News consumption on social media has become a key point of emphasis over the past decade, with accusations that social platforms are causing increased division and angst through sharing and engagement, while activist groups look to boost misinformation and fake news via the same, as a means to skew the agenda in their own desired direction.
It’s hard to argue that we’re not more politically divided now than we were before social media existed, but the actual cause of that division is less clear. Is it increased access to information, and/or more capacity for political groups to reach people at any time of day? Is the evolution of the news cycle, which now sees stories come and go within a period of hours? Or could it be media outlets weaponizing rage as a means to boost their own ratings, essentially luring clicks and comments by taking a more partisan perspective in their reporting?
In reality, it’s a combination of these things – but in any sense, social media clearly plays a role.
This week, Pew has released the latest version of its report, which highlights how Americans are accessing news content, and the role that each social platform plays in such. The data has been sourced from a survey of 11,178 people across the US, providing an indicative measure of key trends and habits.
You can read Pew’s full study overview here, but in this post, we’ll take a look at some of the key points.
First off, Pew says that there’s actually been a decline in people regularly relying on social media platforms for news content in 2021.
As you can see here, 48% of respondents indicated that they get news from social media “often” or “sometimes”, which is down on 2020, while overall, including the ‘Rarely’ responses, 67% of people now get at least some news content from social platforms, down from 71% in 2020.
That’s a minor drop, which shows that news consumption is still significant on social platforms, and that social media consumption still holds influence in this respect. But it’s interesting to note the decline. Does that mean more people are becoming more skeptical of the posts they see in social apps, and are therefore looking to alternate sources to stay up to date?
In terms of platform-specific news consumption, Facebook and YouTube still lead the way, though both are also down slightly on last year.
Last year, 36% of respondents indicated that they regularly get news content on Facebook, while 23% noted the same for YouTube, so only a slight shift. Twitter has also seen a slight dip in this year’s survey (-2% on last year) while TikTok has unsurprisingly had a rise, with 6% of adults now getting some news content on the platform, up from 3% in 2020.
How influential that makes each platform is hard to say, given the variances are so small – but then again, TikTok has seen a 100% increase in news content consumption, based on these stats, which could make it an increasingly relevant consideration for communicating on key issues – especially if you’re looking to reach younger audiences.
In addition to this, Pew also notes that Twitter, in particular, is particularly influential as a news source among those who use it.
As explained by Pew:
“When looking at the proportion of each social media site’s users who regularly get news there, some sites stand out as being more “newsy” even if their total audience is relatively small. Twitter, for example, is used by 23% of US adults, but more than half of those users (55%) get news on the site regularly. On the other hand, YouTube, though widely used, sees a smaller portion of its users turning to the site for news regularly (30%).”
This is a key, and often overlooked aspect of Twitter’s influence – while Twitter is used by far fewer people overall, in comparison to Facebook or Instagram, the people that do use it are, in general, more attuned to the news cycle and the latest shifts, which means, as a result, that conversation points which begin on Twitter tend to spread to other platforms and apps.
In other words, Twitter’s influence is larger than it seems because of the people you can reach via tweets, with journalists, commentators, influencers and more actively seeking to stay on top of the latest news, and then re-distribute via their own platforms in other apps.
So while your reach may be smaller on Twitter, the people that you do reach could be key in maximizing your messaging, an important consideration in these findings, and in social media marketing more broadly, particularly in relation to news trends.
As noted, given the ongoing debate around the influence of social platforms on the news cycle, and how people receive and translate the latest updates, it’s important to establish an understanding of social platform usage in this respect, and to get some perspective on which platforms are more relied upon for key information, and how that relates to such trends.
Pew’s report helps establish a clearer view of what’s happening in this regard, which can be key for expanded research into news impacts, while for brands, it can also provide more insight into key usage behaviors for your planning.
You can read the full Pew Research 2021 ‘News Consumption Across Social Media’ report here.