Pew Internet and American Life Project and Princeton Survey Research Associates International recently released a study describing the demographics of U.S. social media users in 2013.
While none of their findings are especially provocative, it shows some clear trends and opportunities.
This was a study of 2,252 people (18 and over) in April and May 2013. It compiled self-reported data from interviews on landline and cellular phones (I’ll talk about why I think this may be important in the discussion). It was conducted in English and Spanish and weight was added twice to avoid potential bias and to mimic demographic data. This study has been conducted annually since 2005.
What the study found was that all age demographics increased in their aggregate use of social media. It further substantiated that Twitter use is much more prevalent in the Hispanic and African-American communities than with Caucasians.
There are three important takeaways from this study: youth rules social (and may be understated), social media “usage” gives us a very surface-level metric to judge social’s impact, and if Pew can be somewhat erratic year-over-year all social media studies are suspect.
Youth may be understated. It probably didn’t come as a shock that 18-29 year old users are 10% more likely to use social media than their Gen X/Y counterparts. AND I suspect that this chasm may be understated. In 2011, USA Today estimated that nearly 25% of homes had no landline phones, a number that we can assume is heavily populated with 18-29 year olds. Even with random sampling methods that Princeton used, a landline user was twice as likely to be contacted as a cell-only user. My point being that the social chasm between digital natives and the 30+ crowd may be even greater than this study says.
Social media “usage” doesn’t intimate anything definitive. In this study, an 18 year old that is perpetually on Twitter and SnapChat, a 40 year old that uses LinkedIn and 65 year old Grandma who receives baby pictures on Facebook are all treated equally. Of course, each has a different value to businesses based upon their social habits. There is insight to be gleaned from further research before determining how to reach a 50-year-old on Facebook (for example).
Weighing for biases should give readers a sense of how imprecise all social media studies are. When you look at the data anomaly of the 2011 Pew study (it’s a reasonable assumption that general social media usage is growing year-over-year in each of the studies), you see that even talented statisticians can create a bias or have a skew in their data set. Realizing this and further realizing that the vast majority of “studies” about social media are intended to persuade you to buy a product or service, it should be clear that all of these studies are flawed to some extent. What is special about this study is that they have conducted this study repeatedly, so the data can be compared to past studies to assess its relative accuracy. With so much data inaccuracy peppering the Internets, replicated results are a valuable means to determine whether this sort of data is accurate or anomaly.
You probably already knew that youth rules social (you should probably apply for a job at Yahoo). This study substantiates that while every demographic is growing, youth is represented in far greater numbers.