Are you an 'Alpha Socialiser' or an 'Attention Seeker'?

Research reveals nearly half of all children with Internet access have their own personal profile on a social networking site.

The report, by UK regulator Ofcom, reveals just how quickly social networking sites have become a part of Britons' lives. As well as widespread use amongst 8-17 year olds (49 per cent of internet users in that age group), the report also reveals that over a fifth (22 per cent) of adult internet users aged 16+ have their own online profile.

The research finds that it is common for adults to have a profile on more than one site (the average being 1.6) and half of current adult social networkers say that they access their profiles at least every other day.

The research also shows how social networking sites are stretching the traditional meaning of 'friends'. Some users say that they derive enjoyment from 'collecting' lists of people with whom they have an online connection but often have never met.

The research suggests five distinct groups of people who use social networking sites :

  • Alpha Socialisers ̵1; mostly male, under 25s, who use sites in intense short bursts to flirt, meet new people and be entertained.
  • Attention Seekers ̵1; mostly female, who crave attention and comments from others, often by posting photos and customising their profiles.
  • Followers ̵1; males and females of all ages who join sites to keep up with what their peers are doing.
  • Faithfuls ̵1; older males and females generally aged over 20, who typically use social networking sites to rekindle old friendships, often from school or university.
  • Functionals ̵1; mostly older males who tend to be single-minded in using sites for a particular purpose.

The research also suggests three distinct groups of people who do not use social networking sites:

  • Concerned about safety ̵1; often older people and parents concerned about safety online, in particular making personal details available online.
  • Technically inexperienced ̵1; often people over 30 years old who lack confidence in using the internet and computers.
  • Intellectual rejecters ̵1; often older teens and young adults who have no interest in social networking sites and see them as a waste of time.

Despite being one of the main reasons cited by some respondents for not using social networking sites, privacy and safety are not a top concern for those who use social networking sites. The research found that:

  • 41 per cent of children and 44 per cent of adults leave their privacy settings as default 'open' which means that their profiles are visible to anyone.
  • 34 per cent of 16-24 year olds are willing to give out sensitive personal information such as their phone number or email address (Get Safe Online Research)
  • 17 per cent of adult users said that they talked to people on social networking sites that they didn't know and 35 per cent spoke to people who were 'friends of friends'.

The research also found that some 27 per cent of 8-11 year olds who are aware of social networking sites and have internet access have an online profile. While some of these are on sites intended for younger children, the presence of underage users on social networking sites intended for those aged 13 or over was confirmed by the research. In addition, while 65 per cent of parents claim to set rules on their child's use of social networking sites, only 53 per cent of children said that their parents set such rules.

Facebook is the most popular site with adults followed by MySpace and then Bebo. For children aged between 8 and 17, Bebo was the most used social networking site.

Image: The Bebo teens networking website

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