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Social networks have exploded in popularity in the past year.

More than 4 in 10 (43%) among those who are online now use social networking sites, such as Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn—up from 27% a year ago—according to the Consumer Internet Barometer,  a quarterly report produced by the Conference Board and TNS.

Among the other findings of the study:

  • More than half of social networkers log on at least once a day, and the majority log on several times a day.
  • Interacting with family, friends, and celebrities are among the main reasons people log on to social-networking sites.
  • Most users log on at home, although a quarter of social networkers log on at work, and 10% connect through their phone.
  • Social networking spans all generations: About 19% of those age 55 and over visit these sites, up from just 6% a year ago.
  • Women are more likely than men to use social networking sites (48% versus 38%), but usage has increased dramatically among both groups in just a year.

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Facebook Most Popular

The most popular social-networking site is Facebook, used by 78% of online households, followed by MySpace (42%), LinkedIn (17%), and Twitter (10%), the study found. Among its other findings:

  • Men and women use Facebook in equal numbers. However, women are more likely than men (47% versus 35%) to use MySpace. Conversely, more men than women (21% versus 15%) use LinkedIn.
  • Across generations, Facebook usage is about equal; but, in the case of MySpace, those under 35 are more likely to have an account than their older counterparts.
  • When asked with whom they would like more access/interaction with, celebrities (15%) topped the list, with favorite company (14%), service providers (13%), and athletes/sports teams (11%) not far behind.
  • The top concerns of social networking members—expressed by about 50%—are viruses/malware, exposure of information to strangers and lack of privacy. Women tend to be moderately more concerned than men: Only 14% of them claim they have no concerns, compared with 22% of men.

Twitter Encourages Closer Connections

Users of Twitter, the real-time micro-blogging website, say their top reasons for "tweeting" are to connect with friends (42%), update their status (29%) and look for news (26%). They also use Twitter for work-related (22%) reasons. Other findings regarding Twitter:

  • Two out of three Twitter users interact with friends; 30% interact with family; 30% connect with celebrities; and 24% interact with other bloggers.
  • Users of Twitter also are likely to interact with TV shows, employers, co-workers, companies/brands and TV anchors/journalists.
  • Among Twitter users, half report being introduced to the site by a friend or family member, and one out of three were introduced by a coworker.

Not a Fad; a Powerful Marketing Tool

"Online social networks are more than just a fad among the younger generation," said Lynn Franco, Director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center. "They've become an integral part of our personal and professional lives. They're an effective way to keep in touch with people, connect with friends and family, and network with colleagues."

"Social media will also transform marketing as we know it. They're powerful communication tools, and are becoming an essential part of successful marketing strategies," Franco concluded.

"Social media has transformed the way individuals connect and communicate with one another. Smart marketers are utilizing this behavior to their advantage by setting up online communities in which consumers can freely interact, discuss and debate issues around products, services and brands in a natural way," said Anita Watkins, senior vice-president at TNS.

"Companies are listening in to these conversations and harnessing the power of influencers to co-create their marketing strategies."

About the study: The Conference Board's Consumer Internet Barometer is based on a quarterly survey of 10,000 households. A unique sample is surveyed each quarter. Return rates average 70%. Data is weighted as well to reflect the latest US household demographic information. The latest survey was conducted during the second quarter of 2009. TNS is part of the Kantar Group, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of WPP Group plc.

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