Social networking sites represent a potentially lucrative opportunity for internet marketing professionals, according to the results of a new survey.

The Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) found that just three per cent of users would prefer to pay to be a member of an ad-free social networking site than use one containing advertising for free.

However, it also discovered that marketers need to work harder to engage social networkers, with 16 per cent claiming to be put off by irrelevant advertising.

When it comes to advertising preferences, some 12 per cent of respondents said they favour banners, while nine per cent prefer sponsored gifts.

Amy Kean, senior marketing manager at the IAB, said: "Brands need to greet their audiences with content or applications that reflect the interests of the group they’re targeting, ensure it has a utility value but is entertaining or fun enough for users to talk about."

Meanwhile, data released by technology research company O’Reilly has shown that over the last 12 weeks, the number of active users on Facebook has risen by 23.6 per cent.

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