On average, adult social networkers in South Africa are in their 30s, employed full-time, and describe themselves as sociable and outgoing.

This is according to findings in new research commissioned by MWeb. The Friendship 2.0 survey was conducted towards the end of 2009 among local web users aged 16 years and older, busting the myth that social networking is only done by youngsters and demonstrating how social networking has gone mainstream.
Facebook remains the dominant social networking platform with a massive 82% using the service. Behind Facebook comes YouTube (32%), then MXit (29%) and Twitter 28%. The majority of people are using these services to communicate real life activities such as sharing personal news, gossiping and making arrangements to meet socially.
Social networking is changing the format of personal networks dramatically. Many people are now making friends and meeting potential partners online. The impact of social networking is also expanding personal networks with the average user claiming to have around 158 friends they regularly interact with.
Carolyn Holgate, GM of MWeb Connect, says: “Social networks have really become the garden fence of the 21st century, and are used for very much the same purposes as community meeting places. We are at the end of the early adoption phase, which was dominated by young people, and social networking is now a mainstream activity enjoyed and used by all age groups, particularly those in their thirties.”
The survey revealed that the average age of Facebook users in South Africa is 33; MySpace is 32; Twitter and YouTube come in at 31; and the youngest in the survey is MXit with an average age of 27. These findings dispel perceptions that social networking is for teenagers only.
Many online South Africans are also taking up multiple presences using a combination of Facebook, Twitter and MXit accounts. To facilitate integration between these multiple platforms, these users link their various accounts to each other enabling visitors to their Facebook pages to view their Twitter updates and click through to their MySpace profile.
On certain social platforms it’s more a matter of viewing than doing. For example, 75% of MySpace users are only ‘viewers’, moving from one profile to the next. Similarly, 72% of Twitter users are ‘lurkers’, reading what others post. This may be because Twitter is still relatively ‘new’ and users do not have the option of accepting people who would like to follow them. Users could also be more concerned about what their followers may think of their comments.
Facebook and LinkedIn are the most balanced, with 60% of their users classed as “viewers”, who just view other people’s pages, and 40% actively posting their own information regularly.
The addition of Facebook’s chat facility/instant messenger tool has seen 56% of South African Facebook users ‘chatting’ to their friends on the site. “When we looked at who they are chatting to, friends and family were tops. Clients, partners and suppliers were the lowest, possibly because most Facebook users prefer not to befriend people they deal with professionally.”
The way South African’s are accessing the Internet revealed that ADSL is the connection of choice. “Some 48% of the participants are connecting via ADSL, followed very closely by 3G/HSDPA at 42%, and 35% via their cell phones using 3G,” Holgate says.
The survey results categorised respondents into five different online personality types. These personality types, vary from those who are reluctant to use the Internet and do not have an understanding of what can be done online, through to users who are comfortable using the Internet and indulge in potentially “edgy” behaviour, such as using a pseudonym online or using the Internet to find out what a past partner is doing.
Other interesting findings include:
* The research revealed that 74% of South Africans going online do so specifically to visit social networking platforms;
* 16% of Facebook users in the survey are on Facebook all day, an additional 58% visit the site once a day or more. This means 74% are accessing Facebook at least once a day;
* The computer desktop remains the most popular way to access Facebook (55%), but 35% are using a combination of their cellphone and computer;
* 62% of Facebook users are updating their status, and 61% are uploading videos or photographs, and searching for someone on the site;
* Only 16% of the participants are using social platforms to promote their business. MWEB believes this figure will grow as more small businesses are seeing the value in promoting their businesses online;
* 94% of the participants are using the Internet to access their email followed by 81% using the Internet for work related activities. Social networking (74%) rated six on the list of online activities after reading the news (76%), searching for information (76%) and online banking (75%);
* 50% of Facebook users classified themselves as English, 58% are male and 25% have parents on the social platforms;
* A quarter of the survey participants have met more friends online than they have in real life;
* 24% have gone on a face-to-face date with someone they have met online;
* 36% have used a pseudonym online;
* Another 36% have used the Internet to find out what a past partner is doing;
* 37% believe they spend too much time online and need to cut back. This is an indication that these platforms are viewed as addictive;
* Just under half feel vulnerable to abuse by sharing their personal details online; and
* And 21% have experienced a breach of their privacy on the Internet.