The three most-popular social networking sites in the U.K. – Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn – each enjoyed record unique-audience figures last month, according to the latest official data from UKOM/Nielsen.
Some 26.8 million 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 U.K.’s second most-popular site, behind Google.
Twitter also enjoyed its highest-ever U.K. audience last month, with 6.14 million Brits visiting the site from home and work computers in May – up 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% rise) in the number of women over 65 visiting the site.
The business network LinkedIn continued its steady ascent, registering 3.59 million U.K. visitors in May 2011, up 57 percent on the same month last year.
UKOM general manager James Smythe said, “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 U.K., the profile of Facebook’s audience was noticeably skewed towards 18-34 year olds. This is no longer the case. While Facebook’s unique U.K. 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 U.K. online population as a whole.
(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 U.K. 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 U.K. 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 growing number of over-50s visiting social networks is presenting brands with new opportunities. Nielsen senior director Stephanie Hayden explains by saying, “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.”
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. All companies should be making the effort to listen to consumers online in order to stay relevant to them and to fuel new directions for their brand.”
While the number of U.K. visitors to the three-biggest social networks continues to rise, the amount of time these audiences are spending on these sites is more mixed. The average visitor to Facebook and LinkedIn is spending a little longer on those sites each month than they were two years ago, while the average visitor to Twitter appears to be spending a little less.
Further afield, the rise in U.K. audiences to the most-popular social networks has also been mirrored in the U.S. In May, Facebook topped 140 million unique U.S. visitors, up 12 percent on the same time last year, and up five percent on the previous month. U.S. visitors to Twitter were up 22 percent year-over-year.
Similar YoY increases in unique visitors were recorded on mainland Europe. Facebook is up seven percent in Spain, 18 percent in France, 26 percent in Italy and 72 percent in Germany. Twitter audiences dropped YoY in Germany -11 percent, but are up 48 percent in France, 58 percent in Italy and 102 percent in Spain.