Consumer Usage Of Social Media Platforms Is Shifting (Again)

According to a new Consumer Pulse survey from Sprout Social, usage of social media platforms is shifting again – in ways that will significantly impact brands.

According to the new data, Instagram (65%) has just passed Facebook (64%) as the No. 1 platform among the 2,059 consumers surveyed.

It’s worth noting that the participants of this survey included 1,009 US consumers and 1,050 UK consumers who have at least one social media account and follow at least five brands on social media.

So, this isn’t a global sample. And since the US population (335 million) is almost five times larger than the UK population (68 million), the survey isn’t a representative sample of either country. Plus, focusing on consumers who follow at least five brands on social media skews the results, too.

Nevertheless, when it’s broken down by age group, there are significant differences in usage that marketers will want to analyze and consider using in their social media campaigns.

For example, 519 participants were classified as Gen Z (18-24), 757 were Millennials (25-40), 502 respondents were Gen X (41-56 years old), and 281 were Baby Boomers (57-75 years old).

The consumer survey was conducted online by Cint on behalf of Sprout Social from May 17-27, 2024.

Usage Of Social Media Platforms By Age Group

Segmenting by age shows:

Gen Z uses Instagram most frequently, followed by TikTok, Snapchat, and Facebook.
Millennials use Instagram most frequently, followed by Facebook, TikTok, and YouTube.
Gen X uses Facebook most frequently, followed by Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok.
Baby Boomers use Facebook most frequently, followed by YouTube, Instagram, and X (formerly Twitter).

It’s also worth noting that 45% of the consumers surveyed have taken a “social media detox” in the past six months, and 51% plan to in the next six months.

So, it appears that a significant percentage of the “consumers” who follow at least five brands on social media need to take temporary breaks from “consuming” for a variety of reasons, including mental health, feeling overwhelmed, or wanting to reflect on their social media usage.

The Sprout Social Q2 2024 Consumer Pulse survey also found:

Gen Z has been most engaged with Instagram Reels (83%), Instagram Stories (81%), and TikTok posts (78%) over the last six months. Despite TikTok’s uncertain future in the US, this segment says it will be most engaged with TikTok posts (75.5%), Instagram Reels (74%), and Instagram Stories (74%) over the next six months.
Millennials have been most engaged with Instagram Reels (77%), Instagram Stories (77%), and TikTok posts (68%) in the last six months. This segment says they’ll be most engaged with Instagram Stories (75%), Instagram Stories (73%), and TikTok posts (66%) over the next six months.
Gen X has been most engaged with Facebook videos (67%), Instagram Reels (59%), and Instagram Stories (59%) over the last six months. This segment says it will be most engaged with Facebook videos (59%), Instagram Stories (60%), and Instagram Reels (59%) over the next six months.
Baby Boomers have been most engaged with Facebook videos (61%), Facebook Live (41%), Instagram Reels (41%, and Instagram Stories (41%) over the last six months. This segment says they’ll be most engaged with Facebook video (67%), Facebook Live (47%), Instagram Reels (46%), and Instagram Stories (42%) over the next six months.

With YouTube Shorts now averaging over 70 billion daily views, it may seem odd that this video format didn’t appear in the survey findings above.

But, as we reported, the platform’s recommendation algorithm shows videos that align with that specific user’s watching history and preferences.

In contrast, Sprout Social defines engagement as any interaction between a brand and its target audience on social media. This includes actions that show how actively involved an audience is with a brand’s content, such as clicking on links, sharing content, or commenting.

So, the skew in the sample combined with different key performance indicators (KPIs) explains this apparent discrepancy.

The Formats Of Brand Content That Consumers Find Most Entertaining

According to the Sprout Social Q2 2024 Consumer Pulse survey, they are:

“Edutainment,” which educates consumers about a product or service in a fun way (65.5%).
Posts using memes (40%).
Serialized content (38%).
One-off video skits (38%).
Interactive content like polls and stickers (34%).

And despite what marketers may have heard about the popularity of “lo-fi content” that’s intentionally rough, unpolished, and authentic, the survey found that most consumers say that production value does impact whether they engage with a brand’s content.

Many consumers surveyed agree that artificial intelligence (AI) is contributing to the already incredible saturation of content on social media and will exacerbate the challenges of misinformation going forward.

AI-Generated Content Should Be Disclosed

In addition, most consumers surveyed agree that AI-generated social content needs to be disclosed – but they’re somewhat split on who bears the responsibility for doing that.

Despite previous data showing that AI-generated content can be eye-catching or entertaining, the new data finds that it may negatively impact consumer buying decisions.

Consumers are closely split on believing brands (33%) or social networks (29%) are responsible for disclosing when AI generates social content. Only 6% think AI-generated content doesn’t have to be disclosed.

And 46% of consumers are less likely to buy from a brand that posts AI-generated content on social, while 31% are neither more nor less likely.

Plus, the new survey of 2,059 consumers in the US and UK found:

83% of consumer agree that AI-generated content will make their social feeds more saturated than they already are.
80% agree that AI-generated content will add to misinformation on social media.

Consumers Most Likely To Unfollow Brands

Finally, the Sprout Social Q2 2024 Consumer Pulse survey found that 43% of consumers are most likely to unfollow brands for having an unoriginal content strategy (i.e., their content has become repetitive or unoriginal).

And 42% of consumers are most likely to unfollow brands for collaborating with the “wrong” influencer (i.e., “they partner with influencers that don’t align with my values”).

While posting frequency isn’t a significant deal-breaker, it’s worth noting that younger consumers are more likely to unfollow influencers for posting too little (17% Gen Z vs. 10.5% all consumers). In comparison, older consumers are more put off by posting too much (24% Baby Boomers, 21% Gen X, 16% Millennials, and 14% Gen Z).

This trend holds true for unfollowing brands as well.

The Alternatives To Using Demographics For Targeting

Many marketers believe that a person’s age tells us where they fall in the life span and indicates what social roles and responsibilities they may have. Which generation they belong to may also tell us what events in history influenced their social thinking.

However, marketers should also read “How Pew Research Center will report on generations moving forward.”

It notes:

“A typical generation spans 15 to 18 years. As many critics of generational research point out, there is great diversity of thought, experience, and behavior within generations.”

What are the alternatives to using demographic groups for targeting?

Well, that’s a good topic for another column on another day. But let’s just say that there are more options than you can shake a stick at.

Disclaimer: All statistics above are from a gated Sprout Social report, unless otherwise indicated by a link.

More resources: 

Featured Image: Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock

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