BERLIN: Half of Germany's online audience now use social networks, with the category having experienced rapid growth during the past 12 months.

Trade body BITKOM commissioned research firm Forsa to survey 1,001 consumers, and as a result estimated that 40m Germans currently utilise such sites.

This figure has expanded by 10m since a similar study conducted last year, when numbers stood at 30m.

"Social networks have grown very quickly from a niche phenomenon to the internet-standard," said Achim Berg, vice president of BITKOM.

More broadly, 76% of the online population are active in some kind of web community, rising to 96% among those under 30 years of age.

However, 80% of individuals within the 30-39 year old segment, and one in two people over 50 years of age, have also adopted such a pastime.

The average German has joined 2.4 communities and possesses 133 contacts, although this latter total hits 200 for around a third of netizens under 30 years of age.

BITKOM classified 11% of consumers as "heavy users" spending at least two hours a day on these platforms, with women demonstrating higher engagement than men.

"The pioneers of social networks tend to be young and female," said Berg.

Some 47% of social networkers belong to Facebook, standing at 27% regarding VZ-Netzwerke and Stayfriends, 24% concerning Wer Kennt wen, 9% for Xing, and 7% when discussing MySpace and Twitter.

Data sourced from BITKOM; additional content by Warc staff