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Social media still growing, with Instagram leading the way

This post first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News

This post first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News

A lot of people scratched their heads when Facebook invested a billion dollars to buy Instagram in 2012. But, based on the results of a recent survey from Pew Research, it now looks like quite a bargain.

In retrospect, I wish I had bought it, though I’m afraid my check would have bounced.

The Pew survey of online adults found Instagram to be the fastest growing social media platform, now being accessed by 26 percent of U.S. adults, up from 17 percent a year ago.

Facebook is still by far the most popular platform, used by a whopping 71 percent of adult Internet users but, unlike Instagram, its growth is stalled. It’s overall user base is the same as it was the previous year, though it’s now reaching fewer African-American users (67 percent vs. 76 percent the previous year), but significantly more people older than 65 (56 percent vs. 46 percent).

Having more than 7 in 10 U.S. adults as members of Facebook is not too shabby, and when you reach that big an audience, it’s hard to keep growing because most of the people in the U.S. who might want to join Facebook probably already have. I think it’s quite interesting that they’re growing among senior citizens, with more than a majority of online seniors on Facebook for the first time.


Instagram is now the fastest growing social media platform


Seniors have traditionally been slow to adapt to new technologies, but it’s important to remember that people who are 65 today were 27 when the Apple II was introduced, 30 when IBM introduced its first PC and 34 when the Mac came out, so even though they’re not digital natives, most probably used computers for most of their adult lives at home and at work as well as smartphones. Also, Facebook is a great way to stay in touch with family members, including grown-up kids and grandchildren.

There are reports of Facebook slipping among teens, but most of the data I see suggests that teens are keeping their accounts, but just not logging on as often or staying on as long. In June of last year, Forrester Research surveyed 4,517 kids between 12 and 17 and concluded that “Facebook remains young users’ favorite social network,” with more than three quarters of online youth as members. That, according to Forrester, was “twice as many as use Pinterest or Tumblr or Snapchat, and more than use Instagram and WhatsApp combined.”

Among adults Internet users, Pew found that LinkedIn enjoyed a 6 percent increase between 2013 and 2014 and is now used by 28 percent of adults. There was a big increase in female users, from 19 percent to 27 percent. Young adult LinkedIn users (age 18-29) jumped from 15 percent to 22 percent and there was a huge increase in the number of seniors older than 65, from 13 percent to 22 percent. Pew didn’t speculate why so many seniors are on LinkedIn, but I think it might be because people are remaining in the workforce longer and using the professional-networking service to keep in touch with colleagues or look for new opportunities.

I have to admit that — like most men — I’m not much of a Pinterest user, but 28 percent of all adults and 42 percent of all adult women are using it. That represents a 5 percentage-point increase among men and a 9 percentage-point increase among women from 2013. Pinterest is a highly visual service, heavily used to promote crafts, artwork and pictures of delicious food.

Relatively few seniors (17 percent) use Pinterest, but that nearly doubled from 9 percent the year before.

Twitter also saw modest, but significant, year-over-year growth, from 18 percent to 23 percent. It does best with younger adults (37 percent of those younger than 30) and tapers off with age down to 10 percent of seniors, but that’s twice as many seniors as the previous year.

Usage also correlates with education and income. College graduates are nearly twice as likely to use Twitter than people who are high school grads or less (30 percent vs 16 percent). People who make more than $50,000 a year are more likely to use the service than those who earn less than $30,000 (27 percent vs. 20 percent).

Despite its growth, Twitter remains way behind Facebook and is simply not being used by most Americans. You hear about it a lot from politicians and the media, but politicians and journalists are among Twitter’s most active users. It’s a great way to get the latest news, see what’s trending and communicate with people who care about what you have to say but, unlike Facebook, it’s not the way most people stay in touch with friends and family.

The Pew report didn’t even mention Google+, which has a fraction of Facebook’s market share. Google may be great at searching, but it has yet to find a way to capitalize on social networking.

The survey, conducted in September 2014, consisted of a sample of 1,597 adults Internet users (18 and older) with a margin of error of 2.9 percent.