10 Facts from New Pew Data on Social Media Usage

YouTube remains king, Facebook usage is flat, and a whole lot more we can learn.

The annual Pew Research Center report on social media usage is required reading for me every single year. When this year’s data came out earlier this month, I realized I never saw a report in 2020 and freaked out for a minute until it became clear they didn’t release one (presumably because of the pandemic, but I’m not sure).

If you want to read the full report from Pew, you can find it here. But if you’d just like 10 of the more interesting factoids, I have you covered today. My plan is to write a bit of a deeper reflection on some of this data for next Friday, perhaps with some ministry applications for those of you who oversee social media strategy for churches or other organizations.

Last week I wrote about why I think the future of social media is private, and I think much of the trends we’re seeing in this data point toward that being a reality. Today my goal is to provide the data with maybe a little commentary on why these stats may be the way they are, and virtually no application, as I hope to provide that next Friday.

For ease-of-reading, I’ve broken my 10 facts into two groups: one based on demographics and one based on platforms. Let’s dive in!

Social Media Use by Demographics

Here are some stats on how social media usage is trending among different groups of people.

1) Overall social media usage among all Americans remains flat since 2019.

In February 2019, 72% of American adults said they use at least one social media site. In February 2021, the same percentage of American adults said the same.

Social media usage has not increased or decreased over a two year period for only the second time ever, the first coming between 2016 and 2018 when American social media usage was stuck at 69%.

2) Whites’ usage of social media has decreased since 2019 while Black and Hispanic usage has increased.

As the chart below shows, fewer white Americans use social media today than in 2019, and more Black and Hispanic Americans use social media today than in 2019, and at almost the same rate.

Only 69% of White Americans use social media, lower than the national average, whereas 77% of Black and 80% of Hispanic Americans use social media.

For the first time ever, the percentage of White Americans using social media has dipped below that of Black and Hispanic Americans. Interesting!

3) Americans making between $50,000 and $74,999 a year had the most precipitous decline in social media usage.

Here are the changes in social media usage across different annual household incomes among Americans between 2019 and 2021:

  • Less than $30k = 68% —> 69%

  • $30k - $49.9k = 70% —> 76%

  • $50k - $74.9k = 83% —> 65%

  • More than $75k = 78% —> 76%

Look at that! Americans who have an annual household income between $50,000 and $75,000 a year went from being the most prevalent social media users in 2019 to the least prevalent social media users in 2021! A full 18% of Americans in this income bracket dropped social media.

I have no idea why this is the case, nor do I have a clue what it may mean. But it is a stark statistic, and I am probably going to spend an irrational amount of time trying to figure out if there is something here. It could definitely be some sort of flaw in methodology or something, but it’s hard to know for sure.

4) Young people flock to Snapchat, Instagram, and TikTok.

Summarizing the data from the report, Brook Auxier and Monica Anderson write:

Majorities of 18- to 29-year-olds say they use Instagram or Snapchat and about half say they use TikTok, with those on the younger end of this cohort – ages 18 to 24 – being especially likely to report using Instagram (76%), Snapchat (75%) or TikTok (55%).

 These shares stand in stark contrast to those in older age groups. For instance, while 65% of adults ages 18 to 29 say they use Snapchat, just 2% of those 65 and older report using the app – a difference of 63 percentage points.

This is probably the least surprising data of the whole study, if I’m being honest, but the stark contrast in age usages of these apps is notable.

5) About 95% of Americans ages 18-29 use YouTube, the highest usage rate of any social media platform by any demographic.

The greatest affinity between any demographic and any social media platform is 18-29-year-olds and YouTube. Check out this table (I’ve circled the stat for you). The darker the boxes on the table, the greater the affinity/usage.

YouTube is television for the youngest American adults, and I hesitate to say that 95% number could ever reach 100%, but it very well could.

Social Media Use by Platforms

6) YouTube continues to dominate the social internet.

About 81% of Americans report that they use YouTube to some degree. This is the only social media platform that has a higher usage/adoption rate than the average usage of all social media among Americans which stands at 72%.

YouTube is so many things. It is a video how-to guide for household projects. It is a venue of entertainment. It is a means of education. It is really the most dominant form of performative social media available today, and there is no reason to see it wavering in influence anytime soon.

7) Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter usage is leveling off.

Check out the line graph below, which depicts the leveling off of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter usage in a more readable way than the graph above.

This cooling of interest in hybrid performative/communicative social media platforms, which I explained in my newsletter last Friday, is not surprising and will continue to be the case.

8) But, Facebook remains the social media platform used most frequently.

Despite the flattening curve of Facebook usage among Americans, Facebook is the social media platform that is accessed most frequently by Americans.

Maybe the most interesting part of that chart is the relatively infrequent use of YouTube, despite it being the most widely used social media platform. This speaks to YouTube being a destination for reference material as much as anything.

9) Reddit usage is exploding.

In my post last week, I briefly mentioned the increased interest in Reddit over the last year or so. I read this increased interest as an ever-growing interest in using social media platforms that get us away from algorithmic feeds and connect us to others with whom we share affinities of some kind. Look at how much Reddit usage has grown:

Sure, that line may not be hockey-sticking upward, but it is a significant increase to go from 11% usage to 18% usage in just two years, especially for a platform that has been around as long as Reddit has. Such volatility would be expected in newer platforms, not legacy platforms.

10) TikTok and Twitter usage is almost identical.

Pew started tracking TikTok usage this year for the first time ever, which makes sense given its relative novelty, and I was pretty shocked to see that it has almost the same usage rate as Twitter among American adults.

If you include children who use TikTok (despite the rules), TikTok usage among Americans would almost certainly eclipse Twitter usage…and by a lot. Twitter’s relatively low usage given its age and cultural impact was sort of surprising, but not entirely.

It is interesting that Twitter and TikTok, the two most culturally-impactful social media platforms around today, have some of the lowest usage rates among American adults. I wonder why that is…It may merit some thinking and a post at some point.

What Do We Do?

Next Friday I will provide some brief application points and bits of strategic advise for churches and other Christian organizations about how to understand and use social media in light of this new data. Come back then!