While social media is still embraced by eight in 10 Americans, the king of the hill continues to lose love among users. In 2019, Facebook is being utilized by 61% of Americans, down from 67% just two years ago. Where did they go—and why? Those were among the queries covered in the Thursday afternoon “The Social Habit” webinar from Edison Research and Triton Digital, a deeper dive into social habits from the 2019 Infinite Dial study.
Data for the annual Infinite Dial was collected from 1,500 U.S. telephone interviews 12+, in January/February 2019 by Edison Research in partnership with Triton. “The Social Habit” webinar is derived from a national online study of 850 Americans age 13+, qualitative interviews with social media users, and data from The Infinite Dial.
“The big story here is the decline in Facebook usage. There are 172 million that use the service, which is an extraordinary number for a single brand, but it does represent a 10% decline, or 15 million fewer users than two years ago,” Tom Webster, Senior VP of Edison Research, told webinar attendees. “What this is telling us is that there are plenty of people who are simply not using it anymore. And no age group is immune from using Facebook less.”
Facebook usage peaked in 2017, with 67% of those 12+ embracing the platform to today’s 61%; with 62% in 2015, 54% in 2012; and just 18% 10 years ago, in 2009.
Despite the overall downward trend, Facebook usage grew among the 55+ crowd (49 million in 2017 and 2018 to 53 million in 2019). Its steepest declines are among younger demos: The platform lost 17 million users ages 12-34 in two years, from 79 million in 2017 to 62 million in 2019. Across the spectrum, 82 million of those 12-34 used Facebook in 2017; the figure today is 65 million.
“There is absolutely a 12-34 issue with Facebook,” Webster noted. “That’s a very significant drop of 24% in two years.”
The primary reasons why people are turning to Facebook less—or have stopped altogether—according to The Social Habit: 60% don’t like rants or too many personal comments; 59% cite too much negativity; 58% are weary of political posts; 57% are now concerned about privacy; 47% prefer other social sites more; 47% say their friends don’t post much anymore; 39% need a mental health break, and 31% insist it’s because parents and relatives are present on the platform.
Webster believes the most significant results from the study are within that very information: “There is not any one particular reason why people are using Facebook less, it’s sort of a cascade of reasons. Privacy is one of a small bushel of reasons… and looking at 13-34, 34% say they enjoy other social media sites more… Maybe that’s because their friends have gone there, but maybe it’s also because of toxicity or rants. There is lots of data about people tiring about rants and negativity on Facebook, and this is an overt problem as people are not only leaving the service but using it less.” He added, “While Facebook remains the leading social media brand in America, it is being wounded on multiple fronts, as every demographic has their own reasons for spending less time there.”
Social Media: The Big Picture
Then there’s the big picture: The whole of social media certainly remains a mainstay pastime among Americans, with 223 million tied to either Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. That’s 79% of all consumers 12+—up from 77% a year ago, and yet down from social media’s peak of 80% in 2017. The difference a decade ago is profound: 79% this year, compared with a mere 21% who turned to these platforms in 2009.
Among brand awareness, not surprisingly, Facebook continues to be dominant (for better or worse, considering its reputation for helping spread “fake news” from the likes of Russia), with 96% that know about it. Instagram is next, with 93% (up from 88% two years ago), then Twitter, at 92% (up 2% from 2017), Snapchat, at 87% (82% in 2017), Pinterest, at 72% (up from 70%) and LinkedIn, with 64%, (up from 58%). WhatsApp was added to the Infinite Dial survey in 2019, with 54% saying they are aware of the platform.
And while Facebook may have reached its peak, most of the other platforms are growing year over year (2019 vs. 2017): Instagram now is used by 39%, compared with 34% in 2017; Pinterest 39% vs. 34%; Snapchat 31% vs. 30%; and LinkedIn, steady at 22%. Like Facebook, Twitter is losing users: 19% in 2019, vs. 23% in 2017. WhatsApp has 18% penetration.
“We’re actually not seeing too many changes here,” Webster notes. “They are all at the boundaries of usage that anybody that could possibly use these services is aware of these services. So now we are starting to see everything level off and consolidate, which makes changes all the more consequential.”
Finally, users were asked which among the social media platforms they use most often. Facebook leads, with 52%, “still the majority, but just barely,” offers Webster. That compares with its lead at 65% as the most preferred in 2015. Instagram is second, with 16% saying it is their favorite (compared to just 7% in 2015), then Snapchat at 13% (down 1% from last year, up from 4% in 2015), Pinterest at 5% (holding steady), and Twitter at 9% (dropping steadily since its 2015 peak of 15%).