While it may seem Americans are always on the go and rarely use laptop or desktop computers for their online browsing needs, Mintel’s Social Networking – US, 2014 report finds that both lead the way when it comes to social networking access. Almost four in 10 (39%) of Americans who visit social media websites or apps say they use their laptop most often to log on, and 28% say they use their desktop computer. Smartphones come in third, with 23% of social networking using them for access, while tablet computers are only used by one in 10 (10%) of those who visit or use social networking sites or apps.

The diversity of hardware used to access social media becomes even greater when considering supplemental devices. Although laptops and netbooks took the lead when asking networkers which hardware they also used, smartphones came in second as a supplementary device with nearly half of networkers reporting they sometimes used these to visit social media, and more than one third reporting they used tablets. While the smaller screen size of smartphones and tablets makes them less appealing for rich media consumption, consumers who are on the go can get quick social media updates using a smartphone or tablet. Video content may also still be impactful, as it would be a means to entertain networkers on the commute to and from work or when it is otherwise infeasible to use another device.

Although not as many consumers use smartphones or tablets as their primary mechanism for accessing social media when compared with laptop usage, those who do use mobile devices as a primary social media device showcase higher engagement with organizational content on social media and social advertising. Only 35% of networkers who primarily used a laptop said they looked on social media for information such as customer reviews and product information, compared with 49% of networkers who typically use a smartphone.

Similarly, networkers who use either a smartphone or a tablet as a primary device to access social media are more likely to look to ads for product information – 59% of smartphone users reported doing so, compared with 47% of those who typically use a desktop computer.

While networkers typically use devices with larger screen sizes as primary social media access tools, the degree of engagement exhibited by those who primarily use mobile hardware makes the smartphone and tablet audience a key focus, particularly for overtly promotional content such as advertising. Additionally, it is likely that more consumers will feel comfortable accessing social media through smartphones and tablets as mobile device ownership and usage becomes ubiquitous within the US.

Bryant Harland is Technology Analyst at Mintel and brings almost a decade of experience working in the tech arena, most recently as a Senior Technology Writer with Brafton News, where he oversaw the editorial team, wrote as a trade journalist and prepared a range of industry white papers.

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