Almost half of Brits prefer ‘cyber friendships’


Over 24 million Brits now choose to conduct friendships digitally rather than face-to-face


Around half of Brits prefer to stay in touch with friends digitally rather than face-to-face1, according to new research by BT Mobile. A huge 79% admit that they have friends they would not stay in contact with at all if it weren’t for social media. A further 72% believe social media has strengthened their friendships.

With each person in the UK sending an average of 11,315 texts each year, along with 1,092 picture messages and 6,935 WhatsApp messages, these cyber friendships are increasingly demanding faster connections and access to data wherever we are. The research found that we’re also increasingly sharing content, with one in 10 of us sharing over 50 videos a week with our digi-friends. Facebook tops the list of ways we keep our cyber friendships alive (80%), followed by email (67%) and then text (63%).

The move from face-to-face to digi-friends has created a unique etiquette of modern communication. Among the golden rules uncovered by BT Mobile’s research are to never use a professional platform such as LinkedIn to chat someone up, to never text bad news, and if a friend is a good friend, to make sure you wish them happy birthday via text not just on Facebook!

BT Mobile conducted this research with former Oxford University lecturer and Big Brother and Body Talk psychologist Dr Peter Collett, looking at how people are increasingly moving away from the traditional ways of staying in touch, and how the psychology of friendship in the digital age has changed. He said: “By nature, humans are social animals. Given that so much of our enjoyment is linked to other people, it’s hardly surprising that we invest so much time and effort into keeping in touch with friends and acquaintances. New digital communications have made it even easier for us to express our true nature, and the research that BT Mobile has conducted uncovers some really interesting new trends of the cyber friendship.”

Kelly Barlow, Director of Voice and Mobile at BT Consumer: “With such a wide variety of ways to stay in touch on offer, it’s no wonder we have seen a rise in digital friendships. We know that staying in touch with digi-friends is made much easier through fast, reliable connections, and BT Mobile’s combination of over five million wi-fi hotspots and access to the biggest 4G network in the UK allows customers to ensure they’re able to keep up cyber friendships wherever they are.”

BT Mobile also looked at how friendships conducted online vary across the UK. Manchester residents have the most digi-friends, with an average of nearly 200 digital friendships2. In contrast, those in Edinburgh are most likely to conduct their friendships face-to-face, with the average resident having 144 digi-friends3. In Sheffield, residents rely the most on digital friendships, with 53% admitting to having friends they wouldn’t stay in contact with if it weren’t for social media channels.

Londoners are the most likely to connect with their circle of digi-friends via WhatsApp, sending an average of 28 messages a day to friends and family. With regards to Facebook, Cardiff residents top the list, sending an average of 16 messages and comments per day. In terms of Twitter, Liverpudlians tweet an average of eight times a day, the highest out of all UK cities. These three cities are the most connected in the UK, as each also make over 36 calls to friends and family each week.

How BT Mobile helps to make keeping in touch with friends easier

BT Mobile operates on the UK’s biggest 4G network and users also have free access to over five million wi-fi hotspots across the country, to make keeping in touch with friends easier.BT Mobile has three SIM-only deals, offering bundles of data, minutes and texts for as little as £5 a month for existing broadband customers as well as the best value 4G deal in the UK. BT Mobile customers also get access to free BT Sport via the BT Sport App Lite, even if they don’t have BT Broadband, plus Parental Controls.

Anyone in a BT Broadband household can get up to 50% off their BT Mobile tariff, and the account holder can add up to five mobile plans for people living at the same address. There is also the freedom to move between plans easily without taking out a new contract, and BT will notify customers if they would be better off on a different plan, depending on their usage. Customers who want to upgrade their accounts can do so multiple times throughout their contract and are given the benefits of their new package immediately, while users who have found themselves on a higher package than they need can downgrade too*.


Notes to editors

Research carried out across a nationally representative panel of nearly 2,000 adults by Ginger Research, January 2016

The research revealed the ‘etiquette of modern communication’ which has developed with the rise of the cyber friendship including:

  • Don’t private message someone you don’t know
  • Never hide your view history from your partner
  • Don’t over share on Facebook
  • Don’t chat someone up via LinkedIn or any professional platform
  • Don’t look through your partner’s phone
  • Don’t post to social media when emotional
  • Don’t “reply all” to a group message by accident
  • Never send a text or message in anger
  • Never send a text or message when drunk
  • Never post to social media when drunk
  • Don’t put kisses on texts or emails to clients or work colleagues
  • Don’t gossip about people on text or social media
  • Always text or message if you’re going to be late
  • Always call work rather than text if you are going to be off sick
  • If a friend is a good friend, wish them happy birthday by text rather than Facebook message
  • Never end a relationship by text or social media
  • Don’t ever text bad news

*Customers can downgrade once during their contract period

BT Mobile SIM Only Plans

Discounted price for BT broadband homes (excludes business). 12 month minimum term. Payment is by direct debit and subject to credit status. UK calls to UK landlines (starting 01,02,03) and UK mobiles, standard UK texts and data within the UK. You cannot share your data connection with other devices. Speeds vary by location, coverage and demand. One minute minimum call charge. 08 numbers cost up to 38p/min, calls to 070 cost up to 92p/min. 0800 numbers and calls to voicemail included. Early termination charge may apply if you stop your service in the first 12 months, see bt.com/terms. For BT wifi see: www.btwifi.com. Compatible phone needed, may need unlocking.

1 Based on 50% of the UK population of mobile phone users who prefer to keep in touch digitally. Adult population of the UK is based on 2011 ONS figures at 52,082,200. According to Ofcom 2014, 93% (48,436,446) of UK residents own or use a mobile phone.

2 Based on connections across social media

3 Based on connections across social media