To those that already actively participate on one or more of these sites, the results of Nielson’s recent Social Media reportmay be expected. The report highlights a trend regarding potential customers and consumers and the influence social networking sites have over them. While the uptick of social networking users may seem predictable, here are a few findings that may come as a surprise:

  • Facebook – With US internet users collectively spending more time connecting to Facebook than any other website, this site is THE social media outlet to make sure you are profiled on. In addition to time spent connecting the old-fashioned way, smartphone users have put Facebook on top by making it the most popular app across all operating systems. And while females may make up a higher percentage of Facebook users, the site can take pride in knowing it draws a wide audience from all age groups and global markets.
  • LinkedIn – Although LinkedIn may not be the #1 social media site, it shouldn’t be overlooked as a valuable resource. LinkedIn is one of only two sites that can claim the percentage of male visitors to the site exceeds the percentage of active male internet users (47%). There is also a significant likelihood that LinkedIn users are post-graduate degree recipients. While gender and education are important demographics, age may be the site’s more note-worthy distinction. With LinkedIn receiving 16% of the smartphone app users aged 55 and over (the same percentage as Facebook and Twitter combined for the same age group), LinkedIn is connected to a growing market – in 2011, over twice as many people aged 55 and over visited social networking sites on their mobile phone than last year.
  • Tumblr – “Going viral” is a phrase that could easily be used to describe the rapid success of this site. As a newer social networking outlet, Tumblr has gained significant ground in the social media market, having been propelled to becoming the 8th largest social networking and blogging site in the U.S. Additionally, Tumblr managed to nearly triple its unique American audience over the last year – an audience that favors the 18-34 female demographic. Tumblr’s growing popularity with a teen audience could provide optimism for sites hoping to someday rival Facebook’s monopoly on the U.S. social media market.

Perhaps more important than looking at individual social networking sites is understanding their influence as a collective. Consider these three statistical points regarding consumers:

  • 60% of people using three or more digital means to research purchases learned about a product or brand through a social networking site.
  • 48% of these consumers responded to an offer on Facebook or Twitter by the retailer.
  • 53% of social networkers follow a brand, while only 32% of active social networkers follow a celebrity.

With these statistics in mind, this Nielson report should leave you with one overwhelming final thought: social networking should no longer be regarded as simply a means of people connecting with their friends, but should be recognized more for being the powerful marketing tool it has become.