SYDNEY: Facebook, the social network, now accounts for more than a quarter of the time that consumers in Australia spend using the internet, a study by Nielsen has reported.

According to the research firm's estimates, over 14 million people in the country access the web on at least a monthly basis.

Within this, 8.8 million netizens have signed up to Facebook thus far, compared with 5.2 million who have decided not to do so.

Facebook users in Australia surf the net for 25.8 hours a month, excluding the amount of time spent on the social network, compared with the total of 9.9 hours posted by their counterparts in the latter cohort.

More specifically, the normal Facebook member committed 8.3 hours to this portal alone in January 2010, while the average non-member was active on the web for only 8.1 hours during the month.

Nielsen also found that Facebook was responsible for a 27% share of the time that the online population spent consuming information using this medium in February, up from 20% in July 2009.

There are also 2.1 million Australians over 50 years of age that belong to the social network, a figure that is 400,000 greater than that for their peers who have not joined Facebook but regularly go online.

Mark Higginson, the director of analytics at Nielsen, suggested that broader differences were also starting to emerge between consumers who were engaged with Facebook and those which were not.

"Non-Facebook users tend to the view the internet as more functionally orientated. They think, 'I have to do my banking' or 'I have to pay this bill'," he said.

"Facebook users are spending a lot more time using video, a lot more time on entertainment sites, and so on," he said.

"Our conclusion is that those who use Facebook view it as another media platform. They think, 'will I watch television or surf on the internet for a while?'"

This also has implications for brands which are seeking to connect with their target audience online, Higginson argued.

"If you're an advertiser and you want to get a brand message across, or you want a rich campaign, then you want to target those people who are consuming media, the Facebook users," he said.

"Then there are others who use the internet as a needs-oriented tool, and you have to develop your program with those people in mind."

"This doesn't have consequences just for business, but also publishers and anyone thinking about content creation."

Data sourced from Smart Company; additional content by Warc staff