From 2009 to 2019, the number of internet users increased drastically. A simple illustration: in 2009, Asia had around 764.4 million internet users; a decade later, that number went up to 2.3 billion (IWS, 2020). Globally, by the end of 2019, 4.5 billion people are using the internet. Of those, 3.484 billion are active on social media sites (Kemp, 2019).
The popularity of social media cannot be denied. It can be seen not only in the number of platforms have but also in the earnings of social sites or apps. For example, in the second quarter of 2019, Facebook had the most number of monthly active users with 2.4 billion (Market.us, 2020). In the same period, the tech giant had more than $16 billion in revenue.
This global social media research summary explores how social media has grown, which sites are the most popular, and how it has permeated the different facets of peoples’ lives.
In 2019, three social media platforms made it to the top 10 most visited websites globally, according to SimilarWeb, a digital insights company, as reported by We Are Social & Hootsuite (2019). Facebook.com took the third spot, Twitter.com was in the seventh spot, while Instagram.com landed on the tenth spot. Additionally, VK.com, a Russian social media site, was in the sixteenth spot. Reddit.com also made it to the top 20.
However, the story is different with Alexa.com. While Facebook.com remained the third most visited website in 2019, Twitter.com is in the eleventh place and Instagram.com is in the seventeenth place. Reddit.com and VK.com are in the 15th and 16th spots, respectively. China’s Weibo.com made it as the 18th most visited website.
Other websites, especially the perennial leaders like Google, Wikipedia, etc., still remain among the most visited. However, social media sites are competing toe-to-toe with these leading sites as they continue to expand their audience base.
As of 2019, Market.us (2020) revealed that Eastern Asia has the highest social media penetration rate at 70% among the 10 regions with the highest penetration rates. On the other hand, Western Europe has the lowest social media penetration rate at 53% despite having an 80% internet penetration rate (Kemp, 2019). Central America sits in the middle at 62%. Some regions did not make it to the top 10 like the Middle East and the African regions.
The same site showed that when it comes to using social media on mobile, Eastern Asia still tops the bill at 70%, followed by Northern America at 61%. Central America remains in the middle at 59% and Western Europe stayed at the bottom with 45%.
Among the popular social media research topics on the Internet nowadays is the list of popular social media platforms. There may be more than 200 social media sites or apps at present, but only a handful of these have a wide following. StatCounter (2020) shows that by the end of December 2019, Facebook remained the leading social media platform worldwide with a share of 64.22%. It is followed by Twitter with a 12.96% market share.
In addition, the micro-blogging site eclipsed Pinterest at the close of 2019, as the image-sharing service’s share of users dipped to 10.97%. YouTube stayed steady throughout the year and ended at 3.79% though it was overtaken by Instagram. The photo and video sharing social network’s share of the market rose to 7.05%. Meanwhile, Reddit and Tumblr stayed at the bottom of the rung with 0.27% and 0.37%, respectively. Other social media services have a combined share of 0.37%.
In the previous year, the numbers were different although Facebook was still the leader of the pack at 71.85%. Pinterest was the second-largest social media platform with 12.31% of the market share and Twitter was third with 8.65%. YouTube was larger than Instagram, while Reddit and Tumblr had slightly more users (StatCounter, 2020).
Who are the people that make up the users of these social media services and what kind of people are they? GlobalWebIndex (2019) stated that by the end of Q3 2018, people across the world spent, on average, around 2 hours and 18 minutes on social media. And people in Latin America are the ones who spend the most time on social media; they average 3 hours and 27 minutes per day. The same site reported that by generation, those in the Gen Z spectrum are the most social, as they spend 2 hours and 55 minutes on average on social media platforms. A large percentage of users on YouTube and Instagram are Gen Z’ers, at 89% and 74%, respectively.
In 2019, more Boomers are active on Facebook compared to Millennials, Gen Xers, and Gen Zers. Meanwhile, the younger generations are moving towards more media-heavy platforms like Instagram and YouTube. A report by Cox (2019) showed that only 52% of Baby Boomers actively use YouTube while there were 89% of Gen Zers, 86% of Millennials, and 68% of Gen Xers who also use this top video-sharing site. Additionally, there are more male users of social media across all age ranges, except for ages 45 to 65 and above. To illustrate, among social media users who are 25 to 34 years old, 19% are male while 13% are female. In the 18 to 24 years old range, 16% are male and 11% are female.
The way people use social media has changed over the years. It used to be a platform for friends and loved ones to connect easily over long distances. Now, social media has become a place as well for brands to engage with their audiences. But how exactly do users utilize the platforms available to them?
Most members of every generation open their social media accounts at least once a day (Cox, 2019). Because of this, social media has become a part of their daily routine. Millennials and Gen Zers are likely to use social media multiple times a day but the former can be seen dividing their time across different platforms.
A report by Gilsenan (2019) shows that the primary reason for social media use across the world is to keep up with the news (40%). In the US and the UK, however, it is different; according to them, the main reason they use social media is to communicate with family and friends while staying informed about current affairs only comes second. Globally, including those in the UK and the US, the third reason is to find entertaining content.
Other reasons include the following:
Increasingly, social media also becomes a way for consumers to discover new brands (28%) and for learning more about products they are interested in (42%). Indeed, 74% of people follow brands on social media and 96% interact with them (Fogel, 2019).
These days, people also expect to receive customer service via the brands’ social pages. A report by Microsoft (2019) showed that 18% of consumers expect immediate responses regarding their complaints on social channels. Twenty-eight percent and 37% were willing to wait for an hour or for a day, respectively. Meanwhile, 17% of respondents said they did not expect a response at all. If their experience with customer service is less than expected, consumers would not hesitate to change brands.
Powers (2019) broke down the best times to post on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. Her findings were similar to those posted by Sprout Social, a social management solution provider. For marketers on Facebook, the best day to post is on Wednesday between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. The worst day to post anything on the platform would be on Sunday, as the least amount of engagement has been recorded on that day.
For Twitter, there are two best days: Wednesday and Friday. On either day, brands should post at 9 a.m. They should avoid Saturdays, as this day has been observed to produce the least engagement.
On Instagram, the best day overall for posting is also on Wednesday, though Fridays get high engagements, too. Accounts should put up their photos or videos at 11 a.m. on hump day and between 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Friday. Sunday is the worst day for any engagement on the platform, similar to Facebook.
Lastly, on LinkedIn, brands and personalities should take care to post updates on Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 12 noon. Sundays also provide the lowest engagement for this platform.
On all social media sites, there are also less optimal days that get consistent engagement. Those days are weekdays, as these are the days when most people are online. Sundays are the least popular days for updates because, presumably, most of the online population goes offline to spend time with families and friends or go for outings and errands.
This is also where social media research tools can come in, as they allow brands and marketers to learn more about the behaviors of their audiences on the internet.
There are accounts that always vie for users’ attention on different platforms but only a selected few truly catch people’s eyes enough to give them a like or a follow. Some accounts have understandably huge followings because they are celebrities or sports personalities or because they are familiar brands. Nevertheless, they are still doing something right to keep people from unliking or unfollowing them.
On Twitter, the most followed accounts are those of celebrities, with the exception of former US President Barack Obama, the YouTube account, and sportsman Cristiano Ronaldo (Learish, 2019).
Facebook’s most-followed pages are a mixture of celebrities, news or current affairs, sports personalities, sports groups, and a food blog (Socialbakers, 2020).
Portuguese footballer Cristiano Ronaldo also reigns supreme on Instagram, as his account has the most followers on the social media platform. Other names on the list are celebrities and reality TV personalities like Beyoncé, Kim Kardashian West, and The Rock. Another sportsman on the list is Neymar Jr, an elite Brazilian footballer (Feldman, 2019).
TikTok is a fast-growing social media application that has a global audience. Unlike on other platforms, most of TikTok’s popular accounts are those of influencers. These social media personalities have presences on other sites as well, such as Instagram and YouTube (Bump, 2019).
There is no denying that social media has integrated into the different facets of people’s lives. How it has impacted economics, politics, and society, whether positive or negative, are discussed as follows:
Social media has fueled the growth of eCommerce, as more people are using social platforms to search about brands and products as well as to make purchases. Instagram, in particular, has made it easier for buyers to immediately purchase the items they encounter on a post (Viens, 2019).
Additionally, social media has allowed the rise of influencers. These internet personalities with a wide following have become marketing partners of brands. This is largely due to the varied demographic of their followers. In fact, 72% of major brands spent a large portion of their marketing budget on influencers in 2018.
Lahaye (2018) also elaborates that social media has been creating jobs, thus helping fuel the economy. Moreover, it has been democratizing information and allowing brands to reach audiences beyond the traditional limits of their marketing platforms.
Moreover, while Google and Facebook dominate 60% of online spending, they also create a complex online ecosystem that entrepreneurs can use to their advantage (Desjardins, 2017).
A headline in The Atlantic says, “Why Social Media Are Ruining Political Discourse”. The author of the article points out that social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube have mechanisms that enable the proliferation of conspiracy theories and false information. Indeed, they have allowed political indoctrination.
With social media, the news is also more accessible and around the clock. It is easier for people to view the results of polls and be exposed to rumors. For instance, polls can sway the results of elections because of their “self-fulfilling prophecy.” If people see that a certain candidate is winning or is favored by the majority to win, many people are likely to simply join the bandwagon and go with the popular choice. Their reason? They want to make their vote really count instead of wasting it by siding with the underdog.
There are some positives with social media in relation to politics, though. These platforms have bridged the distance between ordinary people and politicians and lawmakers. People can now interact directly with their senators, governors, mayors, even the President of their country (Satterfield, 2016).
Nevertheless, views on the influence of social media on politics are mixed. A report by Smith and colleagues (2019) shows that 44% of adults believe that social media is a good influence, while 28% disagree and 17% say it has no influence at all. The top five countries that view social media in a positive light when associated with politics are the Philippines, South Africa, Venezuela, Kenya, and Vietnam. Meanwhile, Tunisia, Lebanon, and Jordan have less trust in such online platforms when it comes to politics.
In some countries, social media is perceived as a positive for society. For instance, Silver and co-researchers (2019) found that 80% of adult respondents in Vietnam said that social media was a good thing compared to the 6% who believed it was bad and the 12% who thought it could be both. The least optimistic about the impact of social media in society is India, with only 37% of adults believing that it can be good. Meanwhile, Venezuela is almost split in half since 42% are positive and 43% are negative, while 7% straddle both sides of the fence.
But what makes social media a positive driver in society? Cox (2019) reported that 41% of his respondents said that social media let them feel more connected with people. Compared to that, only 13% said that it made them feel disconnected. Additionally, 35% responded that it had no effect on their personal relationships and 11% were not sure of social media’s impact on their personal lives.
However, the mostly-positive views have not stopped people from deactivating their accounts. The number of social media users keeps on rising, but so does the number of people who deactivate their social media accounts. The same survey revealed that younger consumers aged 16 to 24 are more likely to close their accounts, albeit temporarily (48%) compared to the 30% of 55 to 64-year-olds who do so for the long term. Interestingly, more males (66%) are also more inclined to permanently close their accounts than females (46%) (Cox, 2019).
There are many reasons why social media users deactivate their accounts. Many users do so because they:
By 2025, the number of social media users is forecast to reach 4.41 billion (Clement, 2020). This means between 2020 and 2025 the number of users will increase by 926 million. Social networking is a popular activity on the internet, as can be seen by the amount of time people from different generations spend on various social sites. Generation Zers tend to spend the most time on social platforms.
But as the Millennials and Gen Xers grow older, they also reduce the time they spend on social media sites or apps, largely due to real-life responsibilities. On the other hand, more members of older generations are turning to social media. The latter trend can likely be because these platforms allow users to connect with family or friends who are halfway across the globe and whom they rarely or do not even see anymore.
Despite that, a fraction of social media users is removing these sites or apps either temporarily or for good from their lives. One of the main reasons is that it makes them feel disconnected in their relationships. This only shows that social media can both be a boon and a bane. However, it largely depends on the person using it, and what they choose to see on their personal timelines or feeds. Regardless of the cause, this makes for an interesting debate topic.