According to a new poll from Pew Internet, 66% of American online adults use social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Their reasons differ but communication with friends and family is the main draw. Half of the people questioned said they use social media networks to contact friends they have lost touch with. Other smaller factors include:
14% of users say that connecting around a shared hobby or interest is a major reason they use social media, and 9% say that making new friends is equally important. Reading comments by public figures and finding potential romantic partners are cited as major factors by just 5% and 3% of social media users, respectively.
Particularly interesting is the finding that following public figures on Twitter was especially popular among African-Americans and Latinos:
Among social media users as a whole, the ability to read comments by public figures such as politicians, celebrities or athletes does not come into play as a major factor—fully three quarters of users say that this plays no role whatsoever in their decision to use these sites. And while connecting with public figures has a relatively modest impact on users across a range of groups, both African Americans and Latinos show more interest in this activity than white users. One in ten black social media users (10%) and 11% of Latinos say that reading comments from public figures is a major reason for using these sites (compared with just 3% of white users). Black and Latino social media users are also more likely to say that this is a minor factor (31% of blacks and 26% of Latinos say this, compared with 16% of whites).
Additionally, Twitter users are more interested in connecting with public figures than are social media users who do not use Twitter. One in ten Twitter users (11%) say that reading comments by politicians, celebrities or athletes is a major reason they use online social networks, and 30% say that this is a minor reason for their usage of these sites. Each of these is notably higher than the average for social media users who do not use Twitter (4% of these users say this is a major reason for using these sites, with 11% citing it as a minor reason).
Twitter has been a great promotional tool for candidates like Jon Huntsman whose August tweet about his beliefs on science and evolution helped him become a favorite of moderate Republicans and make massive follower gains in under 140 characters. His daughters also have their own Twitter account, @jon2012girls, where they tweet headlines and promote videos they make about their father’s campaign.
But Twitter has also been a disaster for some public figures. Ashton Kutcher recently caused a stir by tweeting that Penn State University had made a huge mistake in firing Joe Paterno after the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal surfaced. Kutcher received instant and unanimous criticism and was forced to admit that he had no idea how severe the charges were.
As more and more Americans warm to social media it will be interesting to see what trends emerge in different demographics. Seeing pictures of your cousin’s kids will always be popular, but a switch to relying on social media as a news source or a means of taking action is likely to permeate more subcultures and age groups as more and more adults begin to familiarize themselves with the ease of use and instant gratification of the platforms.