pros do their social networking

social network
Artwork: Chip Taylor
In its latest survey on social technologies, Forrester found that 51% of online U.S. adults utilize social networking sites such as Facebook or LinkedIn, a large increase from the 25% of users who reported using social networking sites in 2007. Forrester says that the surge in social networking for online Americans "reflects the appeal of Facebook, as both press coverage and invitations from friends suck more of us into social networks."

Facebook is the most popular social networking site with 250 million active users and 120 million who log on daily.

Forrester conducted its survey online in May by questioning more than 4,700 Web users between the ages of 18 and 88. The firm used data collected from the survey to classify Internet users into six different type: "creators" who create and publish their own content such as blogs, videos or music; "critics" who post reviews or comment on others' online forums or blogs; "collectors" who use RSS feeds; "joiners" who visit or maintain profiles on social networking sites; "spectators" who utilize podcasts, videos and blogs but who don't interact with others; and "inactives" who do none of the above.Forrester says that the growth of users who consume social media such as podcasts, videos and blogs has grown almost as dramatically as social networking Web site users. The survey classified a full 73% of online U.S. adults as spectators, a big increase from the 48% that it classified as such in 2007. Additionally, the number of users who consume no social media has fallen from 44% in 2007 to 18% this year. Looking at age demographics, Forrester expects these trends to intensify in the coming years.

"We now see that participation among those under 35 is nearly universal," writes Forrester analyst Josh Bernoff at the Forrester Interactive Marketing blog. "Soon, if you're online, you'll almost certainly be consuming social technologies…Marketers, if you're not doing social technology applications now, you're officially behind."

The one group of social networking users that has not grown rapidly over the past three years, however, has been the creators who post their own content online. According to the survey, just 24% of American Web users are classified as creators, up from 18% in 2007. Forrester analyst Sean Corcoran, who authored the report on the survey, says that creators have a certain temperament that many Internet users don't share, thus limiting their potential expansion.

"It really comes down to whether you want to be a publisher or not," he explains. "It's going to be a smaller group than most of the rest."

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