Reading between the lines of the latest Facebook usage data

I LOVE getting new reports from the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project. For a data geek like me, this is like getting a great big present in my email!

The primary reason I value this research is because you can BELIEVE it. This is not some outfit surveying their customers or blog readers. This is professionally conducted, statistically-valid research that I feel comfortable using with clients.

The latest report on social media usage among US online adults contains no real surprises. Perhaps more interesting is what is NOT there. Let’s look at it briefly from both sides.

What’s there.

The report says that 73% of online adults now use a social networking site of some kind. Despite recent growth by Pinterest and Instagram, Facebook remains the dominant social networking. A striking new revelation is that a large number of users are now diversifying onto other platforms — 42% of online adults now use multiple social networking sites.

While all of the major sites experienced growth, Facebook’s 71% user rate among online adults represents a significant increase from the 67% of just a year ago.

Facebook also has the broadest appeal and is used across a diverse mix of demographic groups. Other sites have developed their own unique demographic user profiles:

  • Women are four times as likely as men to be Pinterest users.
  • LinkedIn is especially popular among college graduates and internet users in higher income households.
  • Twitter and Instagram have particular appeal to younger adults, urban dwellers, and non-whites.
  • There is substantial overlap between Twitter and Instagram user bases.

Facebook and Instagram exhibit especially high levels of user engagement: A majority of users on these sites check in to them on a daily basis.

What’s not there?

Here are a few revelations that are not explicit in the report.

First, where is the decline in Facebook usage we have all been hearing about? This report shows that Facebook usage is GROWING, but people are spending more time in other places too.

It’s also interesting to think about the Facebook-Instagram dynamic. Facebook acquired the non-revenue producing company in early 2013 for $1 billion. That raised some eyebrows at the time but look at the graph above and start to combine some of these numbers in your head and you’ll see why it probably made sense.

In fact it begs the question, will there be further consolidation in the social networking industry? The primary revenue model for a social media company is to 1) collect personal information that can be turned into targeted ads and 2) increase time spent on a site so more ads can be viewed.

As Facebook (and Google and Twitter) all aim for the same attention and the same ad revenue, isn’t some consolidation bound to occur as organic growth becomes more difficult to sustain? We already know Facebook made a run at Twitter and Snapchat. Wouldn’t a Facebook-Pinterest consolidation be a match made in heaven?

Finally, I had to scratch my head and wonder why Google Plus was not included in this survey. I can kind of understand that YouTube (primarily a broadcast channel) may not be in the same category as these other social networks. But where is Google Plus?

I went right to the source and asked Pew Center Director Lee Rainie why this wasn’t included. Here’s his answer: “We’ve asked about Google+ in the past and were worried when we heard respondents being interviewed that they weren’t sure if we were asking about the social networking platform or more broadly about use of any Google product. That was a while ago and we will likely be including Google+ the next time we ask people about social networking platforms.”

It’s interesting that there might be some brand confusion among the general populace around Google Plus. Might suggest that G+ needs to do some advertising to increase awareness?

Any surprises for you on this research?


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  • Matt Leonard

    Great read! As the heavy hitting social networks go public and have shareholders to report to, I think they will be forced to grow through limitations on organic. Additionally Facebook will likely rely on acquisition(s) not only to continue perceived user growth, but also to stay abreast of new trends.

  • Mark Koschwitz

    Good article. Facebook is an interesting beast. On the one hand, usage remains pretty good, but on the other it seems a ton of people still don’t care for the platform… they just use it to connect with friends/family because they’re already on there. What happens if people increasingly start using other platforms?

    As for Google+, Google has actually come out and stated that they don’t want people thinking of G+ as a separate entity. This confusion may not be confusion at all if the question was worded properly.

  • Good insights Matt.

  • I’m confused, for one. Google is a search engine. People won;t get that out of their mind. I think the company has several branding problems including Google + !

  • Allen Roberts

    Thanks Mark.The full Pew report is worth everyone’s time to read and consider in the context of how scarce resources are allocated. My space is SME’s, and they are particularly resource constrained, and Sm often gets short shift, wrongly, or the resources are is poorly used.

  • Mark Koschwitz

    Google+ is the central location of their Google account. It makes fine sense to me and Google+ is growing like crazy, so I’m not about to tell them they’re doing it wrong quite yet.

  • dave

    Great summary Mark. Also curious about the missing g+ in report, but can appreciate PEW’s position. Between accounts, profiles, pages, gmail, search, youtube – there’s no way they could get a straight answer from anyone.

  • Michael O’Brien

    A quick scan says 1800 people . I have to wonder how where they got the people of the sample . We all know There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics . I am dubious about any numbers , as you imply you are also. That said I also like to see what they say and peoples view of what the #’s / stats say. Facebook to me has a huge problem as they are alienating the people they need . I refrain from liking posts as I do not want to see How someone Black is recommended because I liked a post from POTUS. I say this as the person has nothing to do with post or POTUS other than skin color & other foolishness to entice me to Like a page or buy a product. This also hurts marketers as when people do like the page they paid to promote there under it is competitors pages . I also have cut way back on like’s of friends posts as I do not want to see my page filled with 5 of their posts some 24 hours ago . Facebook’s model to monetize the site if not changed will be it’s downfall . They say 1 billion are on our site anyone with a clue knows that is a lie & they know it . I say as much of 1/3 of Facebook is fake /duplicate accounts . Pew can say 71% of U.S. adults come every day and spend xxx minutes on the site. But Facebook is a Business and what matters is the Bottom line . The double posts 3 on my page(see pic) 5 ads in the stream.I post on my fan page 15% seethe post from the page they decided to like and when they do there are competitors listed below .Why does Facebook think they liked it ? How such smart people could come up with such a pathetic and customer alienating way to monetize the site is beyond me . They do not rework how they make $ they will not make very much at all . I see by 2020 Facebook value at 1/3 of what it is . The only thing keeping Facebook alive is that they already have so many of our friends there . The user experience (does Facebook even consider this ?) has gone into the toilet . I use because I have to not because I want to & I think this is a feeling that is growing .

  • I do think Google and G+ face marketing challenges. I wrote about this here:

  • Mark Koschwitz

    I completely agree with your post. FB had a perfect storm: Just college kids, then parents and younger kids that wanted to be with the older kids/young adults, and now grandparents etc. Whole families are on there. Google+ can’t replicate that. I’m not sure anyone can now because I doubt those older people will be that fond of moving after they set up camp.

    I think Google+ is a great interest-based social network due to their search function, but not everyone is interested in communicating with people they don’t know.

    G+ will end up as an extension of one’s Google Account. That place where people go to edit their info. It’ll grow a little from FB haters and photographers (really everyone should use it as a place to upload pictures… it’s great at that), but never to FB level.

    I’m completely okay with that as long as Google doesn’t ditch it like everything else. Google has their hands in so much more than Google+ that I’m never sure just how important it is to them.

  • That is my concern with G+ too. Google has already abandoned two social network attempts plus dozens of other useful apps like Feedburner. They have not established trust with their customers.

  • ShortStack

    Thanks for this post Mark! We have been discussing the origins of the “everyone” is bailing on Facebook reports for awhile. Our users — Facebook Page admins — report they will use Facebook for their businesses/brands even more in 2014 than they did in 2013 — it’s nice to see our experience validated in the Pew report.

  • I don’t think Google will spend to much on raising the awareness so that people can clearly identify what are the boundaries of Google plus. It doesn’t make sense in the idea that spend so much time integrating your browser with you email, social media and other product you use for them.

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