Reports and studies

Social Media Demographics: 2016 and Beyond

2 Comments 12 January 2017

Where should we be on social media?” I get asked this question a lot. At conferences, by clients, and almost anytime I’m talking with someone who works at a nonprofit organization.

There’s a huge feeling of Fear Of Missing Out, driven by the desire to be “where everyone else is, or is going to be soon.” In other words, demographics and trends. Here are some of the most recent US and worldwide social media and internet demographics and trends to inform your decision-making.

Social Media Demographics 2016

If we are talking about users then the answer is pretty simple: Facebook. Facebook is omnipresent in the lives of every age category and demographic division. For the umpteenth year in a row, many more millions of Americans use Facebook than any other social media channel.


While Facebook users span all ages, income and education evenly, the majority of Instagram and Twitter users are aged 18 – 49, with a higher female:male on Instagram than Twitter. You can read detailed demographics by income, gender, age, education, and location in the Pew Research Center’s Social Media Update 2016.

Worldwide, Facebook also continues to dominate. You can see the wide adoptions of messenger apps (WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat) as well, in the image below. This image is part of the Digital in 2016 report, We Are Social’s comprehensive study of digital, social and mobile usage around the world.


If you want to know where users engage more frequently, meaning they log in and engage with content or create their own content daily, then it’s Facebook (76%), followed by and Instagram (51%) and Twitter (42%).

Mobile Use Grows

There’s no denying the ease of using one’s smartphone to check email, find information, and use apps. Worldwide mobile access of the internet has grown, and the smartphone has changed the relationship of people to information.

39% of global web pageviews are accessed by smartphone, a 21% increase over 2015. 83% of smartphone users with active Facebook accounts access Facebook by smartphone, vs. 50% by desktop or laptop computer. Of the world’s total population, 31% are active social media users, and 27% are active mobile social users. (Source: We Are Social’s Digital in 2016 report.)

The Pew Research Center just published today a fact sheet on mobile device use in America. It includes demographic data, types of mobile device ownership, and percentage of US adults dependent on mobile devices. Read the full fact sheet here.

Messaging Apps

2016 was the first year that the Pew Research Center asked Americans about the types of messaging apps that people might have on their smartphones. The Center found:

  • 29% of smartphone owners use general-purpose messaging apps such as WhatsApp or Kik.
  • 24% use messaging apps that automatically delete sent messages, such as Snapchat or Wickr.
  • 5% use apps that allow people to anonymously chat or post comments, such as YikYak or Whisper.

Most people who use messaging apps are 18 -29 years of age (42% of them use messaging apps, 56% use auto-delete apps) yet 30% of 30-49 year-olds also use messaging apps.

According to the We Are Social Digital in 2016 report, WhatsApp grew 50% globally in 2016 and surpasses Facebook in usage in some countries. Facebook Messenger also continues to grow, with over 800 million users globally. (See the Digital in 2016 image, above, for context.)

Smartphones Are Personal

We hold them to our faces, we put them in our pockets. It’s no wonder we use them more and more for connecting outside of voice. The explosion of text messaging apps and growth of mobile social use tells me that this is something not to be ignored. What might it mean to harness this, and how it help your organization? (Consider apps, group chat, group messaging, and especially the mobile experience on your website.) As institutions, we haven’t figured out yet how to effectively, and genuinely, use messaging for social change other than for advocacy texts – and yet there’s so much potential.

What’s the real answer?

Where should we be?” is a frustrating question, because the answer is not about trends but about you.

  • What do you want your social media to do for your organization?
  • What online audience do you want to engage?
  • How much time do you have to spend on social channels?
  • Why do you ask?

It’s not really who’s on what channels, but rather where is your audience? Who do you need to engage with, and how will you reach them?

I’ve seen organizations rock one social media channel expertly. I’ve seen them experiment and try new ones just to see what they can learn. I’ve also seen many an org fail on Facebook.

Use the demographics and trend data to inform your thinking, but don’t use it in place of thinking through the questions outlined above. Don’t let the FOMO or the data trends take over what has to be the right decision for your organization, based on capacity, goals, and audience.

P.S. If you want to know what your people are using now, ask them! Surveys (formal and informal), searches, and questioning of key participants can help you narrow your list. Then consider how data about social media use and engagement can shape your decision.



Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She works with mission-driven organizations to develop digital strategies and campaigns that engage, create trust, and move stakeholders to action. Debra speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

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