The pandemic transformed how we live in so many fundamental ways, perhaps we didn’t even notice all of the changes. One that I hadn’t given much thought to, until I came across new data, was how the pandemic has affected our use of social media.
Did you find yourself turning more to Facebook or Instagram to keep in touch with family and friends, at a time when you were all cooped up at home and practicing social distancing? Perhaps you spent more time on Twitter looking for news and opinions on the pandemic. Or maybe you found yourself with more free time and went down a YouTube “rabbit hole.”
New data from market-research firm Nielsen shows that adults in the Seattle metro area (which includes King, Pierce and Snohomish counties) have spent a lot more time on social media during the pandemic.
About 1.8 million of us spent more than one hour of a typical day on any social media platform, according to the survey data collected from February 2020 to February 2021, a period that covers much of the pandemic. That’s an increase of 21%, or more than 300,000 people, from the same time period one year earlier, before the spread of COVID-19.
The biggest change was among those spending three to four hours on social media in a typical day. About half a million in the Seattle area said they used social media that much during the pandemic, up about 39% from the earlier period.
And the heaviest users — five hours or more — numbered around 190,000, up 28% from before the pandemic.
Conversely, the number of people who use social very little, or not at all, has dropped in Seattle during the pandemic. Only about 570,000 adults in our area said they didn’t spend any time on social media, down from more than 710,000 before the pandemic.
And that’s understandable. Despite all the negative impacts of social media, it may have proved to be a lifeline to the outside world for many people locked down during the pandemic.
The survey also asked about visits to a selection of specific social media and social networking sites. Two of them stand apart from the rest.
More than two out of three Seattle-area adults said they visited YouTube at least once in the past 30 days, making it the most popular site. Facebook wasn’t too far behind, at 60%, and Instagram came in a distant third, at about 23%.
The least popular social media site was Twitter, visited by only about 11% of Seattle-area adults at least one time in the past 30 days. (Some of the more popular social media platforms, including TikTok, Reddit and Nextdoor, weren’t included as answers on this survey question).
The surge in social media use during the pandemic was not unique to Seattle. It happened across the country. But now that things are returning to normal, it seems likely that social media usage will decline.
The Nielsen data shows, as you would expect, that heavy social media users tend to be younger. Seattle adults who use social media only a little, or not at all, are 14 years older on average than those who use it at least three hours per day.
Women are also much more likely to be heavy social media users. In the Seattle area, 60% of those who spend three or more hours per day on social media are female.
But the gender split also depends greatly on the particular platform. For example, two-thirds of Facebook users in the Seattle area who visited the site in the past 30 days are women — and it’s nearly 100% women on the image-sharing site Pinterest. But on the career-networking platform LinkedIn, nearly two-thirds of users in Seattle are men.