Millions of Baby Boomers joined Facebook last year and they use it to read the news

Our latest infographic summarises why Facebook remains important for advertisers — and essential for news publishers. Go straight to the infographic here.

It may be going grey, but news of Facebook’s death have been greatly exaggerated. In the United States in particular, 2015 and 2016 were stellar years for the world’s biggest social network in terms of user growth and engagement, with 8.6 million Baby Boomers joining between July 2015 and December 2016. Among all age groups in the United States, the number of users grew by 18 million over those eighteen months. And globally, Facebook grows by a Twitter every year. It is not a surprise that stock markets have been cheering the company’s performance.

Image by Fabián Alexis under a Creative Commons licence, no changes made.

As user numbers are surging, engagement remains high in Facebook’s most lucrative market. 76% of American Facebook users log on daily, compared to less than half of Twitter’s user base. Crucially for advertisers, almost everyone who uses other social networks can also be reached on Facebook, where over 90% of Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram users have an active profile.

In the cold light of data, Facebook’s position as the dominant social network appears largely unthreatened, no matter how many teenagers are vowing to decamp to the next shiny new platform.

And Facebook is even more dominant as a driver of social media traffic to news websites.

Given the recent debate about fake news, this cannot be ignored. Traffic from Facebook makes and breaks news publishers’ social media success, accounting for over 85% of traffic from social networks. Twitter contributes much lower, and stagnant, numbers of visitors while all other social media channels combined play a marginal role in directing traffic to newspaper websites. Between them, Facebook and Twitter account for 98% of social media-generated traffic to news websites.

Given that two thirds of Facebook users in the US now say they use the social network to access the news, up from less than half in 2014, this is less surprising that it seems. According to Pew Research, 8% of Americans even used Facebook as their main source of news during last year’s election, putting the social network ahead of broadcasters NBC, ABC and CBS. While this means Facebook ranks behind the likes of CNN (13%) and Fox (18%), it still means that the equivalent of the entire population of the state of Texas considered Facebook to be the most trusted name in news.

When it comes to social media, the conventional wisdom is that newer is better. As soon as a new platform survives the gruelling challenge of gaining teenagers’ approval, the grown-ups rush in to be part of the conversation. Vogue, for example, announced last year that they were joining Snapchat. The Financial Times and The New York Times, both a century older than the world wide web itself, quickly incorporated Instagram into their social media strategies. And there are of course good reasons for covering all platforms.

Nevertheless, the data from Pew and Echobox demonstrates that publishers would be well advised not to abandon nearly two billion birds in their hand for a few unicorns in the bush. Facebook is and remains important for advertisers — and essential for news publishers. Our new infographic summarises why.

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