Over the past twelve months, the world’s digital behaviours have shown some of the most profound changes we’ve seen in years, even compared with “the pandemic years”.
The latest research reveals that these behaviours are evolving in a number of unexpected ways, too.
Fortunately however, our huge new Digital 2023 Global Overview Report – produced in partnership with Meltwater and We Are Social – has all the data and insights you need to make sense of the latest trends.
Table of Contents
Top stories in Digital 2023
The ultimate compendium of digital stats
Important notes on data
Top 10 takeaways
The full Digital 2023 report
Digital 2023: essential headlines
The outlook for 2023
Top stories in Digital 2023
Top stories in our flagship Digital 2023 report include:
- A big change in global internet user numbers
- An intriguing decline in various aspects of online activity
- Rich insights into evolving social media platform preferences
- Changes in the devices that people use to access digital content and services
- Some unexpected changes in the world’s online search behaviours
- The startling growth of digital advertising
That’s barely a fraction of what you’ll find in the full report though, which is packed with 400+ charts exploring what people are really doing on the internet, social media, mobile devices, and online shopping platforms.
And in addition to the 10,000 words of rich context and insight that you’ll find in this article, we’ve also produced a selection of deep-dive articles to take you even further into this year’s data, so look out for links to those “bonus” resources throughout this analysis.
The ultimate compendium of digital stats
This year’s report is by far the biggest collection of data and trends that we’ve ever published, and that increased breadth and depth is all thanks to the support of our amazing partners.
First up, I’d like to say a very big thank you to Meltwater, who’ve joined us as a headline Global Digital Reports partner this year. Meltwater is a global leader in social and media intelligence dedicated to helping businesses monitor, understand, and influence the world around them.
I’d also like to thank We Are Social for continuing their support of the Global Digital Reports series into an impressive twelfth year. We Are Social is a socially led creative agency that puts social thinking at the centre of marketing.
These two partners make the Global Digital Reports series possible, so please let them know on social media if you find these reports valuable:
I’d also like to offer my heartfelt thanks our wonderful data partners, without whom the Global Digital Reports series would be a lot less informative:
Important notes on data
Just before we start exploring the numbers, I’d encourage you to review our detailed notes on data to understand how changes in sources and methodologies have impacted this year’s numbers.
In particular, please note the following:
- Internet users: the complexities of researching and reporting internet adoption around the world mean that there is invariably a delay in publishing the most recent data. As a result, figures for internet use after 2021 likely under-represent reality, and actual user numbers and growth figures may be meaningfully higher than the figures shown in this year’s reports.
- Social media users: significant revisions to the figures published by various platforms mean that the social media user numbers included in this year’s reports are not directly comparable with figures published in our previous reports. We use data published in the advertising resources of a number of the world’s top social media platforms to inform our figures for overall social media use, and any changes in that source data can impact our overall figures too. As a result, please note that – in many cases – the figures we’ve included for social media users in this year’s reports will appear lower than the figures we included in previous reports. However, these revisions do not imply an actual change in overall use, and our analysis has not detected any discernible decline in overall social media adoption.
These aren’t the only changes impacting this year’s numbers though, so do check out the complete list of updates in our more detailed notes on data.
But with that, let’s get into the findings.
Top 10 takeaways
I’d recommend starting with this video, which will help you understand all of this year’s top headlines and trends in just 10 minutes.
Once you’ve finished watching that, read on below for the full report.
The full Digital 2023 report
You’ll find the complete report in the embed below (click here if that’s not working for you), but continue reading past that to find our comprehensive analysis of what all these numbers mean for you and your work.
OK, ready to dive into the analysis?
Digital 2023: essential headlines
Let’s start with a look at the latest headlines for the global “state of digital”:
- The world’s population passed 8 billion on 15 November 2022, and has reached 8.01 billion at the start of 2023. Just over 57 percent of the world’s population now lives in urban areas.
- A total of 5.44 billion people use mobile phones in early 2023, equating to 68 percent of the total global population. Unique mobile users have increased by just over 3 percent during the past year, with 168 million new users over the past 12 months.
- There are 5.16 billion internet users in the world today, meaning that 64.4 percent of the world’s total population is now online. Data show that the global internet user total increased by 1.9 percent over the past 12 months, but delays in data reporting mean that actual growth will likely be higher than this figure suggests.
There are now 4.76 billion social media users around the world, equating to just under 60 percent of the total global population. Social media user growth has slowed over recent months though, with this year’s net addition of 137 million new users equating to annual growth of just 3 percent.
These headlines offer an excellent snapshot of digital use around the world, but we need to dig deeper into the data to understand how people’s behaviours are actually evolving.
And the good news is that we’ve got loads of great data to explore…
Let’s start at the top.
Major update to internet user numbers
These revisions have enabled us to make significant updates to our internet user figures too, and our latest global total now sits at 5.16 billion.
That’s quite a bit higher than the 5.07 billion figure that we reported just in October 2022, but it’s important to stress that internet users haven’t actually increased by 90 million in just the past three months.
Indeed, our analysis of the most recent data indicates that internet users have actually only grown by 98 million over the past twelve months.
That translates to year-on-year growth of just under 2 percent, which is markedly slower than the growth rates that we saw during the 2010s.
As I explained in the “important notes on data” section above though, figures for the most recent year or two invariably under-represent actual growth in internet users, because of how long it takes to conduct, process, and report internet user research.
However – even if we allow for these reporting delays – Kepios analysis of the latest data still indicates that user growth has indeed slowed over recent months.
It’s worth stressing that this deceleration is to be expected though, especially now that more than 6 in 10 people on Earth already use the internet.
And despite the recent slowdown, current trends suggest that close to two-thirds of the world’s population should be online by the end of 2023.
Internet use by country
But digital use still varies meaningfully around the world.
At the top end of the rankings, internet adoption rates now either equal or exceed 99 percent in a total of 8 countries, while a total of 55 countries now enjoy internet adoption rates in excess of 90 percent [note that we cap internet adoption rates at 99 percent].
But in what might come as a surprise to some readers, internet adoption across Northern America actually falls below internet adoption across the European Union and the UK.
Analysis by the ITU indicates that 91.8 percent of the population of the United States is online today, which ranks the country just 45th at a global level [note that the chart below only shows data for a selection of larger economies].
Furthermore, Northern America only accounts for 6.7 percent of the world’s total internet population.
So, while American digital trends invariably have an impact on the rest of the world, it’s important to stress that digital habits in the United States are rarely representative of those that we see in other countries.
As a result, it’s critical to dig into the local country data to understand what’s really happening amongst the specific audiences that you’re hoping to reach and engage.
At the other end of the connectivity spectrum, North Korea continues to languish in last place in the global rankings, with the internet still blocked for everyday citizens in the reclusive North Asian state.
Meanwhile, data indicate that less than 10 percent of the populations of South Sudan and Somalia use the internet today, placing these nations just above North Korea at the bottom of the global rankings.
Overall, a total of nine countries have internet adoption rates below 20 percent, while less than half of the population uses the internet in a total of 61 countries around the world.
Read more: You’ll find the latest headlines for digital adoption by country in our Digital 2023 Local Country Headlines report, and we’ll also be publishing a complete collection of in-depth country reports starting in mid-February 2023.
In absolute terms, India is home to the world’s largest “unconnected” population, and data indicates that 730 million people across the country are still not using the internet at the start of 2023.
Meanwhile, despite showing an internet adoption rate of more than 70 percent, China is home to the world’s second-largest “unconnected” population, with almost 375 million people across the country not yet online.
Encouragingly, the data revisions that I outlined above mean that this year’s overall figures for unconnected populations are quite a lot lower than they were this time last year.
However, slower user growth rates will make it more difficult to reach the UN’s stated goal of universal connectivity by 2030, especially considering that 2.85 billion people around the world remain offline.
Dig deeper: If you’d like to explore the challenges associated with connecting the “unconnected”, you’ll find plenty more data and rich analysis in this deep-dive article.
Decline in time spent online
But perhaps the biggest story in this year’s report is that the amount of time we spend online has declined by almost 5 percent year on year.
GWI reports that the typical user has reduced the amount of time that they spend using the internet by 20 minutes per day since this time last year.
A year ago, the company’s data showed that working-age internet users spent an average of almost 7 hours per day online, but that’s fallen to 6 hours and 37 minutes per day in the most recent wave of research.
Tellingly, this latest figure is very close to the daily average for Q3 2019 – shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic delivered its profound impact on the world’s digital behaviours.
The average amount of time that people spend using the internet hasn’t changed over the past three months though, so it’s unclear whether we’ll see these figures fall further.
However, the recent relaxation of China’s “zero COVID” policies may result in the country’s internet users spending more time out in the wider world over the coming weeks, potentially resulting in them spending less time online.
And given that China accounts for more than one in five (20.4 percent) of the world’s internet users, any change in China’s online behaviours will likely have a meaningful impact on global averages too.
Time spent online by country
The time that internet users spend online varies meaningfully by geography and demography, but similar declines are visible throughout the data.
For example, while Filipinos continue to spend an average of more than nine hours per day online, the latest daily figure of 9 hours and 14 minutes is considerably lower than the 10 hours and 56 minutes per day that we reported in our Digital 2021 Global Overview Report.
But there are some exceptions to the overall decline in time spent online.
Users in China say that they spent an average of three additional minutes per day using the internet in Q3 2022 compared with Q3 2021.
However, it’s worth remembering that there were still strict COVID-19 lockdown restrictions in force across various parts of China in Q3 2022, so these figures may continue to reflect a “pandemic effect”.
Learn more: If you’d like to explore how internet use varies by location, age, and gender, head over to this deep-dive article.
Making sense of trends in time spent online
But what does the decline in overall time spent online tell us about the world’s evolving digital behaviours?
Well, first up, it’s critical to highlight that there’s nothing in the data to indicate that the internet is becoming less important in people’s lives.
Rather, closer analysis of the data indicates that people are becoming more considered and purposeful in their online activities.
In other words, people are prioritising quality over quantity.
But what’s behind this trend?
One hypothesis is the “unwinding” of habits that we adopted during COVID-19 lockdown, and we’ll come back to explore that idea in more detail in a moment.
However, recent changes in online behaviour aren’t just the result of people emerging from lockdown.
As GWI’s trends team noted in their recent “Global Media Landscape” report:
Though notable drops in time spent online illustrate a decrease in pace – reflecting the post-pandemic landscape and how people now have less time to spare – a combination of media fatigue, subscription churn, and the cost-of-living crisis play an equally important role in flattening the curve.
Meanwhile, this great quote from GWI’s excellent “Connecting the Dots 2023” report offers a more candid perspective:
There are only so many hours in the day, and people want to know their online time isn’t being wasted.
We started to explore the implications of more considered and purposeful online behaviours in our Digital 2022 October Global Statshot Report, but it’s worth digging deeper into those trends now, using all the latest numbers.
Why the world goes online
Despite recent revelations that the world’s search behaviours are evolving, “finding information” is still the primary reason why people use the internet today.
GWI’s latest wave of research finds that almost 6 in 10 working-age internet users (57.8 percent) still refer to online resources when looking for information, ahead of:
- staying in touch with friends and family (53.7 percent);
- staying up to date with news and current events (50.9 percent); and
- watching videos (49.7 percent).
Interestingly, the rank order of the top motivations has remained relatively stable over recent years.
It’s worth noting that the relative priority of staying up to date with news and current events has slipped since the height of the pandemic, and staying in touch with friends and family has regained the second position that it gave up during lockdown.
However, for the most part, people’s stated motivations suggest that they have a relatively stable “repertoire” of online activities.
But if we dig a bit deeper into GWI’s data, a more interesting finding emerges.
Overall, the average number of motivations cited by the world’s working-age internet users as primary reasons for going online has fallen by more than 11 percent over the past four years.
We saw a jump in that average in Q2 2020, when lockdowns drove many people to rely on the internet for almost everything in their daily lives, but the downward trend that we saw before COVID has since returned, and the current average of just over 7 is the lowest it’s ever been.
A similar decline is evident in the types of websites and apps we use too, with the average number of options chosen by GWI’s survey respondents falling by 3.5 percent over just the past five quarters.
Even when it comes to “universal staples” such as using chat apps and messengers, the number of people choosing this option declined by almost 1 percent over the past year.
But let’s return to those lockdown trends… three years later, which habits have we kept, and which have we unwound?
Back to “normal”?
As we stressed in our Digital 2020 April Global Statshot Report, many of the trends that emerged during the darkest days of the pandemic were driven by extraordinary circumstances, when hundreds of millions of people were confined to their homes.
However, as restrictions have eased and people have ventured back out into the world, many of those “pandemic habits” have waned, and in many cases, people have returned to patterns of behaviour that closely resemble those that we saw before the pandemic.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, much of the hyperbole that we saw in early 2020 turned out to be inaccurate, but data suggests that there are also various instances where the digital world has indeed “changed forever”.
However, these changes are rarely as extreme as the headlines suggest.
Let’s take a closer look.
Changes in online shopping behaviours
Online shopping is a particularly interesting example, because there’s plenty of evidence to show that people are now more willing to use ecommerce compared with pre-pandemic levels.
As the Group Chief Economist at Sea Limited observed in a recent report published by Bain and Meta:
Before the pandemic, people who used ecommerce were buying items in categories like fashion, beauty, and electronics. While some would have occasionally ordered food and beverages, a majority would not even consider buying groceries or FMCG. Now this has changed. And once people have learnt how to do it and experienced the convenience and flexibility it offers, it’s hard to unlearn it.
In other words, when people are forced to develop new habits, but subsequently discover the benefits of those new behaviours, there’s a good chance those new habits will stick.
However, people’s shopping habits aren’t binary, and data also shows that people hurried back to physical-world stores once COVID-19 restrictions eased.
But research from Statista reveals that – despite an overall decline in global retail spend (online and offline) over the past year – online channels actually claimed a greater share of spend in 2022 than they did in 2021.
Having said that, the same data also reveals that online channels only accounted for 17.1 percent of global retail spend over the past year.
That means that – at a worldwide level – ecommerce still only accounts for about 1 in every 6 dollars of consumers’ retail spending.
So no; COVID-19 didn’t fundamentally change shopping.
And moreover, now that most people have greater freedom when it comes to choosing retail channels, we can fully expect them to embrace a mix of online and offline shopping.
However, it’s important to remember that many people are now more familiar with ecommerce than they were prior to lockdown, and as a result, there’s a greater likelihood of them choosing online channels today compared with pre-pandemic trends.
And data supports that hypothesis too, with ongoing research from both GWI and Statista suggesting that we’ll continue to see ecommerce’s share of overall shopping activity and retail spend grow over the coming years.
Go deeper: Shopify’s “Commerce Trends 2023” report is packed with all the latest insights and trends you need to make sense of today’s hybrid retail opportunities. Read the full report here.
Changes in global TV behaviours
TV streaming platforms like Netflix were another widely cited beneficiary of lockdown’s influence on global digital behaviours.
But have those pandemic-era behaviours endured?
Well, despite the challenges faced by individual companies, it’s clear that streaming continues to account for an ever greater share of global TV viewing.
For example, the latest data from GWI shows that services like Netflix and Disney+ now account for more than 45 percent of the time that working-age internet users spend watching television.
That share has increased by a relative 10 percent since Q3 2019 (+4.3 percentage points), with the typical internet user now spending more than 1½ hours per day watching streaming services and online TV.
However, recent growth trends actually mirror those that we saw prior to the pandemic, and it’s also worth highlighting that “conventional” TV (i.e. broadcast and cable channels) still accounts for more than half of the world’s total TV time.
Meanwhile, GWI’s data reveals that more than 9 in 10 working-age internet users in the world’s larger economies already stream TV content and movies over the internet, so there’s not much room left for adoption rates to continue growing.
But GWI’s research also reveals that fewer than 1 in 3 internet users between the ages of 16 and 64 currently pays for a movie or TV streaming subscription each month.
As a result, it’ll be interesting to see whether the launch of ad-supported subscription tiers has any meaningful impact on streaming’s share of overall TV time.
Related: Learn how people’s evolving motivations and priorities are influencing online video habits in this deep-dive article.
Digital advertising surges
But talking of ad-supported content, perhaps the biggest beneficiary of lockdown-induced changes in the world’s digital behaviours has been the digital advertising industry.
Data from Statista reveals that digital’s share of total global ad spend has increased by a relative 27.7 percent since 2019, up from 57.4 percent in 2019 to 73.3 percent in 2022.
But in absolute terms, digital ad revenues have jumped by a massive 78 percent over the past 3 years, from a pre-pandemic total of just under $375 billion in 2019, to more than $667 billion in 2022.
As you can see in the chart below, the biggest jump came in 2021, with global digital ad revenues increasing by a third compared with 2020 spend.
In other words, COVID-19 significantly reshaped global advertising investments, and that shift to digital appears to have endured.
As you might expect though, digital ad spending varies considerably between countries.
At the top end of the spectrum, our analysis of Statista’s data suggests that companies spent a combined annual total of almost $880 per internet user to reach online audiences in the United States in 2022.
But at the other end of the ranking, brands only invested a combined annual total of USD $5.26 per internet user to reach online audiences in India last year, and that figure drops to just USD $1.43 per user in Ghana.
Within the world of digital advertising, social media platforms appear to have been the biggest beneficiaries of the shift to digital.
Statista’s analysis indicates that social media’s share of global digital ad spend has grown from roughly a quarter of the total in 2019, to more than a third in 2022.
That’s already quite impressive, but the absolute spend figures tell an even more compelling story.
Data published in Statista’s Advertising & Media Outlook shows that worldwide spend on social media ads has more than doubled since the outbreak of COVID, to reach USD $226 billion in 2022.
Evolving social media behaviours
And that leads us neatly to the impact that lockdown had on social media users’ habits.
Increases in social media use were one of the biggest stories during COVID-19 lockdowns, with almost all of the big platforms reporting impressive growth across most key metrics.
But did the sudden and dramatic changes that we witnessed during Q2 2020 translate into enduring digital behaviours?
Well, overall, the answer to that question is “yes”, but there are some caveats.
Social media users continue to grow
The simplest affirmation of an enduring impact lies in overall social media user numbers.
Kepios analysis reveals that the global social media user total has increased by close to 30 percent since the start of the pandemic, equating to more than 1 billion new users over the past 3 years.
Growth rates over recent years also indicate that COVID-19 accelerated social media adoption.
For example, annual growth between 2020 and 2021 was almost twice as rapid as it was in the previous twelve months, and growth continued at a double-digital rate between 2021 and 2022.
However, growth has slowed dramatically over the most recent twelve months, and the worldwide growth figure we’re reporting in our Digital 2023 reports is the lowest we’ve ever seen.
But the important thing to highlight here is that user numbers are still increasing.
But it’s not just the growth in user numbers that debunks these spurious claims.
We’re spending more time on social media
GWI’s data also shows that people are in fact spending more time on social media than ever.
The company’s latest wave of research reveals that the typical working-age internet user now spends more than 2½ hours per day using social platforms, which is the highest figure we’ve seen.
Admittedly, the latest global daily average is only three minutes higher than it was this time last year, but it still shows growth.
And perhaps most importantly, this increase has occurred despite the decline in overall time spent using the internet that we explored above.
Indeed, social media now accounts for its greatest ever share of total online time, with almost 4 in every 10 minutes spent online now attributable to social media activities.
For comparison, these figures show that the typical working-age internet user now spends 30 percent more time using social media each day than they spend watching “traditional” television (i.e. broadcast and cable TV channels).
So, perhaps that increase in social media ad spend is fully justified.
Want to know more? Learn how the time spent using social media varies by country, age, and gender in this deep-dive article.
The world’s evolving social media preferences
But the recent surge in misleading headlines hasn’t been limited to overall social media use, and we’ve noticed a marked increase in factually incorrect reporting of individual platform trends too.
Some of this misinformation relates to unfounded assumptions and poor fact checking, but – increasingly – we’ve noticed a trend towards willful misrepresentation of the facts, even in more reputable media.
So, in the following sections, we’ll examine the latest data from a variety of reputable sources, and bring you the truth about what people are really doing on social media.
However, in the interests of time, we won’t be able to cover everything here, so head over to this deep-dive article if you’d like to get the complete picture.
Social media platforms: monthly active users
If we rank platforms by monthly active users – which offers perhaps the most consistent basis for comparison – the latest “official” data suggest that Facebook still comes out top at a worldwide level.
Figures published in Meta’s Q3 2022 investor earnings report show that the platform now has 2.958 billion monthly active users (MAU), which equates to almost 37 percent of the world’s total population.
Meanwhile, YouTube’s latest “official” statement indicates that the platform has “over 2 billion monthly logged-in users”, but figures published in the company’s own advertising resources suggest that the platform now attracts more than 2.5 billion users each month.
Instagram has consolidated its position amongst the top social media platforms since our October 2022 report too, with the company recently announcing that it has 2 billion monthly active users.
That puts the platform in similar territory to stablemate WhatsApp, although it’s worth noting that Meta now reports WhatsApp attracts 2 billion active users per day, so its monthly user figure is likely even higher.
WeChat rounds out the top five, with Tencent’s most recent investor earning announcement revealing that the platform now has more than 1.3 billion monthly active users.
However, Kepios analysis indicates that users in China still account for the vast majority of WeChat’s global user base.
The world’s most used social media apps
We’re delighted to have joined forces more closely with data.ai for our Digital 2023 reports, which allows us to bring you even richer insights into what’s really happening in the world of mobile.
Just before we get into the data, note that our analysis of monthly active app users doesn’t include data for China, due to important differences in the country’s app marketplaces.
The active user ranking featured in this year’s reports is also different to the ones included in previous reports, because we’re now able to include pre-installed apps in this dataset (e.g. YouTube on Android devices).
And our analysis of this expanded dataset reveals some fascinating insights.
At a worldwide level, data.ai intelligence reveals that YouTube has the greatest number of active users of any mobile app, not just social media apps.
Facebook ranks second in terms of the social apps in this overall ranking, but it’s important to stress that data.ai’s figures show that Facebook’s active users have continued to grow over the past twelve months.
WhatsApp is the third “social” app in this ranking, with the latest MAU figures putting it just behind Facebook.
Meta stablemates Instagram and Messenger claim the remaining “social” places in the top 10 apps by MAU, and it’s worth highlighting that Google and Meta account for all of these top 10 apps.
But what about TikTok?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the hugely popular short-video platform now ranks sixth at a worldwide level, although it’s worth noting that these rankings don’t include users of TikTok’s sister app, Douyin.
Telegram comes in seventh, ahead of Twitter in eighth place, while Snapchat and Pinterest round out the top ten social media apps by monthly active users.
Absolute user numbers only tell part of the story though, so let’s take a closer look at the time spent using social media apps too.
Time spent using social media apps
There are a few different ways of looking at this data, but the most insightful analysis comes from looking at total time spent by all users, and average time per user.
When it comes to total time spent using social media apps each month, data.ai’s ranking shows many similarities to its ranking by monthly active users.
However, in the ranking by total time spent, TikTok and Facebook Messenger trade places, while LINE jumps up a few spots to sit ahead of Snapchat.
Due to the commercial value of this data, we’re unable to show figures for total time spent on each platform, but we can show the rank order, as well as the average time per user for each platform [if you’d like to dig deeper into the full dataset, head over to data.ai].
But those figures for average time per user tell a fascinating story in their own right.
Amongst the world’s most used social media apps, TikTok enjoyed the highest average monthly use per user over the course of 2022.
The short-video platform’s Android app users spent an average of almost 23½ hours per month using the TikTok app between January and December last year, just ahead of YouTube’s 23 hours and 09 minutes per month.
TikTok’s rise to the top of these rankings might not be a surprise, but some of the data fuelling its ascendance may still raise a few eyebrows.
For example, the platform’s own data shows that posts tagged with #FYP (“for you page”) have now been viewed a total of 35 trillion times – and yes, that really is trillions.
Even if each of those views only lasted for one single second, that would add up to well over 1 million years of combined human existence… and that’s only for videos tagged with #FYP.
But in what might come as another surprise if you’ve been reading the mainstream media recently, Facebook ranks third in data.ai’s figures for average time spent per user, at almost 20 hours per month.
Moreover, data.ai’s intelligence reveals that the average time that Facebook users spend using the platform’s Android app has actually increased over the past year, from an average of 19.6 hours per month, per user in 2021, to 19.7 hours in 2022.
And just for added context, data from Statcounter suggests that Android phones account for 72 percent of all the smartphone handsets in use today.
On the other hand, it’s interesting to note that the typical Instagram user only spends half as much time using the platform as TikTok users spend using TikTok.
But Instagram use varies meaningfully from country to country.
For example, the typical Instagram user in Turkey spends an average of 21.4 hours per month using the platform’s Android app, but in South Korea, that figure falls to just 6.1 hours per month.
Go deeper: data.ai’s flagship “State of Mobile 2023” report is packed with essential data and trends exploring how the world uses mobile phones today. Read the full report here.
Web traffic to social platforms
The number of visitors that each platform’s website attracts offers another interesting perspective into social media use, especially because web traffic figures include people who haven’t actively logged in to each respective service.
It’s important to note that estimates of web traffic vary meaningfully from one source to another, but the ranking of YouTube and Facebook remains relatively consistent across sources.
For example, Semrush currently places YouTube second in its worldwide ranking of websites, with a total of 5.85 billion unique “visitors” per month, ahead of third-placed Facebook’s 2.48 billion.
Note that these figures don’t represent unique individuals though, because – in this context – “visitors” is more akin to “devices”.
Similarweb offers quite different figures to those offered by Semrush, but the outcome is the same: YouTube ranks second with 1.94 billion unique monthly visitors, while Facebook ranks third with 1.61 billion.
More broadly, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that people are increasingly consuming social content from within web browsers as well as in mobile apps, and the rise of these web behaviours has important implications for anyone hoping to engage social media audiences.
We explored that trend in detail in our Digital 2022 October Global Statshot Report though, so head over to our analysis article for that report if you’d like to learn more.
The world’s favourite social media platform
All of the social media data that we’ve explored so far factors active use of each platform, but that data doesn’t tell us about users’ affinity for each platform, or where those platforms fit in their everyday lives.
Fortunately though, GWI’s excellent data allows us to explore this perspective.
Just before we get into the data, it’s essential to highlight that GWI treats YouTube as a video platform rather than a social media platform, so YouTube doesn’t appear in GWI’s “favourite social platform” dataset.
However, this dataset still reveals some fascinating insights.
First of all, despite only ranking third in terms of total active users, WhatsApp is currently the world’s “favourite” social media platform.
Each person may interpret “favourite” differently of course, so do note that there’s inevitably a degree of subjectivity in these rankings.
However, that subjectivity is also an important component of how each individual feels about each platform, so subjectivity actually adds value to this dataset, rather than detracting from it.
Instagram and Facebook continue their ongoing dance for second spot in the rankings, although their respective shares of worldwide votes are still almost identical.
WeChat – also known as 微信, or “Weixin” in Chinese – ranks fourth at a worldwide level, demonstrating not only the sheer scale of China’s internet population, but also the continued appeal of Tencent’s flagship superapp.
But in what might come as a surprise, just 6.1 percent of the world’s working-age social media users say that TikTok is their favourite platform, which is only good enough for fifth place in this latest ranking.
However, it’s worth highlighting that TikTok’s share of the vote has jumped by a relative 42 percent (+1.8 percentage points) since this time last year, so the platform’s popularity is clearly in the ascendant.
But what about the views of younger users?
Social media preferences by age and gender
Well, in what might come as another shock, GWI’s data reveals that Instagram remains the “favourite” social media platform amongst internet users aged 16 to 24.
For context, TikTok’s popularity continues to increase, and GWI’s data reveals that the number of women aged 16 to 24 who identify the short-video service as their “favourite” social platform has jumped by more than a third over the past year.
However, the same data reveals that almost twice as many women in this age group cite Instagram as their “favourite” platform compared with TikTok (23.1 percent versus 12.0 percent, respectively).
Young men are even more likely to choose Instagram over TikTok, but – in perhaps the biggest surprise in this dataset – men aged 16 to 24 are actually more likely to cite Facebook as their favourite social platform than they are to choose TikTok (10.5 percent versus 7.7 percent, respectively).
It’s also interesting to note that WhatsApp ranks second amongst this age group, with both young women and young men putting the world’s favourite messenger platform ahead of TikTok.
Social media choices are not a zero-sum equation
Hopefully all of that data has already given you plenty of inputs for your 2023 social media plans.
However, for me, the most valuable chart for social media planning in our Digital 2023 reports explores the overlaps between social media audiences.
I’ve talked about this chart in a number of my recent analyses, but we’ve enhanced the methodology that we use to identify these overlaps in this round of reports, so the findings in this latest dataset are even more representative than before.
And the key finding here is that we actually under-represented audience overlaps in our previous reports.
GWI’s data suggests that YouTube has the “largest” unique audience of any of the platforms in our analysis.
However, just 1.0 percent of YouTube’s working-age users say that they don’t use any other social media platform, so “large” might not be the most appropriate word to use in this context.
Moreover, it’s worth highlighting that GWI’s questions about YouTube appear in a different part of its survey compared with the other platforms in this list, and were the video platform to appear alongside all of the other choices, there’s a chance that this 1 percent figure might be even lower.
Meanwhile, no other social platform can claim even 1 percent unique reach versus other social media platforms, and in many cases – including TikTok, Snapchat, and Twitter – just 1 in every 1,000 users is unique to that platform.
Platform choices are not binary
But looking at this same data another way, these audience overlaps also debunk the widely circulated myth that people are “abandoning” old favourites for newer social media platforms.
For example, amongst worldwide users aged 16 to 64:
- 82.5 percent of TikTok users still use Facebook every month;
- 84.3 percent of Telegram users also use WhatsApp every month; and
- 60.7 percent of Snapchat users also use Twitter each month.
So, don’t get distracted by click-bait and poorly researched headlines; the clear takeaway here is that people still use a wide “portfolio” of different social media platforms each month.
But this data also has more profound implications for marketers.
Critically, if you’re hoping to increase your potential reach, there’s actually no benefit to be gained in trying to be on all social media platforms.
Indeed, a presence on just one or two of the top platforms will deliver almost all of the reach you need.
For example, a mix that included Facebook and YouTube would already have the potential to reach more than 9 in 10 working-age internet users outside of China every month.
And considering that these two apps have the greatest unique audiences amongst ad-supported social platforms, you’ll see exceptionally high levels of duplication with each additional platform that you add to your mix beyond these two.
However, that doesn’t mean that Facebook and YouTube should be your only choices.
These findings only relate to increasing potential reach, and reach is only one of the metrics you should consider when building a social media portfolio or media mix.
But the good news is that these insights into audience overlaps should also make it easier for you to choose the optimum platform(s) for your needs.
Put simply, activity on one or two of the largest platforms will ensure that you’ve “ticked the reach box”, enabling you to choose some of the smaller, more niche platforms for different kinds of creative opportunity, or perhaps to enjoy lower ad costs.
But talking of ad costs…
Social CPMs see big drop in Q4 2022
New insights from Skai.io reveal that the cost to reach social media audiences fell significantly in the all-important “holiday” quarter at the end of 2022.
The company’s analysis indicates that total social media ad spend in the last three months of 2022 exceeded the equivalent figure for the 2021 holiday season by roughly three percent.
Meanwhile, advertisers spent 8.4 percent more on social media ads in the final three months of 2022 than they did between July and September 2022.
However, the same data reveals that social media platforms also delivered 57 percent more ad impressions in Q4 2022 than they did in Q4 2021.
These figures aren’t implausible given the increases in active use and time spent that we explored earlier, but this jump in impressions is significantly higher than the three percent annual increase in overall ad spend that we saw above.
But when growth in impressions outpaces growth in overall spend, that inevitably leads to a drop in average cost per impression.
And Skai’s data offers a clear figure for that drop: a 35 percent year-on-year decline in social media CPMs (i.e. the cost to deliver 1,000 social media ad impressions).
Cost pressures related to the current economic environment may well have played a role in depressing average CPMs, but there’s a chance that significant increases in inventory may also have played a part.
So, if you feel like you’re seeing more ads on social media platforms than ever before, this data suggests you’re probably right.
Search marketing continues to grow
These trends aren’t confined to social media advertising though, and Skai’s data shows similar patterns in global search advertising.
Overall, the company’s analysis of billions of dollars in ad spend reveals that advertisers spent 7 percent more on search ads in Q4 2022 than they did in the final three months of 2021.
However, just as we saw in the social media ad trends, the total number of impressions served grew much more quickly than total ad spend did.
Indeed, Skai’s data suggests that search engines delivered 23 percent more ad impressions in holiday 2022 than they did in Q4 2021.
And for added context, the number of search ad impressions served in Q4 2022 was over 30 percent higher than the number of ads served in the previous three months.
As a result, we saw a steady decline in average search cost-per-click (CPC) rates across 2022, with the average figure for Q4 landing at just USD $0.60 per click.
That’s roughly 12 percent less than marketers paid at the end of 2021, and it’s also 7 percent lower than the average price for the period between July and September 2022.
But these search advertising trends are even more interesting when we consider one of the other big stories in marketing over recent months: the evolution in the world’s search behaviours.
This time last year, we explored a number of trends in the world’s online search behaviours.
However, in a stark reminder that historical trends aren’t always a reliable indicator of future behaviour, those trends didn’t evolve as we expected.
In some instances, change has accelerated, such as in the rising adoption of social search and discovery.
But in other cases – like the use of voice assistants – we’ve actually seen a reversal of the growth that we saw at the start of 2022.
Dig deeper: If you’d like to know more about how each of those trends is playing out, head over to this deep-dive article to learn more about the world’s evolving search behaviours.
Time spent using mobiles
One of the juicier headlines in this year’s report is that the average mobile user now spends more than 5 hours per day using their phone.
Analysis from data.ai reveals that users spent an additional seven minutes per day using smartphones in 2022 compared with the previous year, which equates to a year-on-year increase of 2.4 percent.
Assuming that the average person sleeps for between 7 and 8 hours per day, these figures indicate that we now spend roughly 30 percent of our waking lives using our phones.
data.ai’s analysis is based on a selection of larger markets, but if this average were to hold true across all of the world’s mobile users, our combined mobile usage would now add up to a staggering 10 trillion hours per year – that’s equal to 1.1 billion years of collective human existence.
Meanwhile, data.ai reports that the world’s Android users spend more than 40 percent of their mobile time using social and communications apps, indicating that they now spend an average of more than 2 hours per day using these services on mobile phones alone.
Photo and video apps claim the second largest share of mobile time, at a quarter of the daily total.
And combined, these two app categories account for more than two-thirds of Android users’ daily mobile activities.
Web browsing ranks third, but at just 8.1 percent of overall mobile time, it’s clear that native apps account for the vast majority of today’s mobile activity.
Interestingly though, games account for just 8 percent of the typical Android user’s average daily time.
Despite this relatively low share, however, mobile games account for the greatest share of consumer spend, and that’s true across both the Google Play Store and iOS App Store.
Left to our own devices
But even as our average mobile time increases, GWI’s latest data shows that computers still account for an important share of internet users’ connected time.
Mobile phones have long been the dominant device for internet use across most developing economies, but GWI reports that PCs, laptops, and tablets still account for more than half of people’s connected time in 18 of the 46 countries for which this data is available.
And crucially, computers still dominate online activities in the United States and Canada, as well as across most of Europe.
Belgians and Danes spend the greatest share of their internet time using larger-screened devices, at 42.5 percent and 45 percent respectively.
At the other end of the spectrum, internet users in Indonesia, Thailand, India, and China spend more than 60 percent of their connected time using a mobile phone.
But to add perspective to these figures, GWI also reports that ownership of laptops and tablet devices has been declining steadily over recent months.
Fewer than 6 in 10 working-age internet users say that they own a laptop or desktop computer today, although the use of shared devices and employer-provided computers mean that just under two-thirds of internet users still use a computer of some description to go online.
As a result of this decline in ownership, we can expect the balance of device time to continue shifting towards mobile over the course of 2023.
However, computers will remain an important part of our audiences’ behaviours for at least the next few years, so the key takeaway here is that “mobile first” shouldn’t mean “mobile only”.
Meta continues to revise its ad reach figures
For context, these corrections are nothing new, and over the course of the 13 years that I’ve been collecting and analysing this data, the company has made a correction on average every 12 to 18 months.
However, my analysis indicates that the company has made a meaningful revision to its numbers in at least 4 of the past 6 quarters.
And the frequency of these corrections makes it tricky to identify what’s really going on.
For example, the company’s latest data shows a sizeable decline in Facebook ad reach across almost every country in the world over the past three months, with only six countries not seeing a drop.
Furthermore, the reported ad reach figure for all six of those countries hasn’t changed since October, which means that we haven’t seen an increase in potential reach in any country in the world over the past three months.
And we see an almost identical pattern in Instagram’s ad reach figures too, with just three countries remaining unaffected by corrections.
Similarly, all three of those countries saw no change in reported Instagram reach over the past quarter.
But given the different roles and historical growth trajectories of these two platforms, it’s fairly safe to say that these changes are more likely the result of a large-scale purge of duplicate and inauthentic accounts than they are the result of a sudden exodus of users.
Yes, platforms are bound to see user numbers fluctuate over time, but – barring large-scale technical outages – the consistency of declines across geographies suggests that company revisions have played the biggest role in these recent changes.
Reduced potential for reach
Regardless of the reasons why these numbers have dropped however, the outcome remains the same: Meta is telling advertisers that they can now reach fewer users on its platforms than the company previously estimated.
At a worldwide level, Meta’s latest figures indicate that Facebook ads now reach 127 million fewer users than the same tools reported this time last year, equating to a year-on-year decline of 6 percent.
Instagram has seen an even bigger “correction” though, with the company’s own data showing a drop of 160 million users over the past year, for an almost 11 percent decline.
Messenger hasn’t escaped the revisions either, and Meta’s reported reach figures for the chat app at the start of 2023 are almost 6 percent lower than the figures that the company reported in early 2022.
There’s a lot more to this story than we can cover in this article though, so head over to this deep-dive analysis if you’d like to get the complete picture.
TikTok ads reach more than 1 billion adults
But in more encouraging news for advertisers, figures published in TikTok’s advertising resources reveal that ads on the short-video platform now reach more than a billion users over the age of 18.
It’s worth noting that these age-specific figures may be somewhat distorted by age “misstatements”, where users themselves declare a date of birth that doesn’t match reality.
However, even if TikTok’s ad reach figure were to represent users of all ages, it’s still very impressive.
Moreover, the company’s own data indicates that TikTok’s ad reach has surged by 11 percent in just the past three months, with figures suggesting more than 100 million new users between October 2022 and January 2023.
And furthermore, the same data suggests that TikTok’s ad reach has grown by almost 19 percent since this time last year, with 166 million new users taking the latest total to 1.05 billion.
Twitter’s audience grows
And there’s good news for Elon Musk and co. too, with the latest data indicating that Twitter has also grown its ad reach over recent months.
Figures published in the company’s own ad tools indicate that global reach has increased by 12 million users since October 2022, and by 120 million users since this time last year.
It’s worth noting that Twitter’s ad reach numbers have always been subject to significant fluctuations – even over short periods of time – and this total reach figure likely includes a number of “non-human” entities (e.g. businesses, music bands, accounts for pets, etc.).
However, Kepios analysis of web traffic data and mobile app use shows no signs of the “exodus” that many foretold at the time of Musk’s acquisition.
Learn more: Read our take on why Twitter may still be a “diamond in the rough” in this deep-dive article.
There’s loads more great data and many more fascinating insights to explore in this year’s report, but in the interests of time, we’ll distil those stories down to a couple of headlines here, and link to a series of deeper-dive articles where you can learn more.
Online audio captures more of our attention
People are spending more time than ever using streaming music services and listening to podcasts, but the story is more complicated when it comes to “social audio”.
Read the full story in this deep-dive article.
After plenty of excitement this time last year, many of the world’s internet users seem to have cooled on cryptocurrencies and NFTs.
Tumbling valuations, a seemingly endless wave of hacks, scandals, and scams, and few opportunities to use digital currencies beyond investment speculation mean that many people remain sceptical.
However, crypto is far from dead.
Explore more in this deep-dive article.
Metaverse in reverse?
Similarly, active user data suggests that virtual worlds are struggling to grow their user bases.
The latest data continue to demonstrate the widespread appeal of some of these environments, but figures for other worlds are already showing declines.
Dig deeper in this deep-dive article.
The rise of wearables
Roughly 3 in 10 working-age internet users now own some form of “smart wrist” device like a smartwatch or a fitness tracker.
Moreover, data shows that this cohort is now more likely to own a smartwatch (22.5 percent) than it is to own a gaming console (20.3 percent).
Get the complete picture in this deep-dive article.
LinkedIn reaches a new milestone
LinkedIn’s latest ad reach figures show that the world’s favourite professional social network now has more than 900 million registered members.
Our analysis indicates that only a third of these users will likely be active on the platform each month, but LinkedIn still offers a compelling proposition for marketers.
Learn more in this deep-dive article.
Trends in online finance
Our analysis suggests that digital disruption still hasn’t delivered its full potential in the worlds of banking and financial services.
And while data confirms that plenty of people are already using connected finance, the typical user probably isn’t who you expect.
Get the lowdown in this deep-dive article.
The outlook for 2023
Hopefully all of that data and analysis has given you a rich picture of the current “state of digital”.
But what does the year ahead look like?
Here are some of the things to look out for in our upcoming quarterly Statshot reports:
- The rise of creative AI: Tools like ChatGPT, Dall•E, Midjourney, Stablediffusion, and Synthesia are just the beginning of a coming wave of “creative” AI. Expect exponential improvements in performance, powerful, real-world applications, and an escalation in the debates around legalities, ethics, and the potential for misuse.
- More purposeful marketing: People’s move to more considered internet activity and a desire to avoid “wasting time” will continue to reshape online activities. This will be interesting in its own right, but it may have particular implications for advertisers. Users may have limited options to escape interruptive ads entirely, but marketing that consciously adds value to people’s lives – and that people actively seek out – will be best placed to succeed.
- Macroeconomic impacts: As the world continues its arduous journey through polycrisis, we’ll be looking for signs of people rationalising their subscriptions in response to financial pressures, or changing their news behaviours in response to mental wellbeing needs. There’s also an increasing likelihood that geopolitical tensions will result in new sanctions and platform bans, which may radically reshape user behaviours and the broader digital landscape.
- Rethinking social: The platforms we currently refer to as “social” will continue to broaden their influence in our lives, reshaping where we look for information, how we consume entertainment, and whose opinions and actions influence our worldview. Conversations and shared experiences will continue to be a core component of these offerings, but there’s an increasingly compelling rationale for “ungrouping” these platforms, and for going beyond catch-all terms like “social media”.
- Misinformation overload: Sadly, we expect to see more media outlets willfully distorting the facts when reporting digital trends, and the rise of tools like ChatGPT may further amplify these misrepresentations through content “recycling”. As a result, it’s never been more important to find accurate, representative data to inform marketing decisions. But the good news is that we’ll be here to help, bringing you the very latest reliable findings from the world’s top researchers throughout 2023 and beyond.
That’s (almost) all for now, but you might like to know that we’ll start publishing our Digital 2023 local country reports in the middle of February – you’ll find them all here as soon as they’re ready.
But seeing as you’ve made it this far, I couldn’t leave you without an update to one of my favourite sets of Global Digital data: the ongoing “battle for the internet”.
And one of the big headlines in 2023 is that both teams appear to have been hard at work over the past twelve months.
Indeed, Google search now returns twice as many page results for both cats and dogs as it did this time last year.
However, these results also reveal a surprise: dogs seem to have captured the web, with Google now delivering 450 million more results for “dog” than it does for “cat”.
Our feline friends have made up a bit of ground in search volumes over the past year, but those canny canines still account for almost twice as many Google searches as cats.
But – as you might expect of our “best friends” – dogs rule social media, hands paws down.
There are now more than 350 million Instagram posts tagged with #dog, compared with just 270 million for #cat.
Similar ratios play out on TikTok too, where posts tagged with #dog have been viewed a total of almost 350 billion times, compared with “just” 270 billion views for posts tagged with #cat.
And even Twitter reports that its users are more interested in dogs.
The company’s ad tools report that over 386 million Twitter users are “interested” in dogs, compared with just 62 million who are “interested” in cats.
I’ll paws my analysis there for this year, but I have a feline that we’ll see cats make a comeback over the coming months, so be sure to join me next January for the latest updates to this essential story.
Disclosure: Simon Kemp is a brand ambassador for GWI and for data.ai.