The anatomy of a social networker


3 Apr 2008

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Remember when a friend was someone who dropped over for a cup of tea and a chat, someone who knew as much about you as you knew about them, someone you grew up with perhaps?

Online social networking is redefining the concept of the term ‘friend’ and giving it a 21st-century makeover, according to an extensive report just published by Ofcom, the UK Office of Communications.

The popularity and widespread use of social networking sites like Facebook, YouTube and Bebo is causing people to form new kinds of connections or friendships based on lists: favourite movies, concerts attended or online shopping ‘wishlists’, despite maybe never having met.

The report also identified the different kind of networkers out there on the web, who range from attention seekers to those who sit back and observe, and different networking sites tend to have higher percentages of certain kinds of site users.

The ‘alpha socialiser’ can be found mostly on Bebo, MySpace or Hi5 and is usually male and under 25.

He typically logs in only once a day but when there makes the most of his time and power socialises, managing to pack in flirting, meeting new people and consuming media in a short space of time.

The ‘attention seeker’ also favours Bebo and MySpace and ranges from teens to the over-35s and is usually female, with mothers representing a high number of the over-35s.

This social networking user is all about being noticed, posting pictures and tweaking her profile in order to get more profile views and comments from others.

The most common kind of social networker is the ‘follower’: men and women who join sites like Facebook and Bebo in order to keep up with what their friends are doing. However, there are still a large number of ‘faithfuls’: guys and girls aged 20-plus who use a social networking site for a specific purpose, ie re-acquainting themselves with old school or college friends.

A small number of networkers are known as ‘functionals’. This minority is mostly the male over 20 who uses sites like Facebook, MySpace and Bebo for an exact purpose, possibly business connections, music discovery or keeping up with particular trends.

Lastly, there is the non-user, a category Ofcom found ranged from the intellectual who dismissed social networking sites as merely a waste of time, to the technically inexperienced who was usually older, to those who feared the possibility of identity/data theft through making personal details available online.

For the record, this writer is a combination of follower and functional.

By Marie Boran