Some see them as sites that collect data which generously discloses the privacy of their users and for others they represent important virtual meeting places, networking services and news channels all in one. Social networking sites certainly are among the most popular internet offerings in Germany. In the first quarter of this year alone, private individuals using the internet in Germany visited the biggest social media portals around 1.3 billion times. Germans enjoy networking on more than one site and tend to frequently click to and fro between the various online services.
It started six years ago as a very modest platform for Harvard students. Today, Facebook is the top social networking site and according to its own information has approximately 400 million subscribers. In Germany, around 15 million users visited the site in the first three months of this year, ensuring that Facebook topped the ranking, followed by “Stayfriends” with 14 million and “Wer-kennt-wen” (who knows who) with just over 11 million subscribers. These are the latest figures from the GfK Media Efficiency Panel.
Barely two years have passed since the “MeinVZ” (my directory) site went live to provide a service for the working population alongside the existing “StudiVZ” and “SchülerVZ”. Today, it is the fourth most popular site of its kind in Germany, more or less ranked equal to competitor site MySpace and just ahead the pioneering “SchülerVZ”. Next are “StudiVZ” and Twitter, which each have around five million subscribers, and the professional networking site Xing with around four million users. Compared with the previous year, all providers maintained their hit rates as a minimum, with some sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, actually more than tripling their “guest lists”.
Numerous online social networks exist and subscribers appear to enjoy the variety on offer. With its communities, Web 2.0 seems to be something of a party mile for many people. It’s a bit like bar-hopping, with people constantly on the move rather than just spending the evening in their local bar. Almost half of the Facebook community also visits stayfriends.de and almost 40% additionally visit the “wer-kennt-wen.de” platform. Facebook subscribers don’t stop there, but visit other sites as well, even if they do so less frequently. Their visits to xing.com are the least frequent. However, at 16%, the number of Facebook users spending time here is still remarkable.
The principle of permeability also works vice versa. Facebook is consistently the most popular site among subscribers of different communities. The social networking site is particularly well liked by friends of real-time information network Twitter. Almost 70% of those who like to post tweets with the latest news updates or enjoy following others on Twitter are also regular Facebook visitors. People from the MySpace online community and business network Xing behave similarly: two thirds of subscribers to these sites are also on Facebook. Once they have logged in, many subscribers spend a large chunk of their leisure time there. The total average time spent on the site in the period from January to March 2010 was around seven hours, or to be precise 428 minutes. Here too, Facebook topped the league table compared with other sites.
With regard to the cross-media usage of online networks, preferences vary according to target group. Subscribers to “SchülerVZ” (pupil directory), which as the German name indicates is geared to a younger audience of schoolchildren, show comparatively little interest in the career portal Xing. Only 6% stop to have a look at this site when they are surfing the net. This may have something to do with cost, as Xing subscribers need to pay to have access to all of the information available. Above all, “SchülerVZ” users don’t spend as much time thinking about their future professional network as the slightly older group of “StudiVZ” (student directory) fans. The latter visit Xing more than twice as often as “SchülerVZ” subscribers: 16% of “StudiVZ” users also visit the professional networking site. Possibly the most diverse online user group is also the group which most frequently clicks on xing.com: almost a quarter of Twitter followers also browse the Xing pages, followed by the 20% of MySpace fans who also visit xing.com.
Marry in haste, repent at leisure – this saying is as significant in the virtual world as it is in real life. Not all providers succeed in enticing users to stay on their site for a long time. Twitter has the lowest frequency of visit per user. Almost half of Twitter users only have a nose around the site once per quarter and leave the site again after the first click. Around 30% of subscribers only click on Xing a single time per quarter as well. Still, compared with Twitter, Xing recorded more than twice as many heavy users, i.e. people who visited the site at least five times in the period from January to March 2010. MySpace, which has a similarly high rate of fluctuation as Xing, has approximately 17% of very active users. However, “Wer-kennt-wen” recorded the highest number of repeat visitors. More than half of the people visiting this site, returned at least five times in the first three months of the year to look for old and new acquaintances. “MeinVZ” users also click on this site with comparative regularity. A total of 53% of the site’s subscribers visit it more than four times a quarter to click through its various services. In terms of frequency, this site has already overtaken its elder sibling, StudiVZ, whose number of loyal visitors is slightly lower at 42%. Among the user categories, Facebook is also ranked in the upper midfield and enjoys a 40% share of heavy users.
It is hardly surprising that “SchülerVZ” attracts very young users and Xing a slightly older age group. However, taking a closer look at the user habits of different age groups reveals some interesting facts. Who would have thought that the generation of the over 60s tweets more often than the age group under 20? The share of young Twitter users amounts to 8%, whereas the rather older age group accounts for 12%. And almost 4% of Twitter users are over 70. This means that Twitter reaches the highest number of retired people of all the social media sites, followed by Stayfriends. Among the users of this friends search engine, approximately 10% are over 60 and 9% are aged 6 to 19.
It appears almost as though an increasing number of people prefer the virtual world to real life. People arrange to chat on Facebook, gossip on “Wer-kennt-wen” and renew old friendships on “Stayfriends”. MySpace is used to swap music, and on “StudiVZ” students discuss the latest party they have been to. Germans are exploiting the unlimited world of the internet and are not inclined to limit themselves to a single provider. Once people have had a taste of this form of communication, they are tempted further out into the big, wide virtual world. Are people neglecting personal relationships in the process? FAZ journalist Stefan Herber recently put this question to Karin Rothgänger, spokesperson for “Wer-kennt-wen”. In her opinion, social media sites offer the following: “They make it quick and easy to arrange with a short message where and when to meet and it’s no longer necessary to go to great lengths to get the whole family together if you want to show them your latest holiday snaps. You simply upload your holiday photo album.” But Facebook, Twitter & Co. cannot replace actually meeting up with friends and Karin Rothgänger agrees on this point: “I am sure that going for a drink in the local bar is here to stay.”
Data source: GfK Panel Services (GfK Media Efficieny Panel, March 2010)
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