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More Adults Jump Into Social Networking

Slowly but surely, adults are catching social networking fever, with one third now taking the plunge and putting a profile online.

A Pew Internet & American Life Project study released today found that four times as many adults were using online social network sites in 2008 than in 2005. That number has more than doubled in the past two years: In 2006, just 16 percent of American adults were accessing social sites.

Yet teens still rule social networking activity. While adults represent a larger user population, as there are more adults than teenagers in the U.S., a comparatively larger percentage of teens (65 percent) have joined sites like Facebook and MySpace.

The reason? Adults rely on pre-existing ways to keep in touch and make new friends socially and at work, according to Amanda Lenhart, a senior research specialist at Pew.

"The older adult tends to get into social networking as friends and colleagues make the move, as they have existing tools for keeping in touch with family, friends and co-workers," Lenhart said.

The latest statistics come amid skyrocketing use of social networking sites. An August report from online metrics firm comScore (NASDAQ: SCOR) reported that social networking sites had collectively seen traffic rise by 25 percent between 2007 and 2008.

The news also follows on the heels of new players' entry into the space, seeking to capitalize on the interest in and growth of social networking. At last week's Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Sony unveiled a new social community site featuring blogs, videos, photos and polls, as well as profiles of its users. Sony said the site would help the company more closely interact with its customer base and the public at large.

Skewing younger

Among adults, younger Internet users were more eager than their older counterparts to use the technology, Pew said. The report, which analyzed two separate surveys that polled a total of 4,504 adults, said that 75 percent of adults aged 18 to 24 were social networking users, compared to just 7 percent of adults 65 years and older.

"Right now, [older users] don't see it as the useful tool that younger people do, so it's not playing as huge a part in their daily lives," Lenhart added.

Currently, 30 percent of adults aged 35 to 44 report having a social network profile. That number steadily drops as age increases, with 19 percent of 45- to 54-year-olds having a profile in place. That figure drops to 10 percent for 55- to 64-year-olds.

In terms of use, adults are relying on sites like Facebook and MySpace for social reasons rather than professional, according to the report. When it comes to their favorite sites, 50 percent of adult users have a profile on MySpace, 22 percent prefer Facebook and 6 percent have a profile on the professional site LinkedIn.

A vast majority of adult users, 89 percent, are using the sites to stay in touch with friends, while 57 percent use profiles to make social plans and 49 percent use their profile to make new friends.

Fifty-one percent of all social network users have two or more online profiles, and of those with multiple profiles, 83 percent use more than two sites. Among those with multiple profiles, 17 percent stick to one social site, while 19 percent use multiple profiles for separating personal and business networking.

When it comes to profile access, 60 percent of adult users restrict profile access to known friends, and 58 percent restrict access to certain content on their profiles.