Estimating social media use within a geographic area

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Mark Braggins asks:

“I am trying to determine the level of social media use at a local level . I’m particularly interested in Hampshire (UK), but it would also be useful for similar a more local e.g. town level and a higher e.g. regional level as well This information could be really useful to help public services organisations keep people informed, particularly when there’s a need to reach the largest number of people possible in a short time (e.g. major events, weather emergencies etc) and to join existing conversations i.e. to ‘go where the people go’

I’m also keen to know which platforms are the most popular and – ideally – plot changes over time. Ideally I’d also like some way to spot newer entrants (such as Pinterest) and their take-up locally.

Statistics are available for the number of registered users – and percentage / numbers of active users – for the big social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and LinkedIn, but – from what I’ve seen so far – stats are at a national (e.g. UK) level.”

Decent stats on social media use are often tricky come to by, swamped by dubious infographics and self-selecting online polls. But here’s a couple of pointers:

Ofcom publishes an annual Communications Market Report which includes questions on use of internet technologies, including social networking sites. Their figures are robust, but not broken down below regional level. Still, this sort of chart from the August 2011 survey (slide 62) [PDF] is interesting:

For more local data, the trick (which I learned from the canny Dan Slee) is to pretend to be an advertiser. When logged into Facebook, click the Advertising link on the right hand side, then click through the next couple of steps as if you were looking to promote a page or URL. Then you get to a targetting screen where you get to specify where you’d like the ad to run. Choose UK for the country, then specify a city or area (you can target by interests and age range too) and you’ll see on the right hand side how many registered Facebook users there are in the area, on the right hand side:

You can use a similar tactic using Google’s AdPlanner tool (hat tip: Simon Booth-Lucking), and get some really in-depth profiling data about the online audience by town or city. Click ‘Audience Planning’, then specify some topics – in this case, I’ve looked for search interest in computer software – and some areas – in this case, Bristol. The estimated audience, and its breakdown by gender, age, income and some useful other characteristics like top search keywords are shown underneath:

I’m not aware of tools that let you get quite the same depth of profile on services like Pinterest or Twitter, but it’s an evolving area and you might reasonably extrapolate national stats against local online and search audience data (via Google).


for more examples and tips