Demographics of Facebook Users

imagesPracticing public relations professionals will focus at least part of their efforts on understanding their target audience and the channels of communication those audiences use to gather information. This week’s assignment, “Data Science of the Facebook World” by Stephen Wolfram offers insight into the demographics of stakeholders who use one specific channel of social media communications, Facebook.

In his book, “Strategic Planning for Public Relations,” author and Buffalo State College professor, Ron Smith says that no one communication channel will fit the needs of a strategic communications plan (page 186).

According to Smith, communication tools run the gamut from those that offer face-to-face opportunities; organizational media such as in-house newsletters; news media; advertising and now social media. Understanding how to effectively use Facebook and knowing the key characteristics of Facebook users will help determine if it is the correct channel for that specific communications plan.

Key demographic features outlined in the Wolfram article are summarized below.  Similar research conducted by the Pew Research Center and documented in the report, “The Demographics of Social Media Users -2012” provides additional insights.

Wolfram’s findings include the following:

  • The quantity and age of a Facebook user’s friends are dependent upon the Facebook user. In other words the age of friends is similar to that of the user. However, older Facebook users in general are friends with people who represent a wider range of ages.
  • Teenage boys have more friends than teenage girls
  • Location matters. High friend counts are reported on the East Coast and Midwest of the United States
  • Facebook can help track the movement of users as they relocate to different cities and states due to such circumstances as going to college or taking a new job.
  • People tend to be friends with people who have similar interests
  • Facebook friends appear to be clustered around social groups such as family, school and neighborhood
  • Clusters can offer valuable insight into the life story of the Facebook user
  • Topics of interest to Facebook users were evaluated.

Favorite topics by age are:

  • 20s: relationships; school; sports
  • 30s: career and money; transport; fitness
  • 40s: technology; sports, travel
  • 50s: special occasions, weather, health

The Pew Research findings support and expand on the demographic characteristics of Facebook users identified by Wolfram. These include:

  • Facebook is the most popular communications channel
  • Women use Facebook more than men
  • Use peaks in the 18-29 age group and then steadily declines
  • Social media use is not dependent on education or household income
  • Location: residents in urban areas are more likely to use social networks than those who live in rural and/or suburban regions

A public relations practitioner could use the information provided by Wolfram, the Pew Research Center, and others to more effectively reach specific stakeholders with their messages.  For example, health care messages regarding HPV vaccines which are designed to prevent certain types of cancer prevalent among young adults would/should be communicated using social media channels. However, messages communicating the value of prostate cancer screening, a disease common among older men, would be better disseminated using more traditional communications channels where this audience is likely to receive information.

Understanding the communications tool and who uses that tool are as important as the messages themselves.

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