The third quarter 2010 demographics of Social Media users according to Google’s Adplanner services has a few surprises. Facebook actually dropped from 550 to 540 million users in the third quarter, and Facebook users over age 54 dropped from 16% to 10% in the last six months. Based on the data from the 2nd and 3rd quarters there is a significant slowing in the growth of the major Social Media tools.

Among the numbers are the interesting age group distributions of each of the networking sites. The data gives important clues of what each site is being used for in addition to who is using it.

Facebook’s Fire Cools
No one can dispute Facebook’s impact on the world. It is BIG, and with millions of posts and interactions each day, the influence of its users is the envy of every marketing professional. Traditional media professional and other old people will be tempted to look at the 3rd quarter data and declare that the Social Media ‘fad’ is over and on the decline. That would be a statement of ignorance.

Facebook 3rdQ 2010 DAILY visits

Facebook’s growth could not continue indefinitely and its amazing growth in users from 2008 to the start of 2010 was being fueled by a viral exploration of a new media that allowed people to connect in a way they never had before. Now that exploration has calmed and I believe we are seeing the coming of age of Social Media.

The drop of 10 million users during the third quarter is only significant in that it shows a leveling off of the growth. The average time on the site is over 23 minutes, which is much longer than the other three major U.S. Social Media tools (MySpace 14:40 mins., Twitter 13:10 mins., LinkedIn 9:50 mins.) That is important as more time spent means more interaction and more influence by users and advertisers.

Facebook reaches almost 57% of the people in the United States (35% worldwide) which is a staggering statistic. If USA Today could reach 57% of Americans (without giving the newspaper away to every hotel guest) and know that the readers were spending over 23 minutes looking at their paper they would probably be the only newspaper in the United States… and mega rich. As of March 2010, USA Today has a circulation of only 1.8 million compared to Facebook’s over 65 million visitors (based on cookies.)

3rdQ Facebook Users by Age

1stQ Facebook Users by Age

One statistic that keeps bouncing around in the Social Media world is that “women over 55 is the fastest growing group of Facebook users.” That it is old data. While the over 55 group had climbed to 16% at the end of March 2010, it is now the fastest shrinking age group and Facebook users under 18 years old have been the fastest growing group during the last six months.

Finally, 57% of the Facebook users are women, which is about the same as six months ago. That seems to confirm that Facebook is about ‘social’ networking and making personal connections. Facebook continues to be the place where buying decisions are influenced through small group interactions. Business and Marketing people will find that if they try to manipulate these discussions it will eventually backfire on them. Facebook is where business should LISTEN, not talk.

Twitter 3rdQ 2010 DAILY visits

Twitter Continues to Pause
The biggest surprise in the 3rd Quarter with Twitter was that it did not break the 100 million user mark. At the end of the 2nd Quarter it was at 96 million users, which was up by 16 million from the 1st Quarter. However, Twitter only grew by 2 million and now stands at 98 million users.

Twitter’s daily visits have leveled off for the last six months, and some might see this as an ominous sign for the hyper-fast post Social Media tool; however, this is deceiving as many Twitter users, (like myself,) don’t go to the Twitter site to use the tool, but rather use an application, like TweetDeck, to interact on the site. Thus the visit count would not be recorded as a site visit.

Twitter’s lack of significant growth in the number of users may be do to a continued lack of understanding of the value of the Tweet world and a period of constant ‘Fail Whales’ in the 2nd Quarter and early 3rd Quarter. The service has seemed to address the major problems in system overloads, but lately has had a return of a few service interruptions in the past few weeks. Obviously, if Twitter continues to have problems it won’t be able to survive in an environment where reliability is oxygen to users.

As for the lack of understanding of the value of Twitter, the service will struggle to grow until people can learn that the impact of Twitter is not in the posts, but the conversations and the URL links to other blogs and webpages. Twitter is like Headline News for new ideas and concepts. Often posts reveal a new approach or cutting-edge information that won’t be in the traditional public arena for months. That is why I still see Twitter growing if they can rid themselves of service interruptions.

3rdQ 2010 Twitter users by Age

1stQ 2010 Twitter users by Age

One interesting development in the latest data is the shift in the age demographics. Twitter seems to have made a shift to younger adults. The 18-34 age group is up by 16%, while the 35-64 age group is down by 9% from six months ago. Also, teenagers (under 18) have dropped by 6% since the 1st quarter and now make up only 4% of all Twitter users. The apparent dislike for Twitter among teenagers is a clear age defining characteristic. I have had two separate teenagers say to me “You’re not on Twitter, are you!?”

Apparently Twitter gives you cooties. Who knew?

MySpace Back From the Brink?
I have predicted the end of MySpace for sometime, but in the 3rd quarter it did something bizarre … it gained users. It had dropped 14 million users from the 1st to the 2nd quarter and then it gained one million users back in the 3rd quarter. MySpace now stands at 67 million users. Not earth-shaking, but certainly noteworthy. LinkedIn would sacrifice several interns to have that many users. MySpace also has more women. Female users consist of 64% of the MySpace population.

MySpace 3rdQ 2010 DAILY visits

The reason? Well, no other major Social Media tool lets you search by gender … and age … and height … and race … and body type … and sexual orientation … are you getting the picture? MySpace is a social dating site as much as anything else and lonely people make up a lot of our world’s population. So maybe MySpace has found its niche as a romance network and that will stop the freefall of the past two quarters.

3Q 2010 MySpace users by Age

3rdQ 2010 MySpace users by Age

Yes, there are more teenagers on this site than most (14%), but 63% of the users are between 18 and 44 years old. One caveat. MySpace has limited the ‘find-a-friend’ search function to give the results of people age 18 and over. That is a smart move to protect minors; however, some teenagers have simply listed themselves as an age of 18 or older to circumvent the limitation. I caught a few teenagers that list themselves as 19, but on their main page description they indicate their real age. This is likely why the number of ‘under 18′ users have dropped from 34% to 14% in six months.

LinkedIn Drifting in Niche
The 3rd quarter statistics show that despite millions of people looking work, the business person to business person website of LinkedIn is not growing. It is at 41 million,
which is actually higher than the end of 2nd quarter, but the same as the end of the 1st quarter.

LinkedIn 3rdQ DAILY visits

Like MySpace, LinkedIn has found its niche. Essentially, LinkedIn is a business-oriented website that provides a job exchange service. Most users are using the networking website as their digital résumé in order to attract job offers. In the Tom Peters ‘Re-Imagine’ business world where branding is a key element of survival, LinkedIn is Mecca for self-promotion.

Unfortunately, LinkedIn is not as successful as Facebook and Twitter in two-way interaction.

Both of those Social Media tools do not have as much as of an ‘agenda’ by individual users as LinkedIn. Users of the business-oriented network seem to spend more time professing what they know and don’t spend as much time listening to others. This is the traditional media model of one-way communication, which is the style of communication that Social Media has displaced. For some, the self-promotion run amuck style of some LinkedIn users is a turn off that may hurt the site in the long run.

3Q 2010 LinkedIn user by Age

1stQ 2010 LinkedIn users by Age

It will be interesting to see how LinkedIn will fare as the business-caused Recession of 2007-09 eases and people are employed again. LinkedIn could be a key to a sudden labor shortage in 2012 as those companies with the best opportunities will be able to target and recruit candidates through LinkedIn, leaving other employers to either compete or settle for what’s left over.

Age and gender on LinkedIn reinforce the business-world orientation as more males (57%) are users and the distribution of the age groups reflects the working world. Interestingly, while LinkedIn still has more users over 54 years old (15%), this is 7% drop from the 1st quarter. That is offset by an 8% jump of the 24-34 year old users in the last six months.

4th Quarter Predictions?
I believe we are seeing a refinement of each of the big four Social Media tools. Facebook has become the social sharing network, Twitter is the thought-provoking, learning network, MySpace is the social relationship network, and LinkedIn the branding and résumé network. The demographics are settling in to reinforce the existing nature of each of the networks. Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn will likely end 2010 about where they are now unless something viral either cause a rush of new users, or sends people running away. Twitter still has potential significant growth, but I don’t see that happening in the 4th quarter.

The volatility of the Social Media networks have made it difficult to understand what they will eventually represent in our world; however, now that there seems to be a calming of the major networks, the value and purpose is becoming clearer. That will allow the big four to lock in their market; however, it will also open the door for other networks to identify areas of opportunities and weakness. My prediction is that 2011 will be the entrenchment of the Social Media, followed by more competition by other networks seeking to improve or offer alternatives to the established services.