June 16, 2011 // Connections Media
A new study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project examines a fundamental and frequently asked question about social networking sites:
Do they make us more or less social?
The report overview breaks down this question and explains how they approached finding an answer:
Do these technologies isolate people and truncate their relationships? Or are there benefits associated with being connected to others in this way? The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project decided to examine social networking sites in a survey that explored people’s overall social networks and how use of these technologies is related to trust, tolerance, social support, and community and political engagement.
The study begins by noting that overall, social networking use has increased to 47% of adults, up from 26% in 2008. In addition, an older demographic is increasingly embracing social networks. The average age of adult social network users increased from 33 in 2008 to 38 in 2010.
The study also found that although Facebook reigns supreme, with 92% of social network users on The Social Network, other networks are gaining ground. Only 13% of social network users are on Twitter, but the microblogging site is also growing at the fastest rate. Nearly 60% of those who said they use Twitter joined within the past year.
Both MySpace and LinkedIn rank ahead of Twitter in percentage of users who said they had an account. Of the 2,225 adults surveyed, 29% have a MySpace account and 18% have a LinkedIn account. The study described MySpace and LinkedIn, however, as “occasional destinations.” Three percent of LinkedIn users use the site several times a day, compared to 31% for Facebook and 20% for Twitter.
These statistics on how social networks continue to evolve make up the most interesting part of the study. As for the central question on whether they make us reclusive nerds, the answer is no. According to the Pew conclusion:
The findings suggests that there is little validity to concerns that people who use [Social Networking Sites (SNS)] experience smaller social networks, less closeness, or are exposed to less diversity. We did find that people who are already likely to have large overall social networks – those with more years of education – gravitate to specific SNS platforms, such as LinkedIn and Twitter. The size of their overall networks is no larger (or smaller) than what we would expect given their existing characteristics and propensities.
The study concludes that our online social networks reflect our real social networks. Our choice of social networking sites and how we use them generally corresponds to demographic factors like our race, gender, and education.
The question now is how will those leveraging online social networks use this data in the future? For example, will a 2012 candidate devote more resources to LinkedIn, where most users are educated and more likely to vote? Time will tell who is paying attention.