Who uses Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram? Looking at the Pew Research Center polls.

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Image/logo credit: Pew Internet

In today’s post, I will be covering five polls that Pew Research Center’s Internet Project (Pew) conducted from 2011 to 2013. Instead of detailing their research in chronological fashion, I thought I would cover it from the general to the specific. I thought that this way of reviewing the material would be more interesting and help me view trends in the data from a needs perspective. I will follow with a discussion about the impact of the data within the daily life of any librarian working with social media.

Social Networking and Social Media Trends

In their August 5, 2013 report, Pew found that 72% of adults who are online are social networking users. Although social networks such as Facebook and Twitter are most popular with young adults, engagement has increased among all age groups, including seniors, a demographic that has tripled from 13% in 2009 to 43% in 2013. When considering the data, only age demographics seem to show large differences: race, education level, annual household income, and urban dwelling seem to show roughly equal numbers within their respective categories. An interesting note is that the amount of online adults using Twitter has doubled since only 2010 (Brenner and Smith, 2013)!

Although demographics (except age) are fairly equal when using social networks generally, there are differences in the types of sites key demographics use. Looking  deeply into the demographic usage of the 5 major social media sites, Pew determined that 67% of internet users use Facebook, 16% Twitter, 15% Pinterest, 13% Instagram and 6% Tumblr. Women tend to use Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram more than men, African-Americans and Latinos are using Twitter and Instagram more than whites, and urban residents are more likely to log into Twitter and Instagram than suburban or rural users. In some polling, large differences are found. For example, women use Pinterest five times as much as men! Likewise, Twitter usage among non-Hispanic Blacks is roughly twice than white numbers, and Tumblr is used overwhelmingly by users 18-29 years of age (Duggan and Brenner, 2013).

Pew also polled Americans on why they use social media. The vast majority of users indicated that staying in touch with current friends and family members was the biggest reason why they were engaged in social networks. Connecting with old friends was the largest minor reason for using social networking, followed by connecting with others based on interest, which was a more popular answer among middle-aged and older adults (Smith, 2011).


How do Americans view new library technologies?

A Pew poll earlier this year revealed that Americans are eager to see new digital technologies at their libraries, but that still value the ability to borrow print books. Americans see borrowing books, asking reference questions, and having free access to computers and the Internet nearly in equal importance. Some of the innovative services Americans would like to see offered by their libraries include:

  • “Ask-a-librarian” online research services and being able to pose questions and get answers online.
  • Apps-based access to library materials and programming.
  • Technology testing grounds and sandboxes.
  • Finding library materials using GPS-navigation apps.
  • Book/DVD/CD lending machines throughout the city.
  • Amazon-style online recommendation services.

An interesting number to watch in this poll is the percentage of Americans accessing a library website from a mobile device (smartphone or tablet): 13% have used a handheld device (Zickuhr and Rainie, 2013), a number which is likely to grow.

This brings us to Pew’s research data on location-based services and mobile devices: location tagging and geosocial services such as Foursquare are becoming more popular with social media users. Already, 74% of adult smartphone owners use GPS for directions or to find their current location. Of social media users, 30% are tagging their posts with location, a trend rising among younger users. Although geosocial check-ins on apps like Foursquare are down from their last polling,  12% of smartphone owners use these services to indicate their location. Foursquare recently indicated that they are de-emphasizing points, badges and rewards for checking-in and, instead, will promote services pushing suggestions and reminders to users based on their friends’ interests and recommendations. Pew also tracked teens responses to turning off geo-location due to privacy concerns and found that age did not matter as much as sex of the user: Girls were much more likely to turn off this feature due to privacy concerns (Zickuhr, 2013).


The Pew data makes clear that Americans are adopting social media and smartphones on a wide scale, and expect future services to allow them to be able to tap into resources using these technologies. Although the greatest adoption is in young adults, even older demographics are getting into the social media realm and are looking for others who share their interests and hobbies. But interests and other interesting things are not necessarily why the majority of Americans are on social networks: they are looking to connect and stay in touch with friends and family. This means that even a small percentage of response to library services and products over social media is a success, but it is important that the librarian keeps in mind the user’s privacy concerns.

The differences in how demographics use social media and the which sites they visit is important for marketing purposes, and librarians would be smart to keep track of Pew’s research on these matters. Instead of promotions blanketing all demographics, librarians could target certain groups with relevant programming on the sites they are already visiting. Targeting teens on Tumblr is a smart move: targeting seniors on Tumblr may be a waste of precious time and resources.

The polls also reveal trends of what Americans are expecting out of technologies and our libraries. The ideas offered by Pew poll participants for favored innovative services can help build your case when approaching directors and stakeholders about funding.  The polls also can reveal trends, and the areas that your library can begin focusing on, such as geosocial services (check-in rewards) or smartphone reference services. We see, once again, that social media is inextricably tied in with many kinds of technologies and different types of library services.

What do you think about Pew Internet Project’s data? Can you use it to improve your library’s services? Post a comment below.


Brenner, J., & Smith, A. (2013). 72% of online adults are social networking site users. Retrieved from Pew Internet & American Life Project website: http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2013/social-networking-sites/Findings.aspx

Duggan, M., & Brenner, J. (2013). The demographics of social media users – 2012. Retrieved from Pew Internet & American Life Project website: http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2013/Social-media-users/The-State-of-Social-Media-Users.aspx

Smith, A. (2011). Why Americans use social media. Retrieved from Pew Internet & American Life Project website: http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2011/Why-Americans-Use-Social-Media/Main-report.aspx

Zickuhr, K., Rainie, L., & Purcell, K. (2013). Teen content creators and consumers. Retrieved from Pew Internet & American Life Project website: http://libraries.pewinternet.org/2013/01/22/library-services/

Zickuhr, K. (2013). Location-based services. Retrieved from Pew Internet & American Life Project website: http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2013/Location/Overview.aspx

Series Navigation<< Libraries and Social Media within the recent LIS LiteratureLibrary Social Media Currents and a few images from Banned Books Week! >>

Mickel is an MLIS and the creator of Library Currents. His inspiration for the blog was the SJSU course "The Hyperlinked Library" taught by Dr. Michael Stephens, a course that is also a worldwide MOOC. If you wish to contact him, feel free to write to Mickel Paris at librarycurrents1@aol.com.

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