According to user data, it’s believed that approximately 4.9 billion people globally use social media, with an average individual accessing almost seven social media platforms monthly. In recent years social media has become a tool for many individuals and businesses, with sites like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and recently TikTok gaining millions of members.
Recent Google announcements have stated that social media is gaining an even larger share of the web spotlight. Yet it isn’t only businesses trying to maximize the benefits of social media and its many facets. CivicScience data has shown an increasing number of U.S. consumers turning toward social media as both a source of breaking news and a search engine for products.
Social Media – A Growing Source For Breaking News?
Recent reports suggest that social media as a main source of news declined from its peak levels during the pandemic, partly as the result of a general decline in news consumption after 2020, but also due to changes on Facebook’s platform related to news media links.
Even so, CivicScience data show a growing percentage of consumers turning to social media platforms to receive breaking news, specifically. A plurality of Americans say they access breaking news from a local news channel first (27%), followed by a national or local news website (25%) and a national network news channel (16%), with radio being the least relied on for breaking news updates (4%). However, year-over-year tracking indicates that U.S. adults are increasingly checking social media first for breaking news, increasing four points from Q3-2021 to Q2-2023.
In direct contrast, more consumers are moving away from national cable news channels (such as CNN or Fox), falling three points during that same time period. In fact, social media looks on track to eclipse cable news channels as a primary breaking news source, both now at 14% of the population.
Where people turn first for breaking news differs based on age. This is unsurprising, considering younger people are much more likely to use social media – recent CivicScience data show that close to 90% of adults aged 18-34 use social media, compared to 71% of those aged 55 and older (yearly averages). Gen Z and Millennials are the most likely to turn to social media for breaking news. Interestingly, data also show social media has grown as a news source for all adults under age 55 since Q3 2021.
Key findings on how different age groups seek out news are as follows::
- Gen Z (18-24): 20% turn to social media first for breaking news. In comparison, 51% favor local or national network news channels.
- Young Millennials (25-34): Taking the lead, 22% of this age group turn to social media first to obtain breaking news.
- Older Millennials to Gen X (35-54): Not far behind their younger counterparts, a solid 16% access social media first for breaking news. They’re also the most likely age group to get news digitally – an additional 32% turn to national or local news websites, while just 4% rely on cable news channels.
- Baby Boomers (55+): Only 6% seek breaking news on social media as their first avenue of information, three times less likely than younger generations, with 66% preferring more traditional TV-based news.
Given social media’s growing use among younger generations, one can expect more forward momentum on this front as the older generation ages, with social media becoming a heavyweight in the news distribution industry. However, pending changes and restrictions to Facebook and TikTok in the U.S. may impact this trend.
TikTok as an E-comm Search Engine Declines in Popularity
With social media seeing an uptick in interest as a news source among younger generations, the same can’t be said for search engine usage, specifically TikTok.
Most U.S. adults use Amazon and Google when shopping for a product online and as a starting point for research. However, after reaching a new high point last year, June data show a decline of two percentage points in the usage of TikTok as a search engine. In contrast, Amazon has grown in popularity as a search engine from August 2022.
Similar to the 2022 study, most people using TikTok, Instagram, or Reddit as their starting point for product searches belong to the younger generation – namely Gen Z and younger Millennials.
However, data clearly show a steep decline in TikTok being used as a search engine amongst these younger generations. Usage fell from 18% to 11% among Gen Z (18-24) and from 10% to 5% among young Millennials (25-34) from August 2022 to June 2023. Part of the reason for this could be the growing concerns surrounding TikTok’s privacy and security, meaning it is no longer making inroads like before a Senate bill entered the mix. On the other hand, use of Amazon as a go-to search engine increased for both of these age groups, to 45% and 44% respectively.
Ultimately, with a greater percentage of young adults turning to social media platforms for breaking news and fewer using social media as search engines, these trends show significant implications for brands and news agencies and how they advertise and disseminate news. Check back for more updates as CivicScience continues to monitor this arena – or work with us to get ahead of the curve.