Facebook vs. Linkedin – Network, Socialize, Be Professional?

In at least one way, early social networks are like a high school party – when parents get home the fun stops and everybody leaves. But as social elements become the driving force behind many of the web’s most popular sites, an increasing number of consumers young and old are finding casual online conversation crucial in maintaining and expanding business relationships…which helps explain howLinkedin recently closed a round of funding with a $1 billion valuation.

The real story is in how mass migration of professional relationships from the Rolodex to the Friend List has taken place. In June, we took a look at two sites that share the responsibility of powering professional networking, albeit in somewhat different ways. While Linkedin.com was built on a platform of social networking for business, Facebook.com – still far from business focused – grew into the role as many of its early members did the same. So in terms of current users, how do these sites compare?

Demographic traffic to facebook.com and Linkedin.com

Age can provide insight into who is using a site and, at least in the case of Linkedin and Facebook, how. The chart above shows how site traffic breaks for both sites, based on unique visitors in June 2008. Unsurprisingly, Facebook’s audience skews younger than Linkedin but it is important to note that both sites receive nearly 90% of their traffic from people under the age of 55.

Facebook – growing up or losing the cool factor?
Age of current site visitors has more meaning in historical context, and both Facebook and Linkedin have changed quite a bit in the course of a year. The chart below shows the year over year change in age breakdown for both sites.

Facebook vs linkedin in traffic and demos - year over year change

  • Facebook visitors are “maturing”: In June of 2007, nearly over 35% of Facebook traffic came the 18-24 year old segment, compared to around 22% in June 2008. With the bulk of this traffic shifting towards the 25-35 year old group, this movement could be a result of the site’s original base of college students.
  • Rising stars shine on Linkedin: In a reversal of Facebook’s changing demographics, Linkedin’s audience has shifted younger, with the 18-24, and 25-35 year old segments both growing by nearly 15%. This was also during a period of massive overall site growth – driven at least partially by an influx of younger visitors.

Is there Room a need for both?
The most profound difference between Linkedin and Facebook lies in their focus on professional and personal networking (respectively). Looking at the overlap between the two networks, it appears that many people are either separating these two functions, or simply maintaining an identity on both sites. The chart below shows the percentage of Facebook and Linkedin users, broken out by age group, who used both sites (or one site exclusively) in June. The chart to the bottom right also illustrates the change in each overlap segment from the previous year.

Linkedin vs. Facebook site overlap

  • Between the two sites, Facebook dominates with an average of 80% of the group using Facebook exclusively.
  • 25-44 is the sweet spot for Linkedin with the site attracting more than 20% of both groups. These two age groups were also the most likely to be active on both Linkedin and Facebook, with around 12% of both groups showing overlap.
  • 1+1=900%: While the dramatic growth of the segment of users visiting both sites (as well as the growth in Linkedin exclusive visitors) is partially due to site growth, the 900% growth in the percentage of users visiting both sites seems to indicate that these sites are more complimentary than competitive.

With online services like Twitter and Friendfeed continuing to blur the line between casual and business, the ability to use a single site as both a personal and professional networking tool becomes more realistic. But whether the “Poke” will ever make it into a sales strategy is still anyone’s guess.

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