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New Studies Reveal Never-Before-Seen Trends in Social Media

Research into changing trends in social media is nearly as old as social media itself. Two new studies, however, reveal never-before-seen shifts in user habits that hint at changing realities for social media marketers.

Last month saw the release of the 2018 Pew Research Center’s study of social media use, the latest in an annual series, and The Infinite Dial, a well-established study of consumer behavior in the digital space published each year by Edison Research and Triton Digital. Perhaps the most interesting finding was that collective use of three major platforms—Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter–is down overall among individuals age 12 and older–from 80 percent in 2017 to 77 percent today. The primary cause is a downturn in Facebook use. At a time when the platform is making headlines for all the wrong reasons, 62 percent of individuals 12 and older say they use Facebook, a drop of five percentage points from 2017. Among younger consumers, the news gets even worse for Facebook, with usage dropping 12 points, from 79 percent to 67 percent. While Facebook is still the only conventional social media platform to reach a majority of Americans 12 and older, it is showing signs of decreasing influence–likely resulting in part from declining trust in Facebook and other social media sites. According to the Pew Center, more than half (51%) of us do not trust social media companies when it comes to protecting our data.

So, where are all the young social media users spending their time if not on Facebook? Increasingly, they’re gravitating toward Snapchat and Instagram (the latter doesn’t yet appear to be under the same cloud as its parent company, Facebook). Snapchat and Instagram are used by 78% and 71% of 18- to 24-year-olds, respectively. In terms of what they use most often, 29 percent of 12- to 34-year-olds say Snapchat is their platform of choice, putting it within striking distance of Facebook, the preferred choice of 35 percent of this same group. Instagram is most used by 22 percent of 12- to 34-year-olds, an increase of 4% versus 2017.

A few other noteworthy findings in both studies:

  • Despite having been around longer than the other major platforms, LinkedIn and Twitter have the lowest reach of all the major platforms, at 25% and 24% of U.S. adults, respectively.
  • LinkedIn also suffers from uncommonly low brand awareness, with just 58% of Americans 12 and older saying they’ve heard of the site–a consequence of its unique focus on careers.
  • LinkedIn remains dominant among the well educated, however: 50% of Americans with a college degree use the platform.
  • Snapchat experiences the greatest generation gap of all the major platforms, as unpopular with adults 35+ as it is popular with younger users. Just 25% of 30- to 49-year-olds and 7% of adults over 50 use Snapchat.
  • Pinterest continues to skew female; 41% of adult women say they use the site, compared to just 16% of men.
  • On average, Americans use some combination of three of the following eight platforms: Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Snapchat, Twitter, WhatsApp and YouTube.
  • A majority of social media users (59%) say they would have little trouble giving up social media, compared to just 40% who say they would have difficulty doing so.

Perhaps the most important takeaway from these studies is just how important it is that brands keep pace with the changes the studies reveal. As you consider the data, ask yourself:

  • How will I respond if Facebook continues to shed users?
  • Is my social media strategy aligned with the demographics, or am I putting excessive resources into the wrong platforms based on the makeup of my audience?
  • Given increased fragmentation, am I sufficiently diversified in my approach or too dependent on a given platform?

Finally, remember that even the best studies reflect averages among a broad population of users. If you see anomalies in your audience, consider whether that represents opportunities or challenges unique to your business. The numbers that matter most, after all, are the ones that show your company’s progress toward its goals.

More of our thoughts

As we bid farewell to 2023, we wanted to take a moment to reflect on the incredible journey we've had as an agency this year.