Australians use Facebook more frequently than newspapers and other traditional media websites, and large numbers engage in online activism of various forms, a major survey of social media habits has revealed.

Polling conducted by Essential Research on social media usage also reveals significant age and gender divisions.

Essential found 52% of Australians use Google at least daily, and 89% at least once a week, which is unsurprising. But 67% reported using Facebook at least once a week, with 46% using it at least daily. That’s far more frequently than newspaper websites: only 22% reported daily use, and 57% once a week. Usage of other news websites was broadly similar; after that came blogs (21% at least once a week), political and social campaign websites (18%).

Facebook also ranked highly as a source of news and information, with 28% of voters identifying Facebook as very or quite important as a source of news and information, compared to 43% who said the same about newspaper websites and 41% about other news websites. However, Google was easily the most important, identified by 52% as very or quite important.

Facebook is also more important to women: 53% of women reported using it at least daily, compared to 39% of men; a quarter of men never used it, compared to 19% of women. Unsurprisingly, younger people use it intensely — 74% of voters under 25 used it at least daily (only 3% never use it). Usage steadily decreases with age until only 23% of over-65s use it at least daily and 49% never use it. High-income earners also use Facebook more: 63% of those on incomes above $83,200 use it at least several times a week, much more than low-income earners.

The importance of Facebook as a source of information and news tracks usage fairly closely — women, younger people and higher-income earners all rate the site as more important than others.

Twitter remains the poor social media cousin. Only 6% of voters use Twitter at least daily; 15% use it once a week or more often; 71% say they never use it. Only 9% rate it as an important source of news and information. Usage is again concentrated among younger voters; there’s a view, and some evidence to suggest, that younger people ignore Twitter in favour of Facebook, but daily usage is highest among 18 to 24-year-olds (14%) and  25 to 34-year-olds (10%). Greens voters are also wildly over-represented among Twitter users — 17% of Greens voters report using Twitter at least daily, compared to 6% and 4% for Labor and Liberal voters, although the number of Greens voters is a small sample size.

Twitter usage is also greater among higher-income earners (there’s a recent study that purports to demonstrate Twitter users have higher cognitive skills than average).

And despite claims from conservative sections of the mainstream media that social media is unrepresentative of the broader community, 41% of voters say they have voted in an online poll, 33% say they have posted a comment on a website and another 15% say they have commented on a news website; 29% say they have signed an online petition. Men are more likely to comment on websites and vote in polls; women more likely to sign online petitions. Greens voters are more likely to do all of them except comment on news sites.

Of all those results, it’s Facebook’s 28% score as an important source of news and information that should be most concerning for the mainstream media. Throw in Twitter’s 9% (which seems to be slightly out of proportion to its usage) and it’s clear a substantial chunk of consumers — between a quarter and a third — are getting a lot of news via social media.

So, they’re not clicking on online articles from traditional news sites or, if they are, they’re going straight to the link distributed on Facebook or in a tweet, rather than through the homepage of the relevant website, cutting down opportunities to extend reader browsing time and expose them to more ads. Worse, it’s key marketing targets such as women and high-income earners that are doing it.

Peter Fray

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