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Social Networking: The UK as a Leader in Europe

The UK has the second highest proportion of social networkers in the EU.

The number of adults accessing the Internet every day in Great Britain more than doubled between 2006 and 2012, from 16 million to 33 million. A recent growth in social networking has been one of the most significant changes to the ways in which individuals communicate over the Internet. In 2012, almost half of all adults (48%) used social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Social networking has broad appeal and although its use is lower amongst the older population, its use is not exclusively limited to younger age groups. In 2012, 62% of adults aged 35 to 44, and 40% of adults aged 45 to 54 used social networks to communicate online.

This article looks at these trends in more detail, with a particular focus on those aged 16-24 and further demonstrates that the United Kingdom (UK), using data collated by Eurostat, is a leader when it comes to participation in social networking across the EU.

Opinions and Lifestyle Survey – Social Networking

The Opinions and Lifestyle survey is a continuous, monthly, face-to-face survey which samples around 2,010 adults in Great Britain per month. Each year, usually between January and March, a module is included on Internet use. The results are used in the publication ‘Internet Access – Households and Individuals statistical bulletin1.

In 2012, as part of the Internet Access module, respondents were asked about which activities they used the Internet for in the three months prior to their interview. They were able to select “Social networking, using websites e.g. Facebook or Twitter” as a response to this question.

Analysis of the responses found that there was no difference in the use of social networking by men and women, with 48% of both using social networking applications and websites. However, there was a marked difference in use between age groups. In general, the proportion of adults recently using social networks decreased with age. In the 16 to 24 age group, 87% of respondents used social networks in the three months prior to being interviewed. This compared, for example, with only 10% of adults in the 65 and over age group.

Recent growth in social networking can partly be explained by increasing mobile Internet use in Great Britain. In 2012, just over half (52%) of all adults used a mobile device to access the Internet and, of these, 63% accessed social networks. The term ‘mobile’ refers to any mobile or smart phone, PDA, MP3 player, e-book reader or handheld game console. It excludes the use of tablet computers.

As with overall Internet use, social networking via a mobile device was most popular with the younger age groups. Approximately 7 in 10 adults (72% ) used mobile devices for accessing social networks in the 16 to 24 age group, while just 1 in 100 (1%) of those aged 65 and over did so.

International comparisons – social networking2

Estimates of Internet use are collected on a consistent basis across Europe by Eurostat, allowing international comparisons to be made. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) sends data to Eurostat that are representative of the UK3, rather than Great Britain, to meet this legal obligation.

It is important to note that the definition of social networking used in international comparisons is broader than that used for the estimates relating to Great Britain. This is because the definition that Eurostat uses for social networking includes ‘posting messages to chat sites, social networking sites, blogs, newsgroups, discussion forums and the use of Instant Messaging (IM)’.

Within the EU, in 2012, the UK ranked second behind the Netherlands for social networking by all individuals4. By this wider definition of social networking, 57% of adults reported that they had made use of social networks in the three months prior to the survey.

Looking further abroad, the US Census Bureau reported that in May 2011, “use of social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook or LinkedIn” were used by 50% of all adults in the United States. This is interesting context, but comparisons with this estimate should be made with caution due to differences in survey methodology.

Figure 1: Social Networking, All individuals, 2012

Figure 1: Social Networking, All individuals, 2012
Source: Eurostat

Notes:

  1. Defined as posting messages to chat sites, social networking sites, blogs, newsgroups, discussion forums and the use of Instant Messaging.

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Looking specifically at those aged 16 to 24 the UK has the joint fifth highest proportion of social networkers in the EU (90%). The Netherlands has the highest proportion of 16 to 24 year olds using social networks (97%), followed by Sweden (92%); Slovenia (92%) and Portugal (92%). It is worth noting that while differences exist in proportions for the 16 to 24 group, they are less apparent than when looking between each country as a whole. This suggests that social networking has more universal appeal amongst younger individuals and that, by implication, there are differences in take up among older age groups in different countries.

Map 1: Social Networking, Individuals aged 16 to 24 years old, 2012

Map 1: Social Networking, Individuals aged 16 to 24 years old, 2012
Source: Eurostat

Notes:

  1. Defined as posting messages to chat sites, social networking sites, blogs, newsgroups, discussion forums and the use of Instant Messaging.

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International comparisons5 – social networking  via a mobile device

It is also possible to compare the UK and other EU countries with respect to the proportion of adults accessing social networks via a mobile device. In this context, in 2012, the UK was placed second out of all EU countries, with Sweden having the highest proportion of adults (40%) accessing social networks via a mobile device.

There are marked differences across the EU when accessing social networks via a mobile device. In 2012, there was a very low take up of social networking via a mobile in Romania, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic where the proportions were all less than 5%.

Figure 2: Mobile Social Networking, All Individuals, 2012

Figure 2: Mobile Social Networking, All Individuals, 2012
Source: Eurostat

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Across the 16 to 24 age group, mobile social networking was again most popular in Sweden (79%) and the UK (72%). The take up of social networking is an example of how northern European countries have led the way in the adoption of new technology. The proportions of 16 to 24 year olds using mobile social networking were smallest in Hungary, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Romania, where usage was less than 20%.

Map 2: Mobile Social Networking, Individuals aged 16 to 24 years old, 2012

Map 2: Mobile Social Networking, Individuals aged 16 to 24 years old, 2012
Source: Eurostat

Notes:

  1. Defined as posting messages to chat sites, social networking sites, blogs, newsgroups, discussion forums and the use of Instant Messaging.

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Conclusion

Social networking is an increasingly popular activity in the UK with around half of adults, in 2012, being recent users. This degree of popularity is best illustrated by European survey results which reveal that the UK is one of the leading countries across the EU in terms of the take-up of social networking. The UK has the second highest proportion of social networkers in the EU - this is true for both social networking in general and social networking via a mobile device.

Future survey results will show whether social networking is a permanent feature of our day-to-day lives. It will also be interesting to see whether it becomes more widespread amongst older age groups who are currently relatively low users.

Notes for Social networking: The UK as a leader in Europe

  1. Data were collected from Great Britain households only, not from households in Northern Ireland. For 2012, these data were then grossed to represent the United Kingdom before being sent to Eurostat. As such, all international comparisons are on a UK basis. 

  2. Defined as posting messages to chat sites, social networking sites, blogs, newsgroups, discussion forums and the use of Instant Messaging.

  3. Data were weighted from Great Britain households only, not from households in Northern Ireland. For 2012, these data were then grossed to represent the United Kingdom before being sent to Eurostat. As such, all international comparisons are on a UK basis.

  4. Eurostat’s coverage of ‘all individuals’ refers to adults aged 16-74.

  5. Defined as posting messages to chat sites, social networking sites, blogs, newsgroups, discussion forums and the use of Instant Messaging.




     

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