Pew Internet Life last week released the latest results of its ongoing tracking of the social media usage of U.S. adults. As always, there are some interesting insights and takeaways from the study, even if the overall message is that not much has changed in adoption, usage or preferences since last year.
YouTube Keeps Dominating
You would be forgiven if you keep forgetting – as I often do – that YouTube is classified as a social network. It very much is and therefore dominates the rankings of the most-used network in the study. What Pew doesn’t call out is how many people actually use the social features of the site – following feeds, leaving comments etc – and how many are just there for the copious “Parks & Recreation” clips. That’s a study I’d be interested in and I’m guessing it would change the rankings significantly.
Facebook Has Plateaued
The growth between 2016 and 2018 is essentially flat, a trend that’s been reported elsewhere but which has new weight with Pew backing all that up. More concerning have to be the other numbers that show increased weakness on what still is the most popular non-YouTube social network. Snapchat is basically just as sticky as Facebook, with 49% of people saying they visit the former multiple times a day compared to 51% of the latter. And Snapchat has better age demographic numbers. While both have roughly similar usage numbers for those 18-24, Facebook is much more dependent on older users than Snapchat is. Basically, Facebook’s core user base is going to start dying off soon while Snapchat’s still has a long ways to go, assuming redesigns don’t alienate them.
Twitter Is Surprisingly Not Sticky
The number of people who visit Twitter multiple times a day is half (26%) of those that report doing so for Facebook or Snapchat. That’s a bit shocking given that Twitter is so focused on the live stream of updates while Facebook is still showing you that post from three days ago that your friend from church just liked. One would think that if Twitter had a solid value proposition to sell the public it would be much more frequently visited than Facebook or even Instagram, which also filters everything through its feed algorithm.
Cross-Platform Usage Is High
About 73% of those surveyed are active users of at least three of the networks that were included on the list. But you have to keep in mind that three of the eight platforms are or are owned by Facebook. So while the cross-network adoption is interesting and the demographics of each one slightly different, you have to consider that Facebook owns not only its own audience but also that of Instagram and Whatsapp. I’d love to see Pew crunch the numbers again with ownership in mind.
BONUS: What’s Being Shared and How
Pew’s study came out just around the same time BuzzSumo released a report on social content sharing trends. From a high level, the message is that sharing activity is down because of factors like Facebook’s algorithm changes and the influx of low-quality publishers who rush into every new topic and flood the market, all of which means less referral traffic for legitimate publishers. There are some bright spots – LinkedIn is becoming a more important source of news – but overall the big are getting bigger and everyone else is left to deal with the scraps.
One trend they identify is worth calling out: Backlinks are essentially a thing of the past for all but the biggest, most authoritative websites. In layman’s terms, no one is linking out anymore. That’s been a problem for several years now, as blogs began prioritizing linking to their own archives or category pages and not to any outside websites. That’s always struck me as a betrayal of core principles when it came to blogging because that was the whole damn point. For years those of us in the early waves of blogging railed against The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, Newsweek and countless others who might mention that an item came from a blog but strictly forbade anyone from linking to it, lest valuable traffic be squandered. Now they’re more likely to do it than the blog of your average social media thought leader.
I also find the report’s recommendation to focus on long-tail evergreen content interesting. While BuzzSumo puts that in the context of social shares, that’s the sort of content that’s going to play much better for search, which other studies have shown is gaining traction as Facebook’s value to publishers fades toward irrelevance.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.