Social networking sites like MySpace and YouTube have become target internet destinations for a growing number of adults looking for help in making for purchasing decisions, according to a report released Tuesday.

The iPropsect Social Networking User Behavior Study, which was funded by search engine marketing firm iProspect and carried out by JupiterResearch, found that one in four adult Internet users regularly visited the most popular social networking sites in the past year. The survey defined a social networking site as one that contains user-generated feedback.

In addition, the study found, the purchasing decisions of one in three adult Internet users are influenced by sites that contain user-generated content like comments, reviews, feedback and ratings. The respondents ranked Amazon.com as the most influential site for making buying decisions.

However, iPropsect acknowledged that the specific Web sites listed in the study were selected based on the interests of the company’s clients. Therefore, it said, popular sites including Digg, Wikipedia, Squidoo and many others were not included in the survey.

Other key findings revealed that the most popular social networking sites are visited at least on a monthly basis by about 25 percent of the U.S. adult online population and that many sites attract specific communities of visitors with similar demographic characteristics.

“Sure, everyone knows that people are going to social networking sites,” said Robert Murray, iProspect’s president, in a statement, “but this study demonstrates – unequivocally – that social networking sites are not just a cultural fad.”

Still, the study also found that major search engines like Yahoo and Google still are visited much more frequently than the burgeoning social networking sites. Google, Yahoo and MSN are visited more frequently by a far higher percentage of the U.S. adult online population than all of the social networking sites included in the study. Yahoo, for example, is visited daily by 40 percent of the adult online population, and Google is visited daily by 33 percent of the adult online population, according to the study.

“Even MySpace – the most popular of the social networking sites included in this study – is dwarfed by the likes of Google or Yahoo,” Murray added. “Smart marketers will explore social networks, yet continue to invest in being found in the major search engines. The sheer numbers dictate as much.”

The study also found that:

* Roughly 1 in 5 users do not perform a search once they arrive at a social networking site.

* Users primarily arrive at social networking sites through direct navigation/bookmarking, Google search, Yahoo search, and links in emails.

* Internet users who perform a search on social networking sites do so for entertainment, to connect or network with others or research a product or service.

* The majority of users of social networking sites have not posted comments on those sites.

* The 18-24 year old age group is more prolific at visiting social networking sites and the major search engines weekly.



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