Pew study reveals useful demographic data

Photo credit: Luis Llerena

Would it surprise you to learn that, in terms of social media penetration rates among U.S. adults, Twitter is now only the fifth largest platform? If so, you’re not alone. As new social media platforms have emerged over the last few years, there have been significant shifts in how people use social media—and, as a result, perceptions aren’t always aligned with the new reality.

That’s what makes the Pew Research Center’s 2016 social media update so useful. The latest version of Pew’s annual study, which reviews social media habits among American adults who use the internet, provides a baseline for marketers and business leaders to understand where they should focus their attention and resources. Here are the most important takeaways from the 2016 edition:

  • Facebook is the unquestioned leader of the pack. Of the 86 percent of American adults on the internet, 79 percent use Facebook. That’s more than double the penetration rate of the next most popular platform—and more than three times the share of Twitter users. Even when you factor in those who are not on the internet, Facebook is used by 68 percent of American adults. No wonder it’s such a dominant force in our media environment.
  • Instagram and Pinterest are in a virtual dead heat for second place, being used, respectively, by 32 and 31 percent of U.S. adults.
  • LinkedIn and Twitter garner shares of 29 and 24 percent, respectively, placing them fourth and fifth, respectively.
  • Facebook and Instagram are sprinting while the others are growing at a slower, steadier pace. The penetration rate for each of the five aforementioned platforms has grown, but Facebook and Instagram have had the most rapid growth. Facebook has seen an 8 percent increase since 2014; Instagram, 6 percent. By contrast, adoption rates for LinkedIn and Twitter grew by just 1 percent during the same period.
  • Facebook is popular regardless of demographic. Consider this: Twitter’s highest adoption rate among any of the age groups in the Pew study is 36 percent—among 18- to 29-year-olds. Facebook’s lowest adoption rate within an age group is 62 percent—its standing among those 65+. Facebook also commands at least 75 percent of all audience sub-segments—by gender, income, education level and community type (urban, suburban or rural).
  • Instagram still skews young. Nearly 60 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds use Instagram, but penetration rates drop off considerably with older adults, with only 33 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds, 18 percent of 550- to 64-year-olds, and 8 percent of those 65+ using the site.
  • Pinterest is still predominantly used by women. The penetration rate of women using Pinterest (45 percent) is more than twice that of men (17 percent). No other platform has nearly as large a gender gap.
  • LinkedIn is the only platform with higher adoption rates among men. LinkedIn is the only platform where men (31 percent) have a higher adoption rate than women (27 percent).
  • As income and education level goes up, so does use of LinkedIn. Perhaps not surprisingly given its focus on career-minded adults, LinkedIn is an outlier when it comes to adoption rates among high-income, highly educated users; 45 percent of those who earn $75,000+ use the platform, as do 50 percent of those with at least a college degree. Only Facebook has higher penetration rates among these demographics, and Facebook—unlike LinkedIn—actually does better with slightly lower-income, lesser-educated adults.

As these statistics reveal, there’s much to be learned from the Pew study. However, keep in mind that it’s devoid of data on the habits of younger users—understandable given the complexities of research entities obtaining consent to speak with minors. This presents some challenges when considering the standing of the emerging social media platform: Snapchat. The 2016 Update lumps Snapchat in with lesser-known platforms like Wickr and only looks at use among those 18+, even though Snapchat is open—and extremely popular—among those 13+.

Still, when looking to understand where you can find your adult audience, demographics are a great place to start—and the Pew study is among the best sources for reliable data. To read it in its entirety, visit


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