Social Media Analysis
Our respondents’ thoughts on usage, anxiety, problems, and more
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Table of Contents
- How Analysis Posts Work
- Social Media Survey
- Our sample’s demographics
- How much do people use social media, and which platforms?
- Is it anxiety-provoking, and are people wanting to cut back?
- What are the biggest benefits of social media?
- What are the biggest challenges, and who prioritized what?
- Overall, positive or negative?
- Insightful Comments
- Don’t buy it? Make it better.
How Analysis Posts Work
In our analysis, we take a deeper look at our survey results and highlight the patterns and insights we find under the surface using segmentation across meaningful demographics (like age, gender, and location).
By spreading the word, you can help us increase our awareness and participation and help us have a larger positive impact on our communities. And now, to the main event…
Social Media Survey
Social media has become a major part of modern society. If you’re like many, you might visit one or more platforms every day. This capability has led to both good things and bad, and many of us are trying to figure out the right role for it in our lives. We wanted to know what people think about it.
Here are our questions and results, and below’s what I found most interesting.
Our sample’s demographics
(When you look at survey results, it’s always a good idea to look at the types of people that responded. Since we often track how each person answers, we’re able to pull in responses from previous surveys to help with this. If some subscribers didn’t take the survey where we collected a demographic, they’re denoted by a “?” in the charts.)
Of our sample size of 118, about half hadn’t taken a survey with us before. Because of that, we weren’t able to pull in some demographics for them from previous surveys, like gender and county, and you can see that from the gray bars.
From what we know, it looks like we heard from more women than men, a pretty even distribution of ages, mostly from Ada county, and mostly from people that use some form of social media every day. Keep this in mind as you look at the charts below.
(Before we dig into the findings, it’s worth noting that we probably have some degree of self-selection bias here. Because anyone that saw our survey invitation could choose to respond or not, we’re likely hearing from people that are more interested in the topic, use it more frequently, or have stronger opinions about it than others…)
How much do people use social media, and which platforms?
This seems like a good place to start. Before we try to dig deeper into this topic, let’s start basic — how often do people use it?
One question in the survey asked how often people use the social media platforms that were provided. Because it’s a rather complex question, the chart showing the overall results is using a weighted average — it shows which platforms have the most usage. The top few were Facebook, Youtube, and Instagram.
This wasn’t really surprising to me. I expected Facebook and Instagram to be the most popular. If anything surprised me, it’s that I expected LinkedIn and Snapchat to be used more heavily.
Ok, cool, but this overall view kind of masks a lot of valuable details in the answers. Since respondents said how often they use each one, I’m curious to see how many people use a social media platform every day. Or, if they use several.
With that view, we can see that about half of the respondents are using one platform on a daily basis, and about 40% are using 2 or more. We even had a few folks report that they use 5 or 6 of them every day! (I was 3, by the way.) In actuality, the number is probably a bit bigger than this for some, since this question only includes the platforms that I chose to provide in the list. There are dozens of social media platforms out there that weren’t included.
What if we break this down further by age? I’d expect to see younger people using more platforms each day than older folks.
That appears to be true, though not strikingly so. If our respondents are any indication of larger trends, it looks like if you’re 40 or older, you’re about twice as likely to only use one platform on a daily basis. And if you’re younger than that, the you probably use 2 or more.
Ok, let’s get a little crazy. I wanted to create a single chart to show our respondents’ usage for each platform. It’s a little complicated, but you can understand this if you take some time looking at it — I believe in you!
I’ve sorted the platforms by their daily usage proportions. The platforms closer to the left have bigger dark green pieces of each bar, indicating a higher proportion of daily use. The further to the right you go, the smaller that piece becomes, indicating that people use it less frequently. Red shows the proportion of people that never use each platform.
The things that stand out to me here are: A) Facebook is super dominant, compared to the other platforms, B) Youtube beats out Instagram if you include both daily and weekly users, and C) Twitter seems pretty low — I think I’ve heard that’s an Idaho thing — apparently it’s used more regularly elsewhere.
That was fun, but want to get really crazy?! Let’s do it. If you don’t want to get especially nerdy, just skip down to the next headline!
Okay, I hope your eyes aren’t rolling into the back of your head when you look at this next chart. I’ll be honest; I think it’s way too dense and not a great visualization for easy reading, but I wanted to include it because it’s a view I wanted to look at, and there’s probably a few other folks out there that might be really into it.
Okay, so what is it?! Well, it’s the same chart as we were looking at before, but showing the usage patterns broken out by age group.
I won’t spend much time on this, but I got a lot of stuff out of it. Snapchat is definitely for the younguns. So is Instagram, to a degree. Youtube crosses all generations. LinkedIn hasn’t penetrated older demographics very well. Our respondents in their 40s don’t like Pinterest?… Ok, moving on.
Is it anxiety-provoking, and are people wanting to cut back?
We did quite a bit of investigation on usage frequency and different platforms, but let’s generalize a bit more about social media overall, as a concept. Let’s start with discomfort. I used questions about whether you consider it “anxiety-provoking” and whether you want to “cut back” on your usage to gauge this.
Overall, we’ve got a pretty wide spread of answers on both questions. More people definitely consider social media anxiety-provoking (~50%) than not (~30%). And even more convincing is that about 65% of people find themselves wanting to cut back on their usage on a weekly basis. Wow! Only about 10% said they’ve never wanted to cut back their usage.
And what if we overlap these questions? Maybe there’s something interesting in that view.
This funny-looking table thing is called a heat map, and the bigger the squares are, the more people responded with those combinations of answers. For example, the biggest combination was “Yes,” social media is anxiety-provoking, and they think about cutting back their usage “A few times a week.”
What stands out to me about this chart is that there definitely seems to be a connection between anxiety and wanting to cut back, but that’s not the whole story. There are actually quite a few people that say it’s not anxiety-provoking but that want to cut back on a regular basis. I’m guessing this has to do with specific perspectives on the problems of social media —for instance, if you’re concerned about screen time, that might be a reason to want to do less social media without feeling anxiety. We’re going to get to that a little further down…
While we’re on anxiety still, (is it stressing you out? 😝) I wanted to take a quick peak at gender. Remember, we have quite a few people that we don’t know their gender, and they’re in the gray bars.
It looks like men might feel quite a bit less anxiety from social media than women do — less than half as many chose a version of Yes as women did. One possible theory here is that women might be more likely to compare themselves negatively to others than men.
What are the biggest benefits of social media?
We asked everybody what they think the best things about social media are, and they ranked the list of available options. The top ranked benefits were “Connecting with friends and family,” “Discovering interesting content,” and “Community involvement.”
The least chosen benefit was “Promoting your business.” This didn’t surprise me too much from an overall point of view, but I was a little surprised to see that people that indicated they use social media for work didn’t really rank this benefit much higher.
Now let’s go back to age. Do different age groups rank the benefits differently?
Actually, it looks like there’s not huge divergences in different ages ranked the benefits. This chart shows the highest rank as the shortest bar.
The difference that stood out to me (indicated by the blue question mark) was how respondents in their 50s and higher seemed to prioritize “Sharing your thoughts and interests” more than the younger respondents. I think that maybe bucks the stereotype people have that young people are way more likely to want to tell everyone what they think about everything.
What are the biggest challenges, and who prioritized what?
Now that we’ve covered benefits, let’s talk about problems that arise from social media. Overall, there wasn’t as much agreement on ranking of these options. With benefits, it was pretty clear which were the top ones, and which weren’t. With problems, it looks like there are two top ones, and everything else is pretty close behind. “Looking at a screen too much” and “Fake news or scams” were ranked the highest.
Let’s look at age again to see if anything interesting stands out. Similar to the difference in the overall views, you can see that there’s a lot less agreement across age groups about the priorities of the problems.
I’ve highlighted a bunch of things that stood out to me as interesting. (As a caveat, these should be taken with a grain of salt — there’s a chance any or all of these are just noise, and a bigger sample size would wash them away.)
A) Our youngest respondents ranked “Fake News” lower than everybody else. B) There seems to be a trend of being more concerned about “Screen Time” the younger you are. C) Our respondents in their 50s seemed to care a lot more about weakening “In-person interactions.” D) Respondents in their 40s cared a lot more about privacy and data security. E) It seems like comparisons are a bigger issue the younger you are. And F), respondents over 60 prioritized “Closed-mindedness” most highly.
I think there’s something interesting underneath the surface of these answers about problems, but I’m not entirely sure what it is. Let’s try looking through the anxiety angle again.
This seems a lot less noisy. Things of interest to me are: A) If you find social media really anxiety-provoking, you ranked “Comparisons” higher as a problem. B) Along those lines, if you don’t feel much anxiety from social media, you’re less concerned about comparisons.
Digging deeper into those reporting lots of anxiety, they ranked “Closed mindedness” the highest (C) and “Fake News” the least (D). It occurs to me that maybe those two problems are interconnected and people might have thought of them somewhat synonymously.
Overall, positive or negative?
Okay, we were kind of in the weeds there. Let’s get back to the big picture — is social media a positive or negative thing in the big picture?
Overall, our answers converged in the middle, with the biggest group saying it’s not positive or negative, and we had about twice as many saying positive as saying negative.
But what about all those demographics we’ve been using? Are there any patterns in how they ultimately think about social media? Let’s start with age.
It doesn’t look like there’s much here. I think the only thing that stands out to me is that the youngest group is more likely to say it’s positive. Everybody else is pretty middle-of-the-road on it.
And what about that anxiety-angle? People that are getting stressed out by social media are probably feeling more negative about it, right?
Sort of. It does look like almost everyone that said it’s a negative influence answered that it’s anxiety-provoking. But, it does occur to me that this might not mean that it’s personally stressful. Maybe it means people are feeling anxiety about what it’s doing to society writ large instead… so, I want draw too strong of a conclusion on that.
I think one thing seems clear to me though: many people that feel anxiety about social media are still positive about it overall. I think they realize it kind of comes with the territory, and yes, there are problems, but the benefits outweigh them. Perhaps for them it’s more about finding the right balance for it in their lives and hoping that other people will do the same.
That’s all for quantitative analysis. Now we’re going to shift gears to qualitative, and see what interesting comments came through.
Lots of interesting comments, as usual. I’ve highlighted several that I think are particularly thought-provoking or representative, and I’ve bolded key phrases to help you skim.
What gets too much attention?
I think folks who are not tech-media adept, especially older folks and those whose politics tend towards the right (including centrist liberals) use the fear of “echo chambers” as a justification for not engaging in critical-thinking. We have an incredible amount of information at our fingertips, but as a country — privileged people have always had access to knowledge, and those same people have always self-selected media that confirms their positions, especially if those positions don’t require them to think critically, grow, change, sacrifice, or act. A lot of people feign concern about “kids and their devices,” but I think this is a fear-based response to young people being hungry for change. Meanwhile, I think that young people are genuinely concerned about adults and their stale politics.
Rude or insensitive posts; especially those using foul language. I’m not above using that language myself but I would never use it in situation where it might offend someone. I see many posts I would retweet if there was no foul language.
How it can help people connect with each other, it doesn’t. It makes people more close minded, less willing to hear other sides to an argument.
Privilege and the curated representation of life. People are getting quite good at creating their own “brand”, and presents it in a “my life is better” kind of way. When in reality, not everyone can or wants to live like that. Great that you live #vanlife, but don’t get on your high horse and act like your “simple” life is better. We need to stop glamorizing people that took an hour to get the “right shot” that is being used to shame and present a fake portrayal of life. Can one even be “genuine” and “their authentic self” to a screen that only captures a moment in time that is extremely altered? I don’t think so.
Celebrities. I personally use social media to stay in touch with friends and family so I find it a little odd how closely people follow celebrities using social media.
Fake news. While some people use these platforms for discovery of news and topics, most people aren’t so active that they spread bad memes or influence others with false data. Even the discussion of “fake news” is just another topic to divide us.
“People are replacing face-to-face interaction and real connection with social media, we don’t know how to be human together anymore, people spend too much time looking at their phones”. Not all of that is necessarily true, some of it is and that isn’t bad. As our technology changes and grows, so does the way we communicate. The digital landscape changes the way that we connect and communicate. I find that evolution fascinating, not bad. We are able to reach so many more people instantaneously and it’s truly amazing.
Reading a Facebook feed has become like watching TV (passively consuming content), and there is a danger of people (like my mom and older family members) consuming it without a critical lens — sharing articles that may or may not be true but they saw it in their news feed, or getting all their news just from their FB feed.
The disgusting behavior of the President of the United States, and the lies he perpetuates.
What doesn’t get enough attention?
The fact that many social media sites are breeding grounds for hate-speech, hate-groups, and violent, authoritarian ideologies. There is no reason to tolerate or enable bigots attempting to recruit people to their cause. While some folks hold that there is no higher right than the freedom of speech, we should be frank about the fact that America is a hub of white supremacist activity and act accordingly. There is no honest equivalence between the far-right and the “far-left” and companies should not be providing a platform for skinheads, neo-nazis, neo-confederates, white-nationalists, or whatever white supremacists want to call themselves to insert themselves into the mainstream discourse.
The cyber-simulacra does not meet the human [need] for connection. One the one hand, we know those platforms provide Distance from each other so we can be so mean and abusive to complete strangers without consequences. On the other hand we ignore that distance and think it a equivalent substitution for real interaction with “friends” and “followers”.
That social media platforms censor those who don’t agree with their “anointed” vision.
The kindness of others never gets enough attention, people would rather talk about Kylie Jenner or pretend to be outraged about the latest example of “cultural appropriation.”
Social media as a propaganda tool and as a news aggregator. Social media platforms are slow to take up the responsibilities that have been foisted upon them (whether they like it or not), and their hesitance to take a real stand is hurting society.
How shitty people feel from comparing their messy interior life to other people’s curated and polished external image. We think everyone else’s polished image is who they really are, when in reality they are just as messy and human and imperfect as we are. But it’s hard to feel that way when looking through newsfeeds.
The real problems it is causing in our society that were mentioned in question 7 — it’s closing people off from each other, increasing polarization, giving bullies and hate-mongers a sanctuary to spread and grow their negativity, and shredding the value of verified information and journalism.
My previous job was in social media marketing, the amount of information and data that these companies have on their users is astounding. I quit Facebook, but they still are able to advertise to me asking me to come back as a user. They don’t only track you on their sites, but on any site with their plugins (ex a Like button under an article). These data hacks that have happened are terrifying.
That we preach to the choir on it. Most likely, your friends are like minded, or you know the individual who is not like minded, which can make it easier to engage across differences. But we spout our gospel (the blue and red gospels), and think we did our good deed for the day because we “engaged” politically or socially, when really, we didn’t do that in real life, and have forgotten how to have those difficult conversation with strangers. It doesn’t teach us to have real debate that exceeds a certain number of characters, or truly gets to know someone’s position, or realizes life is more nuanced than your profile picture. We are closing ourselves off, on both sides of the table.
Personal responsibility and individual self control. We control our usage. Like anything else, some people may be more susceptible to negative reactions or addiction and need to modify their exposure. Companies have given users a lot of tools to control and limit usage, individuals need to learn how to use them and set limits that are appropriate for them to avoid usage that is detrimental to their wellbeing. Continuous improvement of those tools by the Social Media providers to better help people manage their usage responsibly.
There is a lot of power and ability with social media. Not to be cliche, but with great power comes great responsibility. Even if we’re not using social media professionally, in our personal lives we need to hold ourselves to higher standards as far as the quality and ethics of the content we produce and/or share. A lot of amazing things can be accomplished with social media, but there’s also a lot of garbage out there.
I’m speaking about Instagram specifically because I really only follow people I know IRL on Facebook, but… I have been working to consciously curate my IG feed to include more diversity (body size, race, ability, class, gender, background, upbringings different than mine) and it has really broadened my horizons. The accounts I follow on IG routinely create and share content that I would have never seen from my IRL friends (or my FB friends) and I feel like I have a lot more awareness of other groups’ lived experience. I am more empathetic and social justice-minded than I was, let’s say, 5 years ago when I started using Instagram. It could also be just me developing as a person, but since social media is such a big part of my (and my generation’s) day-to-day, it’s bound to have a pretty big influence on our world view, either in a positive way or a negative way. I think social media, just like the internet, is an amplification of humanity in general. You’ll find horrible people and ideas, and wonderful, life-changing ideas, cuz that’s how humans are. But it’s easier to go out and find more of the wonderful-life changing ideas digitally than it was before the internet.
That’s all folks! If you want more analysis goodness, check out our other posts here.
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