Social networking epidemic infects the young

“Social networking swept through the internet-using population like flu during 2006-2007, but like any epidemic, it shows signs of falling back once all the most vulnerable targets have been infected,” says Tim Johnson, Chief Analyst at Point Topic.

Point Topic’s latest Consumer Survey* shows it is the young who have been hit in this case. Over 70% of 18 to 24 year-olds with internet access at home say they log on to sites such as MySpace, Bebo or Facebook regularly, but only 6% of the over 65s.

“Social networking is already the seventh most widespread internet activity, carried on by 35% of all home internet users, but one of the most strongly age-related,” says Johnson.

Over 36% of broadband homes are already using social networking against only 14% of dial-up ones. This suggests there are about 5.3 million homes enjoying internet social networking in the UK, of which barely 200,000 still rely on dial-up.

This still leaves 10 million internet homes and maybe 18 million internet-using adults in the UK yet to be infected by the social networking bug.

But over the last few months there have been a series of reports that the growth of the social networking giants was already slowing, while existing users were spending less time on the new craze.

Point Topic thinks this is just a pause.

“The first wave of adopters are cooling off a bit as the initial craze starts to fade, but people will keep on using social networking sites even though they spend less time on them," says Johnson.

The range of sites will become much more diverse – MySpace and Facebook still share over 80% of the market at present. Growth in numbers will resume as the idea spreads to older age groups and poorer people, although it will never repeat the speed of the initial viral infection.