NEW YORK: Social networks now account for 22% of the total amount of time that consumers spend on the internet, according to figures covering nine major markets across the globe.

Nielsen, the research firm, assessed countries including Brazil, Germany, Japan, the UK and US, and found that 75% of netizens visited social networks and blog sites during April 2010.

This marked an increase of 24% year-on-year, in just one indication of the major impact that has been exerted by sites like Facebook and YouTube.

Brazil was the nation in which the reach of social media was at its highest, with 86% of the nation's web users visiting these sites during the month.

Nielsen suggested that the "Orkut phenomenon" had resulted in Brazil taking top spot on this measure, with the Google-owned property drawing almost half of its audience from the Latin American nation.

Italy was in second place with a penetration rate of 78%, followed by Spain on 77% and Japan on 75%, while Switzerland claimed last position on 58%.

The biggest factor behind soaring social media use is the increasing prominence of Facebook, which now has an estimated 400 million members.

Facebook's popularity was at its greatest in Italy, where 66% of web users browsed its pages during April, measured against 63% in Australia and 62% in the UK and US.

Elsewhere, however, Facebook is struggling to gain a foothold in Japan, where it had a reach of just 3%, and was only the 40th most popular social network.

Ameba is the number one such platform in Japan, with 38% of the domestic internet population visiting the site in the fourth month of this year.

Overall, the time spent on social media sites in April stood at around six hours per user, rising to over seven hours in Australia but decreasing to 3.75 hours in Switzerland.

More broadly, 54% of global web users visited Facebook in April, with YouTube and Wikipedia the second and third most popular social media platforms on 47% and 35% respectively.

Data sourced from Nielsen/Orkut/Alexa; additional content by Warc staff