Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter are capturing a larger share of the adult population than ever before, according to a report from the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project. Two-thirds of adult Internet users (65 percent) now say they use a social networking site, up from 61 percent one year ago and more than double the percentage that reported social networking site usage in 2008 (29 percent).
Pew reported that, for the first time, its Internet surveys have found that half of all adults use social networking sites. "The pace with which new users have flocked to social networking sites has been staggering; when we first asked about social networking sites in February of 2005, just 8 percent of Internet users-or 5 percent of all adults-said they used them," wrote report authors Mary Madden, a Pew senior research specialist, and Kathryn Zickuhr, a research specialist with the organization.
Looking at usage on a typical day, 43 percent of online adults use social networking, up from 38 percent a year ago and just 13 percent in 2008. Out of all the "daily" online activities that Pew asked about, only email (which 61 percent of Internet users access on a typical day) and search engines (which 59 percent use on a typical day) are used more frequently than social networking tools.
The report found that among Internet users, social networking sites are most popular with women and young adults under age 30. Young adult women ages 18-29 are the power users of social networking; fully 89 percent of those who are online use the sites overall and 69 percent do so on an average day, according to the Pew Research report.
Looking more closely at gender differences, women have been significantly more likely to use social networking sites than men since 2009. As of May 2011, nearly seven in 10 online women are users of social networking sites (69 percent), compared with six in 10 online men (60 percent). Research showed women are also more active in their use of these sites, with almost half of female Internet users using social networking sites on a typical day (48 percent), compared with 38 percent of male Internet users.
While young adults have consistently been the most likely to use social networking sites, Internet users in other age groups have seen faster rates of growth in recent years. In the past two years, social networking site use among Internet users aged 65 and older has grown 150 percent, from 13 percent in April 2009 to 33 percent in May 2011. Similarly, during this same time period, use by 50- to 64-year-old Internet users doubled-from 25 percent to 51 percent.
When social networking users were asked for one word to describe their experiences using social networking sites, "good" was the most common response. Overall, positive responses far outweighed the negative and neutral words that were associated with social networking sites (more than half of the respondents used positive terms). Users repeatedly described their experiences as "fun," "great," "interesting" and "convenient." Less common were superlatives such as "astounding," "necessity" and "empowering."