AOL Survey: Instant Messaging Goes Mainstream

Almost three out of five Internet consumers use instant messaging, according to America Online Inc.'s second annual survey on that communication medium.

The company said 59 percent of the surveyed online users dabble in IM. Twenty-nine percent of IM users send as many, if not more, instant messages as they do e-mails and 19 percent use mobile IMs or SMS text messages from their cell phones or PDAs.

“Given that consumers who use IM leave the client software open on their desktop for an average of five to six hours a day, advertisers have an opportunity to create a personal and lasting impression on consumers,” said Krista Thomas, spokeswoman at AOL Instant Messenger, Dulles, VA.

The online survey of 4,500 respondents age 13 years and up in top 20 U.S. markets was conducted in partnership with Opinion Research Corp. June 7-17 and July 26-28. It includes all IM usage, not just the AOL-owned Buddy List feature within the Internet access service, free AIM or ICQ.

A key finding of this survey was its adoption by the mainstream. For example, 48 percent of the respondents age 55 years and up use IM and 55 percent of those between 35 and 54. Of course, 90 percent of those between 13 and 21 use IM and 71 percent of those ages 22 to 34.

At-work use is on the rise, too. The survey found 27 percent of all IM users say they use IM at work. This is an increase of 71 percent over last year's survey. And 43 percent of employed IM users say they use desktop IM to communicate quickly in the workplace.

AOL said 90 percent of those surveyed send IMs to stay in touch with family or friends. Twenty-eight percent said they use IM to share photographs, 22 percent to set up weekend or evening activities, 14 percent to play games and 11 percent to get to know dates better.

According to the survey, more than 61 percent of the respondents use more than one IM application. AOL leads the pack, with a 52 percent share. IM services from Yahoo and MSN follow close behind.

More than 7 billion IMs are sent each day worldwide, according to market researcher IDC, Framingham, MA. Another piece of research, from comScore Media Metrix, claims there are 250 million people worldwide — a third of them alone in the United States — who regularly use IM.

In the United States, the top 10 cities for IM usage, from top to bottom, are New York, Miami, Chicago, Philadelphia, Orlando, Dallas/Fort Worth, Atlanta, Washington, Los Angeles and Houston.

IM users in New York and Dallas send the most number of IMs a day — 17 per person, on average. IM users in Tampa, FL, are most likely to send IMs from work to look for new jobs: 24 percent. IM users in Philadelphia and Miami are most talkative with an average of two IM conversations conducted simultaneously.

In other trends, IM users in Philadelphia are most likely to gossip or complain about their bosses and co-workers through IM — 27 percent in both cases. Thirty-nine percent of IM users in Washington are most likely to flirt or ask or accept a date by IM at work.

Also, 17 percent of users in Philadelphia are most likely to maintain multiple screen names to avoid an ex or a bad date. But 20 percent of IM users in Washington and Minneapolis are most likely to have multiple screen names to maintain an alter ego.

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