Amid ongoing investigations about Facebook's potential influence in the 2016 US Presidential Election, and new reports this week regarding Facebook ads purchased by Russian groups during the campaign, Pew Research Center has published its latest report on how social media is influencing the news cycle, which shows that a growing number of people are, in fact, using social media as a key news source.
According to Pew's data, which incorporates the responses of nearly 5,000 US adults, Facebook is the clear leader in terms of social media as a news source, with 45% of Americans now getting at least some of their news content from The Social Network, up very slightly on last year.
But while Facebook remains the dominant platform, other social platforms have seen significant increases in people using them for news content also, with Twitter, YouTube and Snapchat, in particular, seeing increased usage as news sources.
The data must be particularly frustrating for Twitter - while Twitter's influence is expanding, the company is still struggling to expand its user base, and attract significantly more ad dollars. You'd think the two should go hand-in-hand to some degree, but thus far, Twitter has struggled to convert that cultural influence into more lucrative revenue opportunities. The potential would appear to be there, it's just how to do it that remains elusive.
In other areas, Reddit is now on par with LinkedIn for news usage, while WhatsApp has made its first appearance on the list of US sources - which is particularly interesting, considering the app recently passed a billion daily active users and it working to broaden its business options.
The findings reflect the rising influence of social overall, as opposed to just Facebook, which is also reflected in another element of the study:
"Not only have Americans grown somewhat in their use of social media for news overall, but now they are more likely than ever to get news from multiple social media sites. About one quarter of all U.S. adults (26%) get news from two or more of these sites, up from 18% in 2016 and 15% in 2013."
While Facebook is the obvious key focus, given the platform's size and reach, it's important to note that the influence of social, overall, is expanding, with various users and use-cases seeing a broadening use of social as a news source. Facebook is the clear leader, definitely, but the influence of social extends far beyond Zuck and Co.'s walls.
In terms of demographic usage, Pew also notes some key trends in their findings:
"Instagram and Snapchat news consumers are considerably more likely to be non-white and younger. Twitter and LinkedIn have the largest share of college graduates among their news users - 59% of LinkedIn's news users have college degrees, as do 45% of Twitter's news users. The news user bases of the two largest sites - Facebook and YouTube - include more older Americans than those of smaller sites such as Instagram and Snapchat."
Most of those findings are as you'd expect, but still, relevant notes for those looking at where to focus their efforts in order to reach their target markets.
Oh, and there's also this:
This trend is fairly obvious, of course, but the pace at which online sources are becoming more relevant is significant. This is also another example of why online providers are so keen to air TV-like content, because people are increasingly coming to rely on digital sources for all their content needs anyway, news included. As more people are active online, and are viewing TV-like reports and video anyway, it makes sense for digital platforms to also look to supply TV programming, and take a cut of those TV ad dollars in the process.
As noted, most of Pew's findings are as you'd expect, but it's always interesting to see the extent to which these trends are taking effect. And while the focus here is on news content, really, these charts reflect the growth of social overall - social platforms have become essential to how we interact and communicate, and how we consume information, of all kinds.
If you're not working with these trends in order to get your messaging out there, you're missing out.