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Social media has gained substantial momentum over the last few years, with more people using social media platforms globally than ever before. Global Web Index’s latest reports illustrate just this. They’ve found that the average time spent on social media each day is 2 hours and 24 minutes, a significant increase from the 1 hour and 41 minutes recorded in 2014.

Of course, there are generational differences to consider:

  • Gen Z (16-22) spend just under 3 hours a day on social media
  • Millennials (23-36) spend around 2 and a half hours a day on social media
  • Gen X (37-54) spend between 1 and a half and 2 hours a day on social media
  • Baby Boomers (55+) spend up to 1 and a half hours a day on social media

Unsurprisingly Gen Z are the most frequent social media users, but Baby Boomers have significantly increased their use of social media networks and apps over the last few years. Globally, this increase varies from +13% to +66% since 2015. This shows Baby Boomers are more digitally savvy than we might have thought as they are actively using digital platforms in their everyday lives.

Global Web Index found that 97% of people who use the internet also used a social media platform in the last month. This illustrates that being an internet user goes hand in hand with being a social media user. Those that use social media are also likely to use multiple networks, with the average person having 8 accounts. Perhaps this is due to the increasingly diverse range of platforms providing a more varied choice over the last few years.

Generational differences in social media platforms

When it comes to which platforms are most popular, there are generational differences to consider. TikTok is a prime example, around 44% of its users are aged 16-24. This demographic look for brands that are ‘trendy, cool, young, exclusive and bold’. TikTok provides marketers with a great opportunity to promote brands through engaging and striking content that resonates with these users. Earlier this year TikTok integrated ads into the app’s main video feed and introduced a marketplace for you to bid for impressions, making the marketing proposition even more appealing.

Instagram is a popular choice for all generations, and it has gained popularity in recent years. Since 2014, there has been a 17% increase in the number of Gen Z’s and Millennials who said they used Instagram in the last month. Gen X have also started to use the platform more, with a 38% increase since 2014. Even more striking is the 98% increase in Baby Boomers who said they had used Instagram in the last month.

Instagram continually innovates to keep its platform front of mind. Earlier this year Instagram announced it would be updating its Boomerang editing feature to give users more options to edit their videos. Last week, Instagram launched a new tool called ‘Reels’. The tool enables users to create short form videos (up to 15 seconds) and allows you to integrate audio from other users (very similar to the ‘Duet’ functionality in TikTok). Perhaps Instagram is taking tips from TikTok to try and compete for the apps’ unrivaled popularity with Gen Z.

WhatsApp is also proving popular; the app has seen an increase in use across all generations since 2016. The percentage of Gen Z that said they had used the app in the last month was up 25%, while Millennials were up 15%. Both Gen X and Baby Boomers also increased their use of WhatsApp since 2016 at +26% and +65% respectively.

Despite these upward trends, Facebook remains the most popular social media platform in terms of membership and YouTube holds pole position as the most used platform.

Motivations for using social media

People’s motivations for using social media have changed over the years. Whilst sharing personal opinions and networking with friends was one of the most common motivations a few years ago, this is no longer the case.

In 2019, the most cited motivator for using social media was to stay up to date with the latest news. In fact, Global Web Index found that 43% of respondents said they had read a news story on Facebook in the last month (up 67% compared to 2014) and 51% of respondents said they had read a news story on Twitter in the last month (up 183% compared to 2014). Global Web Index also found that there was a 175% increase in using social media to watch sports from 2016 to 2019.

Across all generations researching products to purchase is a primary motivation for using social media. 48% of Gen Z said this was a key motivation for using social media. Similarly, 37% of Gen X said they are more likely to use social media than brand websites to research products before purchasing. For Baby Boomers, social media is now in their top 5 for product research sources. Millennials like to use live chat services to research products and they are more likely to discover brands by celebrity endorsements often promoted on social media.

This illustrates that social media platforms have taken on a much more functional purpose. Perhaps this has been driven by the onset of ‘social commerce’, with many platforms integrating shoppable posts that provide a much quicker and convenient way to purchase products. This certainly presents a lucrative opportunity for brands to be marketing their products and services on social media platforms. Incorporating social media influencers, paid advertisements and creating branded content that is both engaging and shareable are key strategies you can use to reach consumers.

It’s clear that the social media landscape is changing both in terms of its purpose and who uses it. Social media is no longer exclusive to younger ‘tech-savvy’ Gen Zs and Millennials, it is transcending generational differences. With the advent of new social media platforms it’s likely we will continue to see a diversification in people’s motivations for using and propensity to use social media in the future. Marketers should be aware of these emerging trends to ensure their business’ stay front of mind on social.

Want to learn more about Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn or TikTok? Contact our Group Social Media Manager, Jade at to discuss our bespoke social media training workshops!