The UK social media revolution in figures

Fri 21st of May 2010, filed under Social Media


Lots of UK businesses have heard about the need to invest in social media marketing. It is beyond doubt that sites like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, YouTube and Digg are changing how people behave online.

However, as with any emerging trend, it can often be hard to separate fact from fiction, making it difficult for companies to get a handle on the exact size and demographic profile of the UK social media audience.

This is why prospective social media marketers need to pay close attention to reports from trusted sources. Research needs to be thorough and unbiased if it is to be of any use whatsoever.

In the UK, one of the most respected institutions for web research is Ofcom, the independent UK communications regulator. Its latest report, entitled UK Adult's Media Literacy, includes a detailed analysis of social media trends based on surveys of UK adults aged 16 and over.

British web usage

As you would expect, the Ofcom study confirms that UK internet usage is still very much in the ascendancy; three quarters of adults said they used the internet in 2009 (73 per cent), up from two-thirds in 2007 (63 per cent). However, things get much more interesting on the subject of what all these users are actually doing online.

According to the UK Adul?s Media Literacy report:

  • There has been a substantial decrease in the number of people surfing the web to find information for work or education.
  • Just one in three people used the internet for this purpose in 2009 (36 per cent), down from almost half in 2007 (48 per cent).
  • Instead, the last couple of years have witnessed a surge in social media.
  • A third of people used social networking on a regular basis in 2009 (35 per cent) against a mere fifth in 2007 (19 per cent).

Businesses could be forgiven for assuming that the rising number of consumers heading online means a rising number of consumers looking for information online. However, the Ofcom report emphatically shows that this is not the case. The lesson is that it is no longer simply enough for companies to populate a website with informative content about their products, services and prices and wait for the cash to roll in. Toda?s customer is spending huge swathes of time on sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, which needs to be factored into any online marketing strategy worth its salt.

Social media demographics

Of course, not everyone interacts with social media sites equally; once again, the Ofcom report proves invaluable in documenting the social media revolution:

  • Young people are by far the most avid users, with more than two thirds of 16-24 year olds likely to network on a regular basis in 2009 (69 per cent) along with half of 25-34 year olds (54 per cent).
  • Moving into the older demographics, there is a huge drop off among 35-44 year olds (28 per cent)
  • Uptake continues to decline until you find just one in 20 over 65s engaging regularly with social media (4 per cent).
  • Social media clearly remains the preserve of younger generations at the moment.

Perhaps surprisingly, there is also a marked gender divide. Females dominate the space with four in ten saying that they regularly visit social media sites (40 per cent). Contrast that with the three in ten males who frequently access Facebook, Twitter and the rest (29 per cent) and you quickly build up the picture of a strongly female-centric landscape.

Conclusions from the social media research

Internet uptake is still growing. However, the UK Adul?s Media Literacy report makes it clear that the online habits of consumers are changing dramatically with far less emphasis on looking for information and far more engagement with social networking sites. Getting into specifics, it appears that 25-44 year olds and female users are leading the rush onto Facebook and its peers.

Companies that are targeting these demographics would be well advised to invest in social media marketing as a matter of urgency? after all, this is where their consumers are. Yet it is wrong to suggest these sites are only gaining traction among certain categories because internet users as a whole are spending much more time networking. In the final analysis, what seems obvious is that anyone future-proofing their online business needs to think seriously about social media marketing.

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