Seismic shifts: How social media usage has changed

Posted: 5 Feb 2019 - 11:56
Social media blog
Facebook has been the driving force of social media for more than a decade, but we've seen a big change over the past couple of years. As one of the most responsive demographics, when students decide to move, they move quickly. Are you keeping up?

Social media usage is growing at a rate of 13% year-on-year, with more than 3 billion people online in 2018. This means that 75% of people who have internet access also have social media profiles, or, more staggeringly, almost half the world’s entire population.

The big question

Facebook has been the undisputed ruler of social media for most of the last decade. In usage, in growth, in engagement, in advertising, nothing else was much of a threat. And if you’re only paying attention to global demographics, or all age groups, this is largely still the case. Facebook has at least 70% market penetration in most countries, with Instagram a distant second place. In the UK, for example, around seven out of ten people have a Facebook profile, but only one in ten are on Instagram. Internationally, Facebook has more than 2.2bn users. Instagram has just 1bn.

And when it comes to students, this was also the case in recent years. In 2015, 85% of students were on Facebook, and just 50% on Instagram. But in our latest lifestyle survey, the tide has finally turned. Now, 77% of students are using Instagram, and 75% are using Facebook. Judging from the trajectory of both platforms, the skew is only heading in one direction. In the last year alone, there has been an 11% difference in the growth of Instagram vs. the decline of Facebook.

Snapchat is also extremely deserving of a mention, climbing from 53% usage in 2015 to 71% in 2018 – just 4% behind Facebook, and 6% behind Instagram. The only reason it’s not getting a louder fanfare is because its usage declined between 2017 and 2018, while Instagram’s growth has been steadily dramatic.

As for private social media, WhatsApp has grown 10% since 2015, and now boasts a 64% penetration of the student market. Twitter has been lagging behind for a number of years, and its steady reduction now sees it falling dramatically behind the pack, with 29% difference between it and the next most popular network. 

Choose wisely

Growth and usage aside, each social network has its own unique characteristics. Instagram may well be on the up, but does its limited image/video functionality make it a viable contender to be a long-term contender?

Facebook is undoubtedly the most flexible of the social media networks, supporting the most media types, with the most related products, and the most integrations with other services. Snapchat has its own appeal, with streaks and timed media. So when it comes down to it, if students could only use one social media network and sacrifice all the rest, which would it be?

Following the trend, Instagram has supplanted Facebook, which has dropped two places in the past year. Now, students would opt for Instagram as their sole social media network, followed by Snapchat, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter, respectively. 

But – and it’s a relatively small ‘but’ – the rule doesn’t apply evenly across genders.

/files/top-table">Top table

Top table

Females are pretty confident in their choice of Instagram over Facebook, whereas the male choice of Facebook over Instagram is much closer. All signs suggest that our 2019 survey will show a universal preference of Instagram, regardless of gender. 

Insight into usage

Brands and retailers will have food for thought from the above, but it’s how students are using each network that provides the best insight into where advertisements might be the most effective. 

For example, while Instagram might be the runaway winner in terms of sharing photos and videos, does that show purchase intent from the consumer? Perhaps not, but Instagram is also the most popular network for researching new products, which certainly is a buying signal. It’s also the most frequently used platform for discovering more about a brand, but lags behind Facebook when it comes to finding deals.



So, Instagram was the winner in 2018. It’s finally proved David to Goliath and overtaken Facebook, at least for the student market. It also shows a remarkable amount of commercial potential in terms of what students are using it to do – meaning brands and retailers must surely focus more on the platform than they ever have before.

Snapchat cannot be overlooked, coming in second across a number of metrics, with impressive growth rates which must also be worrying Mark Zuckerberg. But to label Facebook as redundant would be premature to say the least – it still holds a huge market share and legacy loyalty across age groups. Don’t forget, for example, the vast amount of student spending which comes from older family members – a demographic which overwhelmingly and exclusively favours Facebook.


Related news