Social Media Use in 2018: Are Changes Coming?

  • June 15, 2018
  • by Erica Sanderson

The Pew Research Center finds most Americans use Facebook and YouTube, but sees growing interest in other sites.

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While Facebook and YouTube are by far the most popular social media sites for adults in the U.S., other sites are gaining, especially among people in their early 20s.

The findings come in the Pew Research Center’s 2018 social media use report, released in March, which is part of the center’s continuing analysis of how Americans use the internet and learn new information in the digital age. (The report is based on surveys conducted before news accounts this spring about new privacy concerns among many Facebook users.)

The report found that YouTube is now used by roughly three-quarters of adults and 94 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds. Other than YouTube, Facebook continues to be the most popular social media site, with roughly two-thirds—some 68 percent—of adults reporting that they are Facebook users, and roughly three-quarters of them saying they log in to it daily. None of the other sites or apps measured in the center’s study, which began in 2012, are used by more than 40 percent of Americans.

Yet while the two sites are the biggest, the report found that the typical American uses three social media platforms. “We’re seeing more diversification in people’s social media portfolios,” says Aaron Smith, associate director of research at the center.

Previous work focused on five social platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. And the latest report found that for the most part, the share of Americans who use each of these sites is similar to that of the last Pew report released in April 2016. The most notable exception was Instagram. Thirty-five percent of U.S. adults now say they use this photo- and video-sharing platform—an increase of 7 percentage points from 28 percent in 2016.

Not surprisingly, use of social media varies by age, with younger generations reporting the highest engagement. Roughly 9 in 10 people ages 18 to 29 say they use some form of social media. That share falls to 78 percent among those ages 30 to 49, to 64 percent among those ages 50 to 64, and to 37 percent among Americans 65 and older.

At the same time, there are pronounced differences among younger adults in their online use. Those ages 18 to 24 are substantially more likely to use platforms such as Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter even when compared with those in their mid- to late 20s. Taking note of the rising interest in those sites, this year’s survey marked the first time the center polled on how frequently people use Snapchat—a video- and photo-sharing app best known for its quirky “face filters” that allow people to alter photos of themselves in often funny ways. Snapchat has become one of the most popular platforms for the youngest adults. Seventy-eight percent of 18- to 24-year-olds are Snapchat users, while only 54 percent of those ages 25 to 29 use it. Researchers say this is not unusual: Young generations often experiment with new technology platforms and tools before others who are older. “Young people tend to be the first adopters of lots of different technologies,” Smith says.

While fewer Americans overall use Snapchat, the people who do are a dedicated group. Forty-nine percent of respondents say they use the platform multiple times per day; that number increases among 18- to 24-year-olds, with 82 percent using Snapchat daily and 71 percent using it multiple times per day. Similarly, 81 percent of Instagram users in the same age group visit the platform on a daily basis, and 55 percent do so several times per day.

Whether these newer platforms grow beyond younger populations remains to be seen. “What we will be looking at moving forward is the extent to which these emerging platforms spread more broadly to older groups, as Facebook has,” Smith says.

Does this increasing daily use of social media make users more dependent on it? The survey found that 59 percent of social media users say it would not be hard to give up these platforms, but there were big age differences in responses. About half—51 percent—of social media users ages 18 to 24 say it would be hard to give up social media, but just one-third of users ages 50 and older feel that way.

The survey found that the share of social media users who would find it hard to give up these services has grown somewhat in recent years.

Perhaps the ability to sever ties to social media all depends on how you use it. “The places that people are in their lives help to inform the psychological benefits they get from social media,” Smith says. The constant connection—previously unavailable when older generations came of age—is shaping how young adults interact not only with each other, but with the world. “One of the big open questions for us,” he says, “is how this different information environment will influence the way that younger generations experience all sorts of news events and happenings in their lives relative to people who are older than they are.”