Do you know where to find your audience? Let the data be your guide.

April 27, 2017

Do you know where to find your audience? Let the data be your guide.

social media audience listening
Share this post

In January of 2017, PewResearch released two studies about the internet and social media we found to be extremely interesting and worthy of elaboration. The first is, “Record shares of Americans now own smartphones, have home broadband” and the second is, “Social Media Fact Sheet.” We were impressed by the immense data PewResearch put together and decided to review each study for insights that would be helpful not only to our business but also to anyone who does business online or uses social media marketing.  Much of the data was surprising and revealed trends of which we were not previously aware. With that in mind, let us begin.

First, the Data

The Rise of Mobile

In 2000 about 52% of Americans used the internet but only about 1% had access to broadband at home. This meant that any high-speed internet use had to be done in the office and internet use at home was strictly dial-up. Most of us still fondly recall the atrocious sound of a dial-up modem connecting to your Internet Service Provider. Remember when that was a thing? To this day, hearing “You’ve Got Mail” still makes me smile. As access to the Internet became more prolific, so did the desire to have mobile access. Enter the smartphone. The first iPhone came out in 2007 and today roughly three-quarters of Americans (77%) now own a smartphone, which more than doubled since 2011. That number is even higher among 18-29 year olds as 92% of Americans in that demographic own a smartphone. The “home phone” is now almost non-existent thanks to the prevalence of cell phone use and it will be interesting to see if the ubiquitous smartphone will replace home broadband in the same way. It is not hard to imagine smart phone “hot spots” becoming the new in-home wi-fi and phones and tablets replacing desktop and laptop computers. Already “12% of Americans say they are “smartphone dependent” when it comes to their online access – meaning they own a smartphone but lack traditional broadband service at home.”

Evolution of technology

Trends in Social Media Usage

Before we go into the PewResearch Data on social media, here are a few dates to keep in mind:

The point of these dates is not to make you and me feel old, that is just an unintended consequence, but to help showcase the rapid growth of social media use. The percent of Americans who use at least one social media platform grew substantially over the past 10 years. In 2005 only about 5% used social media. In 2011 about half of all Americans used social media. Since 2011 that number continues to grow. Pew reports that as of January 2017, 69% of the American population now use at least one social media platform. So which age groups are the most likely to use social media? These percentages probably aren’t too surprising:

    1. 86% of the population ages 18-29
    2. 80% of the population ages 30-49
    3. 64% of the population ages 50-64

Social media use by age

Which, if you think about it really makes sense. In the 18-29 section, the youngest in that demographic have never known life without high-speed internet and were about five years old when Facebook started.  Those on the older end of that spectrum were born in 1988 making them a prime audience of 18 years old when Facebook opened its doors to everyone with a valid email address. They were only 12 when high-speed internet started to become more the status quo and 16 when Google went public. They aren’t merely early adopters; they just don’t know life without broadband or social media.

Who’s Using What?

68% of U.S social media users have a Facebook account. Currently, it is the clear winner of social market. Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Twitter are all in a close race for 2nd. Once again, the 18-29 year olds have the most social media use with an astounding 88% that have a Facebook and 59% that also use Instagram. Surprisingly, they are also the highest users of LinkedIn; 34% of social media users age 18-29 say they use LinkedIn where only 31% of 30-49 year olds and even more surprising, only 24% of 50-64 years olds report using LinkedIn.

Surprising Insights from the Data

As a marketer, you always want to get some actionable takeaways from the copious amounts of data that is your day-to-day life. You want the data to tell you something about your audience that you can use. Here are some insights that surprised us as we poured over these numbers.

    • While it may not seem like it when you are online, of those who use social media, College graduates have the highest use. 

Social media by education level

This was one of the most surprising findings from the PewResearch social media fact sheet. According to their research, of American adults who use social media, 77% are college graduates while those who only have a high school diploma or less make up 56% of social media users. At first, we thought those numbers might correspond with the education levels of adults in the US. However, according to the US Census Bureau, the percentage of adults who have graduated from college (36%) is significantly lower than the number of adults who have graduated from high school or GED (91%). Another possible explanation for this discrepancy in social media use could be the type of employment a person may have who has graduated from college versus employment options for someone who only has a high school diploma. While the data from the Census Bureau suggests that employment rates between the two groups are almost even, a college graduate will typically have a higher paying job, which would allow for smartphones and in-home broadband. The 2015 U.S. Bureau of Statistics report on median weekly earnings showed that a high school grad will earn about $751 per week while someone with a bachelor’s degree would earn approximately $1249 per week.

    • Those earning $75,000 or more are the highest users of social media

Social media by income

Once again we were surprised at these numbers. It would seem that the most vehement social media users would be teenagers or early 20’s and not professionals making $75k or more. Likewise, we were a little confused that those in the 18-29 age groups are the most prolific users of LinkedIn and yet those making the most money are the highest percentage of social media users. What this means to us is that in the categories of age, education, and income, the most prolific users of social media are Millennials with college degrees making $75k or more.

Suburban communities are more likely than urban communities to use social media.

social media by community

This one was actually quite close. It seems there isn’t much variance from suburban communities to urban ones. As a marketer using social media, this is helpful because it means that while your product or service may focus on suburban or urban communities, you can use social media to communicate with your audience regardless of location.

    • Regardless of age, income, education, or community Facebook is still the preferred social media platform

From the graph above, and because of sheer numbers, Facebook is still the go-to platform to reach the largest audience. Regardless of gender, socioeconomics, or age, Facebook ought to be a priority for your company. However, keeping that in mind, you can’t ignore Twitter. From what we’ve seen from the Pepsi and United Airlines scandals, Twitter seems to be where most people go to interact with a brand online. When it comes to customer engagement and customer service issues, a presence on Twitter is crucial.


While this data is certainly not comprehensive, it helps to provide a snapshot of the American social media use. As you think about your customer and begin to create personas, it pays (literally) to understand who is using what. How old is your ideal audience? Do they have a college degree or not? Maybe they have an advanced degree. When they go online, which platform are they most likely to use? All these questions are important to know when targeting an audience.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
How to Deliver the Right Message to the Right Audience
Are you Sending the Right Message?
Share this post