Given the hype around TikTok, which has led the download charts for months, and continues to be the focus of copycat efforts from every other app, you would assume that younger users, in particular, are logging into TikTok more often than they are to Facebook or Instagram these days, right?
According to new data from data.ai, maybe not:
“The number one social app in the US by Gen Z monthly active usage is actually Facebook, with TikTok coming in fourth, based on active user data.”
That’s surprising, right?
Well, maybe not.
As you can see in the second listing above, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, BeReal and Reddit are actually more likely to be used by Gen Z than the overall population in the US, but young people are still logging into Facebook, Messenger and Instagram, overall, more often.
There are some important variances here, in terms of what exactly young people are doing in each of these apps, which is also covered in data.ai’s latest usage report.
First off, on actual usage - as per data.ai
“According to the Pew Research Center, Gen Z is the only generation to have self-reported a decline in social media use in recent years. However, there is a difference in how much we think we use social media, and our actual usage patterns. data.ai’s data shows that Gen Z users in five major markets engage more on social than any other age group among the top ten social apps by MAU. Gen Z accesses social apps between 12% more than Millennials in South Korea, to 19% more in the US, and up to 30% more in Germany.”
The report referred to here from Pew Research shows that users aged 18-29 have self-reported that they’re using social media apps less, while all other demographic groups have increased their time spent in social apps.
But data.ai’s insights are based on actual usage, via registered user data, which shows the real-world usage patterns of users in each of these demographic brackets – and suggests that younger users are indeed far more active than others in social apps, dispelling the notion that youngsters are turning away from social entirely.
Though it should be noted that the data.ai analysis is based on Android devices only, which is more significant in some markets than others. iOS is used by around 53% of people in North America, while in the UK, it’s also around a 50/50 split between the two platforms.
Given this, the data here is not wholly inclusive, but the scope of insight is broad enough to be indicative of generalized trends, which could provide some additional consideration in regards to real-world social media app usage, as opposed to theory.
But probably the key proviso is the variation between users who log into an app each day and those who spend more time on each platform.
The above MAU chart shows active users, which would include anyone who, say, logs onto Facebook to check-in on updates from family and friends, but then actually spends way more time flicking through clips on TikTok.
This is a key data point that many miss, and why MAU stats, in themselves, are now less relevant, as a measure of actual engagement.
“While Gen Z engages in their favorite social apps more frequently in the five markets analyzed, this isn’t always true for depth of time spent. In fact, in both Germany and the US, the average Gen Xer spent 25% more time on social apps than Gen Z.”
This is increasingly critical, qualifying information for marketers – while people may well be logging into certain apps each day or month, whether they’re actually spending time there is now a bigger piece of the puzzle, especially in terms of deciding where to post your ads in order to maximize reach and resonance.
That’s really the key takeaway here, that young users are indeed still logging into Facebook, Messenger and Instagram at a very high frequency, helping to prop-up Meta’s active user stats. But they’re spending more time actually engaging, consuming and interacting on Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat.
That aligns with Meta’s own research, which shows that Facebook usage has been in steady decline among younger users, since as far back as 2012.
Facebook isn’t the cool platform anymore, which is no big revelation. And yet, it’s become such an essential connective tool that people are still logging into Facebook regularly – but it’s important to note that ‘monthly active users’ does not mean that they are heavily engaged, or are spending most of their time in those top MAU apps.
Really, what data.ai’s latest research shows is that MAU is an outdated metric for measuring app performance - what we really need is average time spent.
Meta hasn’t published that info since 2016, when it shared that people were spending more than 50 minutes per day, on average, using Facebook, Instagram and Messenger.
The fact that it hasn’t updated this stat ever since likely suggests that it hasn’t increased – while eMarketer has provided its own estimates on time spent in each app, among active users.
That, if it were confirmed by the apps themselves, would be pretty valuable planning data, right? Yet, at the same time, you can see why some would prefer to stick with MAU and DAU instead.
These are not, however, the best metrics for understanding social media usage trends and it’s important to dig deeper than the topline numbers to get a real understanding of where your audience is active.