Just over 40 per cent of the online community now use social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn, compared to 27 per cent last year, according to a survey run by TNS and The Conference Board.
Facebook leading the way
Facebook is the most popular, used by 78 per cent of online households, with MySpace coming in second followed by LinkedIn and Twitter.
In addition, the research suggests this is more than just a fad among the younger generation. Nearly 20 percent of those aged over 55 visit social networking sites, up from only 6 per cent a year ago.
“Social media is here to stay…They’ve become an integral part of our personal and professional lives,” said Lynn Franco from the Conference Board Consumer Research Centre.
She also highlighted the importance the phenomenon would have for marketers.
“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.”
For Anita Watkins, senior vice president at TNS, companies can capitalise on this novel way individuals communicate with each other.
“Smart marketers are utilizing this behaviour 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.
“Companies are listening in to these conversations and harnessing the power of influences to co-create their marketing strategies,” she said.
Visitors want more contact with companies
The study also suggests that visitors value the direct contact with companies and brands that they can have through the sites, and in some cases would like more.
When asked who they would like more access or interaction with, 14 percent of Facebook users said their favourite company, followed by service providers at 13 percent.
Similarly, Tweeter users also said they interact with companies and brands, as well as co-workers and employers via the site.