The rise of social media might be one of the most important changes to occur to the average person over the last two decades. The only possible competitors are the growth of the personal computer (and the internet around them) and the rise of the smartphone. New technology has always shaped society and the people around them, but, rarely, has such a vast transformation happened so quickly.
Yet while we can and will talk about the growth of social media over the last few years and where we stand today, we want to focus on the users. Social media is the users, after all. Different networks have different focuses, demographics, use cases, and more. It seems there is a network for everyone, and there is a lot to consider. Think about the diversity you find just within your own social media feeds. If you move outside of that there are more things than you could possibly imagine.
While we cannot talk about every single statistic available (there would be books to write), here are the most important things you need to know:
What Do We Consider Social Media?
Before anything else, we have to define social media. Everyone has their own idea, but we need to centralize what we’re talking about if we are going to talk about trends here. The stats will likely have their own ideas but only so much can be done about that without stifling the discussion.
Social media is effectively any tool, app, site, or program that allows its users to share ideas and content with the public. On social media, the users are the content, as opposed to a site with a simple comment section that probably won’t even be noticed, much less read. On it, the rules for sharing might change (Twitter’s character limit or some of the more ephemeral posting types), but users are the driving force.
It's a broad definition in some regards, but a clear one. It does make us wonder about fringe cases such as YouTube. Most people would not think of YouTube as a form of social media, but in many ways, it fits all of the proper metrics. It’s primarily driven by user-created content, allows for the sharing of information in practically every way, and everyone can contribute. Sure, it has some limitations and many channels are so small that no one takes notice, but this is the case with many networks. No matter how broad the user base, there will be those who get the most attention.
Finally, social media may change over time, and so might the definition. In 2023 itself not much is likely to change (at least not dramatically) but keep an open mind for new sites and opportunities. You’ll surprise yourself with what you find and what you can learn.
Social media companies thrive off of unending growth and engagement. They heavily measure themselves by these points. The valuation of most social media companies when it comes to investment is not necessarily what the companies are worth, but what they’re going to be worth and what they could be worth. Being able to engage with billions of people in some way is valuable, as is having data on their connections, interests, and more. Furthermore, the more people on a platform, the more people that want to join it. Would you join a platform where no one was active that has no one you know on it? Likely not.
Yet what is the rate of growth, for both users in general and for each network? Let’s take a look:
- Overall, it is estimated that there are nearly 4 billion social media users in 2022. This is a huge rise even from five years ago when there were 2.86 billion users. The total number is expected to rise over the next years, even if some individual networks taper off.
- Facebook, by far the most popular social network operating today, has shown extreme growth over the years, reaching nearly 2.8 billion users by the end of 2020. Given how it started with about 1 million users in 2004, one could say it’s a story of world domination.
- However, recent numbers show that not everything is perfect in the world of Facebook. They actually show a decline in active users. Obviously, this is not good for a company predicated on endless growth, and so the social media giant might need to rethink its strategy or change its business model.
- Twitter, to many, is one of the biggest competitors to Facebook and isn’t as popular as you might think. There were 290.5 monthly active users on the platform in 2019, and it is estimated that there will be 340 million users by 2024.
- Why is this? While there is a huge usage rate in Western countries, especially the United States, it doesn’t have the global reach that Facebook does. Twitter gets a lot of media coverage, but it isn’t as ubiquitous in the average person’s life as Facebook is.
- While we might think of Facebook as having explosive growth, that hardly compared to the growth shown by TikTok over the last few years. The app has taken the world (or at least the youth) by storm, and there are more users than anyone would think of now that we’re in 2022. As of the last check, there are more than 1.2 billion users. And despite some controversy and even a potential ban in some countries, there are no signs that the train is stopping.
- Snapchat is a somewhat interesting case to look at. While there are reports that the app is on the decline (and it was slightly for a time), there are currently more active daily users than ever on the app. There are currently about 319 million daily users, up from 265 million in the fourth quarter of 2020.
- Yet why is this? After Instagram added stories and took many of the features that Snapchat was known for, and TikTok took the rest of the market. Things were looking grim for the app. From reports, it seems as though Snapchat focused on its core user base, augmented reality features, and Spotlight (a TikTok competitor). It certainly isn’t the same company that it was in 2018, but it’s found its home and its user base. How it will use technology in the future is of great interest.
While there are certainly more individual social media companies than those listed above (we didn’t even mention Instagram), we could spend all day discussing them and the numbers aren’t always so reliable. Suffice it to say, there are always ups and downs in the world of social media, users will happily and easily switch platforms if they find a good reason, and momentum is king. There might even be a new contender in 2022 that takes the world by storm. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Now that we have looked at growth, what can we say about engagement? After all, if users just have an account and aren’t doing anything with it, that’s hardly any good for the social media network in question. People are less likely to use a network their friends aren’t using. Ads won’t show for people who never open the app. Data cannot be collected if there is no input. Engagement matters, and we should pay attention to who is using what and when. Here are some facts on the matter:
- The average person will spend about 2 hours and 27 minutes on social media. Note that there are people that hardly use it at all once they have an account, while there are others that are constantly on it, even if it isn’t their job. Some teenagers might spend even nine hours a day browsing social media, which is about if not more than half of their waking lives.
- As you can see perhaps from a few people you know, social media addiction is a problem. While there is a debate whether it constitutes a true addiction as we know it medically, the problem is there. About 15 percent of people ages 23-38 admit they are addicted to social media. More people consider themselves at least “somewhat” addicted.
- While people do use social media often, and often for decent periods, social media has not done too much for the average person’s attention span. People are quick to abandon a video or post, and the optimal Facebook video length is two to five minutes.
- Engagement is key, and Instagram has fantastic engagement at 84 percent.
- Naturally, there are times of the day when people are most active on social media. If you want to learn when to make your post the most popular, you might want to read this resource.
- People don’t use just one platform. On average, people use 7.5 platforms each month. Some of these are used more than others, of course, but they all have their place and this shows that people are connected in many different ways.
What Do People Use Social Media For?
By now it’s obvious that many people use social media. Just a look at your own follower lists and feeds will tell you that. Yet what do people use social media for? What’s the purpose? What keeps people coming back? These are the far more interesting questions. While there is no complete answer, here are some of the more interesting things we’ve found:
- People are more commonly using social media for shopping. If not shopping themselves, then they certainly look at marketing posts and recommendations from friends. Look up restaurants in your area. Many of them may just have social media pages instead of a website. Even Facebook provides everything that a restaurant would need, and there are networks and sites with more specialized features on top of that. Commerce is a part of life, and social media tries to be the stuff of life.
- People will usually join social media because either they need an account to access a service or view information, or instead because there are a number of their friends already on the service.
- The same is true for retention. People might hate a social media network but will stay on it because it is the only or most convenient way to stay in touch with people they care about.
- Why not ask people directly? Based on one poll, these are the reasons people use social media, though not all of them:
Naturally, none of the reasons are mutually exclusive. People might be looking to do several things at once when they log on. Often people might not even know what they want to do when they log on, though they’ll funnel themselves into some of the above activities once they’re engrossed. People also aren’t the best at self-reporting their activities, so keep that in mind.
What do people use to access social media? Are they more active on their smartphones or do they prefer to stick to their computers? Do they act differently on different devices?
Let’s find out, and you might be a little surprised:
- Social media is strictly the realm of the smartphone. While this might (not many people were accessing Myspace on their phone), more than 90 percent of people access social media on their phone.
- Similarly, out of all the time spent on social media, 80 percent of it is spent on a smartphone. You probably notice this yourself, and notice how much easier it seems to stay engaged with social media on a smartphone as compared to a browser. Everything seems designed with them in mind. There are quite a few social media networks that don’t even have a proper browser option, or a severely hindered one.
- Tablets occupy a strange place in that they certainly exist. Functionally most tablets aren’t all that different from smartphones. They just have bigger screens and cannot call people. If you can do it on a smartphone, most Android-based tablets can do it. And while Apple devices are slightly different, social media companies aren’t going to ignore the potential gains and engagement.
- Messaging app usage might be the largest factor when it comes to a breakdown of device usage. Whatsapp, Snapchat, and other messaging apps are extremely popular for several reasons. They are free. They have a wide user base. And many of them are encrypted so that there is less chance of an information leak. In many ways, they’re cheaper and more private than standard SMS messages, at least in some countries.
- It should be noted that these apps are commonly used by scammers because of these same reasons, but that is a subject for a different article.
Breaking Down the Demographics
Some social networks attract demographics differently. In fact, some social networks might be nearly dominated by one group or another, perhaps as part of its design or perhaps as something of a snowball effect. Here are a few facts to bring this point home:
- Overall, there are more male social media users than male social media users. Out of worldwide users, 53.9 percent are male and 46.1 percent are female.
- Note that this doesn’t necessarily show that men are inherently more attracted to social media than women. Some platforms are certainly skewed one way or another, but overall, the difference could be the result of access to technology or personal circumstances around the world.
- Age is the clearest demographic where you will find differences between usage rates and which networks people prefer. Younger people are more likely to use social media in general, and people over 65 are the least likely to have an account (excluding small children who cannot legally have an account anyhow).
- Looking over the overall set of figures, the 25-34 group is the largest and the most targeted (due to advertising preferences). There might be slight variances in the delimitation (perhaps 18-29 instead of 25-34), but younger people are on social media more and make up the most users.
- TikTok, however, is the domain of the young. The largest age group on TikTok is 10-19 years of age. Also interesting, 61 percent of the total user base is female.
- There may be other demographic data out there or additional splits, but the information is harder to track down. Social media networks are less likely to ask for information on someone’s race or income as opposed to age or gender. Any studies for further information would be smaller in scale.
Much like other sections, we could go on for much, much longer if we wanted to talk about the breakdown for every single demographic and every social media app. The data is there if you are interested. Though suffice it to say the point is made: there are differences between audiences on social media apps, and companies and individuals alike should note this when appropriate.
Differences Between Social Networks
What are some of the differences between social networks? They obviously compete, but user bases will have different opinions about different networks. They may express them in discourse or usage, but it will be an everlasting struggle, as long as social media exists.
Once one social media network adopts a feature, it seems inevitable that every other network with at least a little crossover (or even none) will adopt a similar feature or technology. Think about all the “story” options on social media apps that allow for a temporary post or update of some sort. Think about how video has been available with practically every option. Even private messages exist on apps that one would not immediately think of them. Advertising methods also have their own form of osmosis and will progress in whatever both makes money and is acceptable to users (as in they won’t quit that platform due to advertising).
We also have to look at their relative popularity. Here are the latest numbers on that:
While there are few surprises to anyone who has been following the overall social media landscape for some time, this data does show a few things:
- There are a few sites that clearly dominate. While there are plenty of people that dislike Facebook and some even stronger detractors, that doesn’t dissuade most people online from using it or one of its related companies. Yet while you might think huge companies dominate, remember that money doesn’t solve everything in the social media space. YouTube, owned by Google, is huge, but Google+ did not fare so well.
- There are more regular users than we might expect. Quora and Pinterest might seem like niche websites, but they have a worldwide following and a regular user base.
- Compared with numbers from a similar timeframe previously mentioned in the article, you might notice some inconsistencies. While we can have an estimate of exactly how many users there are, it comes down to how they are measured and exactly when. A couple of months is a huge difference, and companies aren’t going to open up all their secrets. Whatever a social media network can do to make itself look better and more competitive, it will do. That includes framing the numbers in as positive a light as possible.
Naturally, internal strategy and marketing will also vary among networks and companies, though those are harder to parse and are quick to change. Unfortunately, we aren’t privy to company secrets. We are more likely to see the results of the differences in strategy than be able to notice them in real-time, at least in full.
Specialization Vs. Generalization
One clear line between social media networks and companies is their desire and focus to change. Some will be constantly experimenting and expanding into new features and markets, sometimes to little success. Others might instead be focused more on trying to perfect what they do have, expanding only into features and technologies that enhance the main experience and draw. You might notice experiments, of course, but they are more tightly controlled.
For example, Facebook has the userbase to try anything and afford it, at least to a certain extent. Meanwhile, Quora is likely to stay in its lane and keep up the same services they always have. Reddit by its design can only do so much and is unlikely to expand to other sectors of the tech market.
Users will come to associate an app or network for particular purposes. If there is already an existing service that is used, people are unlikely to switch unless there is a strong incentive to do so. Prospective influencers will try to get in while the ground is low, so to speak, but they aren’t indicative of the entire userbase.
Social Media in Different Countries
Chances are you are only used to social media in your own country unless you have made extensive travels in the past. While the internet allows us to connect to people all over the world, that doesn’t mean that we do so. People are more likely to stick with what’s comfortable. Users probably mostly have friends in their area, though social media has certainly changed how we communicate with people who have moved away from us.
Still, there are boundaries to consider. This is especially the case with China, which due to censorship laws and measures collectively known as the “Great Firewall” make many social networks such as Facebook and Twitter mostly unavailable. Instead, you might see some of the following:
You could look into any of them and learn a lot, though they too are constantly changing, much like the rest of online culture. Some notes about these networks or variations of the networks we know, or just facts about social networks internationally:
- They are extremely popular, but also perhaps because they are the only ones on the market. If you want to be on social media in China, these are the networks you have to use. You might be able to use a VPN to get around them, but unless you already have outside connections, a good grasp of other languages, and intense curiosity, there’s little point to it.
- These networks are also heavily monitored and censored by the government. Some tags or words are banned or will be completely shut down by the algorithm. In some countries, the networks effectively police themselves after a point. There will be ways around it of course, but it is a complex subject that deserves an article of its own.
- Interestingly, depending on certain laws in countries that are less laissez-faire about social media’s impact on information or public life. While it can lead to situations where some states or countries dictate policy about what happens online (no one is going to leave the California market behind), it can also mean that if a network find’s a small countries’ laws unacceptable to their model, they just won’t operate in the country. It can be a balancing act, though you will nonetheless see online entities operate differently in different countries. And despite the complaints, most social media networks are active throughout the rest.
- The countries that use social media the most outside of the United States are not the ones you’d think of. Instead, you see countries such as The Phillippines, Columbia, Brazil, Kenya, and Nigeria. In terms of average time, the average person spends the most time on one social media network or another.
- In terms of which networks are most popular, you will frequently see YouTube, WhatsApp, and Facebook in some order. They clearly dominate, and WhatsApp in particular is finding a growing audience. YouTube is something of an enigma and hard to consider, as people will use it for a wider variety of reasons. Given how it is free and just runs on ads, people use it to listen to music, teach themselves, and much more. There is a greater variety there than what most social networks offer, even if the social aspect is downplayed somewhat.
Finding more exact information on these sites can be difficult, but we hope that you have a general idea of what is going on and how different it can be from what you are used to. Pay attention to what people are saying online, and don’t be afraid to reach out, especially if you don’t use your account much otherwise. You’ll learn more about the world and the platform that way.
Changes for 2023
Is there anything that can be expected in 2023, especially given the current political and technological environment? While it is too early to make complete predictions, here are a few things to look out for:
- The pandemic is still with us in some ways, and social media networks are trying to cement the increased usage and reliance people had on them during the height of the crisis. How they will do so will differ, but the offboarding or transition of some of these features and focuses is worth looking into.
- Growth is inevitable for some companies, but we are now reaching the point of market saturation. Is there a person alive that’s online in a free country that does not know of Facebook or YouTube? Everyone has already made up their minds. For the largest networks, it is no longer a matter of waiting for people to sign up. It will be a matter of convincing them to sign up or convincing them to come back.
- Partially as a result of the pandemic, the lines between social media and eCommerce are blurring even more than before. More than a third of United States internet users made a social commerce purchase in 2021. It would be foolish to think that the trend won’t grow or hold strong in 2022.
- As we’ve seen with some Snapchat experimentation, people are more likely to be interested in AR and VR capabilities in 2022, both for commerce and entertainment. Users have greater access to the technology, and developers are getting better at creating content and use cases for it.
- Social media will become even more global. The lines between nations are blurring online, and save for hard walls or stops (think of China or North Korea), this will lead to a cultural exchange (both kind and not so kind) on these platforms. As long as someone speaks your language, where you are from doesn’t matter so much.
Further Expansion and the Future of Social Media
So where do social media companies go from here? What can we possibly expect from the future of the industry and what users will demand from it?
- There will certainly be new social media networks to rise, and whole batches of data to analyze on them. In truth, there are more social media networks coming out that you know about, but many of them remain niche or simply do not survive very long.
- Social media networks tend to borrow features from each other, in a sense. It happens in every industry, but in social media, it is as clear as day. Think about Instagram stories and how Facebook had a similar feature right after. This isn’t crazy given how Instagram and Facebook are part of the same company, but you also noticed similar features on Twitter. Different filters and different types of reactions come in waves.
- Technology drives social media, and vice versa. As 5G rolls in across the world and smartphones get smarter, social media apps will be able to do more. We might see more in-depth video features as a result of better cameras. Better GPS and face tracking will have identification uses (for good or for ill). Naturally, there are also matters for regular social media websites, but they aren’t the bottleneck with this. Smartphones are where people use social media, and grabbing that attention is most important.
- Politics affects life, and given the importance of social media, disinformation campaigns, and related topics in recent events, it only stands to reason that we’re a few events away from major change. There is a balance between public good and the freedom of information.
- To preempt this, many social networks are taking stronger stances against misinformation, especially when it comes to hot topics. COVID misinformation will often be deleted or put to the bottom of the algorithm on Twitter. There are more reporting features than ever before. Bots are their own concern, and there is a regular battle between them and admins over the userbase.
- Is there a cap to the userbase growth? Naturally, there would have to be. Even if a social network was perfect and everyone on the planet had pristine internet access, there are only so many people on the planet after all. Some of them are small children, even, though we suspect laws are the only thing stopping some small children from getting accounts.
- As a result of this, social media companies will need to think of growth in other terms and start thinking of their userbases differently. What was once free might no longer be as investors wonder when the returns will come. We might see stronger competition for engagement, not only between companies but between a network and the outside world. There is a battle for our attention. Above all else, make sure you are the one winning.
- Since it’s a recent topic and related to Facebook in a big way, we cannot avoid talking about Meta, however briefly. Meta can be hard to describe. To simplify, imagine it as a virtual space where people can interact using avatars in a variety of ways. It might be better to compare it to a much more accessible form of VRChat or other virtual reality spaces, except much more accessible as described. However, as much as it is talked about, we won’t see much of it for several years, assuming it finds its feet at all. It’s an ambitious project that can change how we view social media, but it might be too ambitious.
Social media is complex and evolving. There is no saying exactly what the future holds for the platforms or their users, but we hope that you have a better understanding of where things are in 2022. You might change your habits in response to some of the above statistics, which might be a great idea. Get your own time back or use social media more intelligently in the future. Whatever will work for you, we support that. May you continue to find interesting notes and facts about this new topic, and may social media develop in a way that’s helpful to you and other users around the world.