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Over 50s leading UK social network growth

  • Official figures show Twitter’s UK audience jumped by a third in May following Giggsgate - the number of women pensioners visiting the site doubles
  • Over-50s are the key drivers of growth in audiences to social networks

The three most-popular social networking sites in the UK - Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn – each enjoyed record unique-audience figures in May, according to the latest official data from UKOM/Nielsen, the UK’s industry-approved online measurement body.

26.8million Brits visited Facebook in May 2011 – the highest-ever number – which was enough to propel it for the first time above the collective web-brand of MSN/WindowsLive/Bing, making it the UK’s second most popular site, behind Google.

Top-3 brands online by unique UK visitors (000s)

Top three brands online in UK May 2011At the centre of the Ryan Giggs super-injunction debate, Twitter also enjoyed its highest-ever UK audience last month, with 6.14million Brits visiting the site from home and work computers in May - up a massive 34 percent on April.

The monthly audience rise was helped by a 65 percent increase in the number of men aged 50-64 and a doubling (96 percent rise) in the number of women over 65 visiting the site.

LinkedIn continued its steady ascent, registering 3.59million UK visitors in May 2011, up 57 percent on the same month last year.

UKOM general manager James Smythe: “The growth in audiences to these social networks is now primarily being driven by the 50-plus age group. Just a few years ago, this group may have found itself out of place on these sites; now, on Facebook, for example, they account for more new adults visiting the site in the last two years than the under-50s.”

Just two years ago, in the UK, the profile of Facebook's audience was noticeably skewed towards 18-34 year olds. This is no longer the case. While Facebook’s unique UK audience has risen 41 percent since May 2009, the increase in the number of 50-64 year-olds visiting the site has easily outstripped this, growing by 84 percent.

And it’s not just baby-boomers visiting the site; the number of over-65s has increased across the same period by 81 percent. The age profile of visitors to Facebook now much more closely reflects the age profile of the UK online population as a whole.

The likelihood of different age-groups to visit Facebook, May 2009 vs. May 2011

(Age-composition index by unique audience)Facebook use by age group in UK(An age-composition index of 100 means the proportion of that age group visiting Facebook exactly matches the composition of that age group as a proportion of the entire UK online population. The red bars are much closer to the 100-mark, than the blue bars. Eg. In May 2009, with an index of 133, a visitor to the Facebook site was 33% more likely to be an 18-34 year-old than the average UK user online; now they’re only 13% more likely.)

The story is similar for Twitter – older age-groups are becoming more likely to visit the site. But unlike Facebook, the under-18s are less likely to visit Twitter than two years ago.

The likelihood of different age-groups to visit Twitter, May 2009 vs. May 2011

(Age-composition index by unique audience)Twitter use by age group in UKThe growing number of over-50s visiting social networks is presenting brands with new opportunities. Nielsen senior director Stephanie Hayden explains: “It’s becoming more commonplace for the over-50s to discuss topics online with people they do and don’t know. For some brands, this can open up a new marketing channel.

“Brands should first gain a deeper understanding of how and why their older consumers are using social networks. Depending on the evaluation, they may benefit from creating a new Facebook page or Twitter account. It can even be appropriate for brands to go further, giving opportunities for older consumers with more life-experience to facilitate conversations, offer expert advice, or provide a place where people can share experiences, ask questions, and help each other.”

She continues: “In addition, for all brands, the growing number of silver surfers on social networks, means these sites - as a consumer-insight tool - are becoming more and more representative of the total market.

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