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Myth Busting Social Media Demographics Reports: Do Gen Z-ers Spend the Most Time On Social Media?

In social media marketing we seek to develop strategies that will reach the right audiences where they are. If we want to reach Gen Z we think of TikTok because we heard that that’s where they hang out. We also make assumptions such as, Gen X are not on TikTok. But I am afraid that too many of the social media demographics reports and statistics we see online are misleading. Not necessarily on purpose. But it falls on us marketers to ask a series of clarifying questions before we run with any published numbers. 

So, if we say, Gen Z are on TikTok and Gen X are not on TikTok, what does it mean to “be” on a social media platform? As marketers we absolutely need to ask this question before we make assumptions about where to invest our dollars.

And when we look at data, here are some questions to get you started: “How was the data collected?” And “How do the publishers define the words they use in reporting the data?” 

Take this statement from Hubspot, quoting an eMarketer report:  “TikTok has now surpassed Instagram for popularity among Gen Z users (born between 1997 and 2012) in the United States, with 37.3 million to Instagram’s 33.3 million.”

What they’re actually saying is that TikTok has 37.3 million users born between 1997 and 2012 who access their accounts at least once per month. I don’t know if it’s a popularity factor. I don’t know if they’re active on the platform. I don’t know what type of actions they engage in. These are estimates of how many people log in. 

How was the data collected? I had to do some extra research and found this Methodology:Estimates are based on the analysis of survey and traffic data from research firms and regulatory agencies; company releases; historical trends; internet and mobile adoption trends; and country-specific demographic and socioeconomic factors.”

So I could actually finish this article, I had to stop the research there, but I am not happy with that answer. I want your actual sources. If you don’t publish those, the data may as well be made up. 

Here’s another one. The Pew Research Center regularly surveys US adults on their usage of social media and publishes this chart of the Percentage of Americans who say they use at least one social media site, by age. And according to the results of these surveys, there’s been a decline in the number of Gen Z-ers who report using at least 1 social network. 

But HT to and Lexi Sydow for pointing to the fact that “ there is a difference in how much we think we use social media, and our actual usage patterns.”

These reports are also claiming that Gen Z spend more time on social media than other generations. However, “’s demographic data exposes frequent social usage among Gen X in Germany and the US, almost to the level of Gen Z.”

And they go on to explain:

“While Gen Z engages in their favorite social apps more frequently in the 5 markets analyzed, this isn’t always true for depth of time spent. In fact, in both Germany and the US, the average Gen Xer spent 25% more time on social apps than Gen Z.”

In conclusion, 

Step 1: Make sure you understand the data

Step 2: When you are using demographics for your strategies, consider:

  • How often do they log in? “Active” user is not the same as a logged-in user.
  • Do they consume content or just share or both? Many generations are consuming TikTok content. So maybe TikTok is for you, even if you’re trying to appeal to GenX.
  • How much content per visit or per day/month/year?
  • How long are they on site on average?

These questions above can help you determine:

  • Content volume, frequency and video length
  • Should you have an active presence or just run ads?
  • And thus, how much to invest per channel

For as long as social media has been around, we’ve searched for THE data. And many marketing experts have been ready to speak in absolutes. There’s this idea that those who know stats must be experts. I myself have often felt pushed to give and bless statistics or give a data-based answer where there is no clear answer. Or give a solution where there are multiple solutions possible.

Am I an expert if I don’t have an exact answer? I often come up with more questions than answers and as I get older, I’ve become more and more comfortable with saying “I don’t know, and here’s what we can do to find out.” I can truly tell when someone doesn’t like the answer. But I truly believe that marketers should ask more questions and avoid the temptations of seeking and believing absolute answers.


Mana [Mah’-nah] Ionescu [Yo-nes’-koo] believes in digital marketing done with purpose. Her mission is to bust digital marketing myths and put marketing back in social media marketing.

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