Canadians embracing social networks

Nearly four in ten have visited them, and three in ten have posted personal profiles.

Today, Ipsos Reid released a report confirming the popularity of social networks among Canadians – who are now spending an average of 5.4 hours per week accessing them online. ‘Online social networks and communities appear to have hit the Internet with the momentum of a runaway locomotive,’ concluded the Vancouver-based research organization.

The Online Socialization, Social Networking and Online Communities report found that nearly 37% of Internet-enabled adults in Canada have visited an online social network or online social community, while 29% have placed a profile on at least one such site.

Younger Canadian adults are much more likely to visit these websites and to place personal profiles. In fact, nearly 63% of the 18-34 demo are visitors, and 55% have vied for cyber fame by posting personal profiles. Meanwhile, 29% in the 35-54 category are visitors, while 21% have posted personal profiles. In the 55 and up demo, 9% are visitors and the same number have posted profiles.

‘This is a staggering result given that these sites didn’t exist four years ago,’ Ipsos Reid senior research manager in Western Canada Scott Patton points out. ‘Facebook only launched in 2004, as did MSN Spaces. The growth in use of these sites simply hasn’t been matched by any other Internet activities we’ve ever seen.’

Even so, in a cautionary note, the report cited the possibility that use of online social networks may not continue to grow as rapidly in Canada. Although the conversion rate of visitors to users has been extremely high, nearly two-thirds of Canadian Internet users who have not already visited an online social network say they are simply not interested in doing so, and 69% say they are ‘very’ unlikely to visit an online social network in the next 12 months.

‘The challenge for the managers and developers of online social networks and communities will be to generate enough positive interest to keep up the momentum they have experienced so far,’ says Patton. ‘In fact, these managers and developers may have more success in looking for ways to increase the contact with current users, enticing them to spend more time online and convincing them to use their own site over a competitor’s.’

Bottom line? According to the report, ‘Even with an expected slower uptake in the future, Canadian adults who use online social networks will still represent a significant demographic for years to come. As younger users age, they are likely to take their Internet habits with them. With penetration of the Internet being nearly total among those in the 18-54 bracket (more than 90% have Internet access from some location), and the high use of online social networks, these sites will likely represent a larger proportion of the core Internet user group in the not too distant future.’

Adds Patton: ‘Given the differences in online behaviour between users and non-users – plus the sheer number of hours spent online by people visiting social network sites – the opportunities cannot be ignored from a marketing perspective. Visitors to these sites are more apt to respond to a marketing message and make a purchase online. It’s not hard to imagine the possibilities that online social networks represent for marketing. The challenge is to decide which online social network to partner with when targeting customers.’