The belief that social networks are limited to teenagers is looking increasingly misguided.
More than four in five U.S. adults online use social media at least once a month, with half engaging with friends, family, colleagues and strangers via social network sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Forrester Research surveyed 4,766 U.S.-residing individuals ages 18 to 88 in May and concluded that while young people are still consuming social media in great numbers, the most rapid growth is seen among users aged 35 or older.
Forrester analyst Sean Corcoran broke social media consumers down into six groups for his report. Forrester analyst Josh Bernoff, co-author of the 2008 social media book "Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies," posted graphs from the report showing the growth spurts in social media use from 2007 to 2009 on his blog here.
Joiners, the group made up of people who use social networks, continued to be the fastest-growing category, vaulting from 35 percent of those surveyed in 2008 to 51 percent in 2009. The creator group, which includes those who write blogs, upload videos to YouTube or publish on Twitter, accounted for 24 percent of the adults surveyed, a modest growth of 3 percent from 2008.
Collectors, or those who categorize Web content via RSS feeds, tags, Twitter, Facebook, and voting sites like Digg and Reddit, grew slightly, from 19 percent in 2008 to 21 percent in 2009. Three in four online Americans now consume social content, falling into the spectator group by watching user-generated videos or reading blogs.
Curiously, Corcoran said the critic group remained static in 2009. He speculated this is because those posting reviews and commenting are doing so in major social networks like Facebook and Twitter instead of in online discussion forums. Finally, the number of inactives, or those who don't use social tools at all dropped; only 18 percent of online adults in the United States claimed they don't use social tools, down from 25 percent in 2008.
Among those who do embrace social media tools, adults age 35 to 54 boosted their participation by more than 50 percent, with more than half of adults ages 35 to 44 now in social networks. Fifty-four percent of those age 35 to 44 said they have joined a social network, compared with only 33 percent a year ago. Thirty-eight percent of adults age 45 to 54 said they now regularly use social networks, up from 24 percent in 2008.
Moreover, users age 35 to 54 also boosted their creator activities; one in five of these users produce some form of social content.
While the Forrester study doesn't address enterprise use, it's logical to conclude adults in the knowledge worker category are using social networks during work hours, probably even for work. An Aug. 4 from Nielsen Norman Group found that the younger front-line workers are leading this adoption.
Members of this group are typically 20-somethings just out of college, who may have been using social tools for four or five years. Such workers are familiar with social networks such as MySpace and Facebook and may have hosted their own blogs through Blogger, Movable Type, WordPress or some other platform. Twitter has turned into quite the tool for sales professionals and marketers, who are also frequently inspired to set up Facebook pages to spread their message.
Indeed, Corcoran said interactive marketers must create social applications even if their audience is mature.
"Social media can no longer be dismissed as a quirky habit of young adults," Corcoran wrote. "Nearly all online adults now participate socially, including those in their 40s and 50s. After analyzing how your customers engage, we recommend crafting your brand's social entrance quickly; hesitating will force you to chase competitors who've already launched their social strategies."
Read more about this topic on Techmeme here.