Smartphones have become a vital part of most of our lives, allowing us to stay connected, get the information we need, and often do important tasks. This is all from the convenience of practically anywhere we want. Yet perhaps the biggest use of smartphones today, for good or for ill, is to interact with social media. Alongside the smartphone, social media has become a driving force in our lives, and there are no signs of that slowing down.
This leads us to ask many questions. What can we expect from the future of both industries? Is social media phasing out normal communication for people? What can marketers and professionals learn and then use to improve their efforts? And is such a rate of usage dangerous for people?
Here are some of the key trends and statistics regarding social media, smartphones, and their points of intersection:
Smartphone and Social Media Usage
Social media usage is primarily done on smartphones, not desktops, tablets, or other devices. In fact, many of the most popular social media platforms aren’t even available on a desktop device and are designed strictly for smartphones. The apps or clients are either severely lacking for desktops or just don’t exist. Just consider WhatsApp, Snapchat, and TikTok and how many people use them on desktops. Smartphones and social media are both beyond popular and considered essential by most. Here are a few statistics to showcase this:
- Practically everyone online uses social media. There are 4.74 billion social media users on the planet. That is about 59.3 percent of the world’s population. More people are on social media than are not. And this isn’t considering the fact that, unfortunately, not everyone on the planet has internet access yet. If we take into account only the people who do, then 93.4 percent of the population is on social media.
- People use both social media and their smartphones a lot. You might know this already just by seeing the number of people who are on their phones when you are out in the world. You might see the habits in your own family. On average, a person will spend two hours and 28 minutes on social media daily. That is a hefty portion of every day, likely divided up into many short chunks that divide attention away from a person.
- For comparison, the average American spends about 5.4 hours per day on their smartphones in general. What do they do that’s not interacting with social media? They might be streaming content, messaging people or calling them through non-social media means, or browsing the web and reading articles. Smartphones have become quite advanced, so people can now do most computing and browsing tasks on their phones.
- On top of the sheer amount of time, people take a lot of breaks checking their phones. The average person checks their phone about 63 times a day. Heavy phone users will check their phones about 86 times per day.
- Around the world, smartphones are more common than any other device, and they are used far more than desktops, laptops, and tablets. It is estimated that a total of 6 billion smartphone subscriptions are currently in use worldwide. Other estimates put the number around 8 billion smartphones in use in some capacity, but it can be difficult to get an exact number. Essentially, consider the fact that many people have both a smartphone for work and a smartphone for personal use.
- In just the United States, it is expected that there will be 311.53 million smartphone users in 2025.
- Many social media users are mobile-only, and this isn’t the newest trend. It was the case back in 2019, and it is estimated that in just the United States, more than 54 percent of social media users would be mobile only in 2021. Given that around the world, more people only use their smartphones for internet access, that number is only higher in most places.
- People do not just use one social media network. The average person will be on 7.2 different social media networks each month. Very few people will exclusively use one platform. Some networks have practically no one using just that platform. And on top of that, some networks are used far more than others. People might spend only a few minutes a day on LinkedIn. They will be on YouTube or Facebook much longer each day on average.
- Out of people who use social media, 91 percent of them use their phones at least part of the time to access them. It is simply more convenient. This is important to note for anyone who works in social media or marketing.
We could go into plenty more, but suffice it to say social media and smartphones share a close link. People associate the two with each other, and there are billions of users (and growing).
The Social Media Industry
We looked at the consumer side of things to a degree, but what about the other side of the equation? Social media is big business, involves lots of business, and stays afloat mostly due to ads and information bought by businesses. What can we learn about the future from this perspective?
- A total of 68 percent of consumers agree that social media allows them to interact with companies and brands. Often this is in a way that wasn’t possible before. This direct line is something that sales professionals and marketers cherish. And the fact that the connection is theoretically always available is something that isn’t taken without consideration. Think of the many hashtag challenges, brand options, and opportunities to “tag” yourself at a business. It’s all part of an overall strategy, and it’s a showcase of how social media influences our day-to-day lives.
- While also related to social media marketing (we’ll talk more about that later), 80 percent of executives think it’s either very important or essential to put additional resources into social media marketing. This means that social media networks can expect more money coming their way, but it also means that we might see more branded content and more active brand pages in the years to come. And much to nearly all of that will be on mobile or mobile-optimized.
- In fact, 91 percent of executives plan to increase their social media marketing budget in the next three years.
- Depending on the smartphone you buy and the operating system you use, social media is just an ingrained part of your phone, whether you want it to be there or not. With many phones, apps such as Facebook and YouTube are on there by default. And while they can be “disabled,” they often cannot be uninstalled or permanently removed in any way. This distinction is usually reserved for vital apps such as the app store or things necessary to the functioning of the smartphone.
- In total, social media ads brought in $153 billion in revenue worldwide in 2021. This number is expected to grow another $100 billion by 2026, though things could move even faster than that.
- In one point of data from Statista, nearly $385 billion in ad spending is expected to be generated through mobile on social media in 2027. And while it might be impossible to perfectly predict the future that far ahead, the fact that hundreds of billions will be spent through and around mobile should not be lost on anybody.
Smartphones, Social Media, and Young People
One of the biggest topics surrounding social media (or smartphones, for that matter) is how it might affect young people's lives and development, namely teenagers. And while there are age restrictions on practically all social media platforms that are supposed to keep children younger than 13 from using them, such measures aren’t perfect, and plenty of younger children use or at least browse the platforms as well. Yet these are general observations and considerations. Let’s take a closer look at what’s going on:
- Teens certainly aren’t avoiding social media. About 95 percent of teens use social media in some capacity. Note, however, that the social media platforms used can vary quite a bit, as you can see below:
- Some platforms are doing better than others. If you consider YouTube a social media platform (it is by technicality, if not by normal usage), then it leads by far. Otherwise, TikTok has claimed the throne that Facebook once had only seven years ago. Instagram, owned by Meta, also has proven to be on the rise, as it is with the general population.
- Not all platforms are equal among all demographics, however. If you look at the Pew Research Center data, you’ll find that teen girls are much more likely to use TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat than boys. Boys, on the other hand, are more likely to use Twitch and Reddit (though not many teens overall use either, by comparison). In general, older teens are more likely to use social media than younger teens. And Black teens are likelier to use TikTok than White and Hispanic teens.
- And how do teens feel about their social media usage? It varies, but on the whole, they aren’t as worried as some might think they would be. About fifty-five percent of teens say they spend the right amount of time on social media. About 36 percent say they say too much time on social media. And unsurprisingly, only about eight percent of teens say they spend too little time on social media, likely feeling as though they are missing out on important updates. So, while many teens are at least a little worried about their consumption, most feel they have a decent relationship with social media.
- On the smartphone front, they’ve gone from being semi-luxury for teens to being nearly universal. About 95 percent of teens have access to a smartphone in 2022, up from 73 percent in 2014-15. In fact, teens are less likely to have access to a computer (whether desktop or laptop) than a smartphone. If teens are choosing not to be on social media, it probably isn’t for lack of access in most cases.
- Hand in hand with these devices and social media usage is internet access. About 97 percent of teens say they use or access the internet daily.
Unfortunately, we don’t have enough data for some facets yet. Much of the information we have comes from teens' self-reporting, which may not be as reliable as many would like. We also simply do not have enough data on the long-term effects of heavy smartphone and social media usage on young people, as the technologies haven’t been out and in a stable place long enough for researchers to make concrete judgments on the matter.
Social Media Addiction and Smartphone Dependency
The above statistics about social media and its effects on young people bring to mind a very important question: “Is any of this good for us?” While it is clear that social media allows people to connect, it has also been associated with many problems, and some people have a healthier relationship with it than others.
Addiction is a complex term, and some might argue that people cannot become addicted to their smartphones or social media as they can to alcohol or certain drugs. While social media and internet addiction or dependency might vary in definition, most people know it to some degree when they see it. And however someone might want to define it, the problem is simple: some people spend too much time on their smartphones to the degree that it negatively impacts other areas of their life.
So, let’s take a look at this issue and the key statistics surrounding it:
- Consider the following rates of self-reported addiction among adults. A fair number of people consider themselves completely addicted, and overall a third of all U.S. adults consider themselves partially addicted.
- It certainly makes sense that younger people are perhaps the most affected. And for those that are a little surprised about the rates of addiction among older age groups, remember that smartphones, or at least more modern cell phones, have been out for a while now. The people who are 40 and have an issue with smartphone usage now would have been 25 when smartphones really started to hit the market.
- Out of all demographics, young single women are addicted to social media the most. Though some traits, such as low-self esteem and a narcissistic personality, are correlated with addictive behavior related to social media. Overall, there is still much more studying to be done on the topic before we have clearer answers.
- We also already talked about teens to some degree, but they are one of the more at-risk groups for social media or smartphone addiction.
- Depression symptoms are twice as likely to show up in teens who spend five to seven hours a day on their smartphones. And unfortunately, millions of teens do just that. Whether smartphone usage causes or worsens depressive symptoms or the usage is just a result of the symptoms is something that requires more study.
- Some teens spend more than seven hours a day on social media. Given the average agenda of an American teen, this means that they are certainly doing so when they should likely be doing something else, and they are certainly using a smartphone to do so. And at that point, social media usage becomes a lifestyle and a habit that’s ingrained from a relatively early age, making it all the harder to quit.
- What are the signs of social media or smartphone addiction? We aren’t experts on mental health, and if you are concerned about it for yourself or a loved one, we recommend you consult a professional or seek further help. Still, be on the lookout for the following:
- A need to use smartphones or social media more to achieve the same effect.
- A total focus or preoccupation with smartphone and social media usage.
- A heavy sense of a loss of time when using a smartphone or social media.
- Withdrawal effects when a smartphone or network isn’t available.
- Putting important things, such as a job or relationship, at risk due to usage.
- Consistently turning to a smartphone or social media in response to undesired feelings.
- Others may be more specific to a person, and not all of the above might be present.
- What are some of the potential effects of this? First, it leads to people having a very unhealthy relationship with their smartphone and social media accounts. They cease to become tools and instead become the dominant force in someone’s life, despite it not being their career (in most cases) or terribly beneficial. People addicted to social media might also become more susceptible to other problems, scams, and money-spending opportunities on social media. Concerns also include the loss of relationships and the loss of time. In the most severe cases, someone might spend less time taking basic care of themselves to spend more time on social media.
- Which apps are the most addictive? While people will certainly go with their app(s) of choice, there are some frontrunners overall:
- TikTok gets much attention for being the most addictive, especially among young people. It has risen in less than a couple of years to be one of the most popular apps in the world, and that is not counting China which effectively has its own version of TikTok.
- Additionally, Facebook is notable for being quite addictive and is noted as such in quite a few articles and news stories. However, we have to wonder whether it is inherently more addictive to some people or whether addiction to it is more of a problem because it is the most popular social network.
- Instagram is much like Facebook in both its widespread appeal and some of. Going through your feed can be like a slot machine, and you never know what might come up next. And there is always, always more content to look at.
- Addiction and dependency aren’t the only negative effects of social media and always being able to access it from a smartphone. Social media disagreements among a couple account for a third of divorces (though there are likely greater issues at play as well). And the evidence on social media is often used in divorce court.
- FOMO is also a huge problem for some young adults when they aren’t online. About 34 percent of young adults (ages 18-24) experience uneasiness when they are not online. Additionally, 22 percent of them get restless when they are logged out, stating they cannot check messages. It does not appear to be much of an issue for older adults.
While social media or internet addiction is not new and didn’t come around with the birth of the smartphone, the fact that a smartphone is always available doesn’t help the issue. Additionally, people will spend more time on them. And we are generally seeing people spend more time on social media and their smartphones. In some cases, we will have to see how we as a society deal with this affliction.
Social Media and Mobile Marketing
While your own experience with it may vary, social media marketing, on the whole, works or at least competes with all the other forms of marketing out there. It can be personalized, there are plenty of options for businesses, and it is where the people are (think again about how much time people spend on social media). Therefore, think about how marketing can reach people on social media, the ads you see yourself, and if there are patterns or trends you notice. You’ll likely find they exist within larger movements going on in the world of social media. And given that social media is mostly used on smartphones, social media marketing is heavily an extension of mobile marketing.
Here are some of the most important things to know about social media marketing:
- Targeted ads are perhaps the biggest advantage social media has over other forms of marketing, and social media marketers know this. It’s not easy, and users will often ignore or block ads, but the campaigns do work if done well.
- Advertising on social media, usually in this targeted fashion, is even overtaking paid search when it comes to the money spent on it.
- Social media marketers are also using influencers on a much wider scale. About 93 percent of them utilize influencers in some capacity. Not only that, but there is a mixture of micro-influencers in particular niches and larger ones that impact a wider audience.
- And some social media networks are more conducive to social media marketing than others. Instagram, which has nearly always been the top of the pack for influencer marketing, has recently had a major increase in social media marketing. Facebook has seen a decent incline as well. TikTok is also a major player. However, TikTok also hasn’t been extremely popular long enough for us to draw too many concrete conclusions.
- While social media and mobile marketing are technically different things that heavily integrate into one another, we also cannot ignore just how important mobile marketing has become. Given that mobile usage, in general, has surpassed usage on desktops on other devices, companies are going to prioritize both mobile development and mobile marketing while still having a hand in more traditional forms of digital marketing (if there are such things).
- When it comes to personalized information, privacy, and marketing, it can be a bit of a paradox when it comes to social media. On the one hand, customers are six times more likely to purchase a product from a page with pictures from social media. On the other hand, privacy and data protection and extremely impactful to 52 percent of users’ decisions on whether to engage with marketing content on platforms (and “very impactful” to 23 percent). They are also highly concerned about deceptive content, meaning marketers are interested in ensuring social media networks are at least somewhat trustworthy in what is shown.
- There is also the matter of word of mouth on social media, which is much more likely to have an impact. Social media users will take a product recommendation from other users 37 percent of the time, while subject matter experts only get it 25 percent of the time. Only six percent of people will take a recommendation from a social media star, which is a slight hit to some forms of influencer marketing.
What to Expect from the Future
We should not think that things will stay the same as they are. More people are joining social media every day, and there are evolving technologies we are talking about. To that end, let’s talk about some of the expected developments for the next few years and what technologies might come into play:
- So it looks like the Metaverse isn’t doing well or even knows what it is. This might give a bad impression about the future of VR and AR in social media, but we wouldn’t count it out just yet. Just because the Metaverse model doesn’t look so great doesn’t mean both won’t be used or aren’t currently used in some capacity. We already have some forms of AR in the form of more advanced filters and on various eCommerce platforms. It might not happen overnight, but some social media platforms will implement the technologies using the hardware smartphones have to offer.
- We’ll also see plenty of experimentation with other features, most of them either not seeing the light of day or not lasting a few months before being forgotten. We might see more integration with shopping and payment options, for instance. As smartphones become more advanced, we’ll see some of the new features in them get test runs for social media, so to speak.
- And if we don’t get revolutionary changes with new technologies, we will see general improvements based on the incremental changes in smartphones and smartphone technology. The rollout of 5G will make streaming high-definition video all the easier. Better cameras on smartphones will mean better-looking videos and images from everyone (if not better composed). And audio quality will likely take a large leap as well.
- Simple expansion is another thing to expect, and it is almost obvious. Social media thrives on getting more people on their platforms and then having those people use the platform more. And social media is getting more competitive, not for getting people on the platform (market saturation pretty much exists for the major platforms), but for people’s time and attention. Algorithms will get more aggressive, as will apps. People might push back against this and try to find alternatives, but we will have to wait and see how things progress.
- The issue of monetization and return on the massive investments in social media will come more into play. Billions have been invested in various social media platforms since their founding, with investors hoping to get in early on the train. And currently, many networks are still running on hope and the promise of future profits. That won’t work forever. There must be some profit potential to be utilized, and social media networks are working heavily on that. Ads might either get more expensive for those wanting to run them
- We could also see a few other methods of monetization other than advertising get tried out. There might be premium programs for some social media users (perhaps to remove ads, as we see on Reddit or Twitch). Perhaps some perks or options could be added to users for a fee. And if more shopping options are added, a social media network could take a commission for sales on their platform, as is the case with many websites.
- And on top of it all, we can expect more controversy and headlines. People aren’t happy with a lot of what social media does or doesn’t do, whether primarily on smartphones or not. Billionaires trying to buy social media networks notwithstanding, social media regularly raises concerns about privacy and misinformation. While social media networks do take measures against the latter (if not always the former), there are calls to do more. This could lead to either preemptive action on the part of social media or government regulation in some countries.
There is no denying that smartphones and social media alike have shaped the 21st century and most of our lives in both good and bad ways. We are still trying to understand the effects on individuals and society alike, and this is all while smartphones and social media are evolving rapidly. Nonetheless, we hope you have a better idea of the connections between the two and that you can use this information in the future. Thank you for reading, and we invite you to return to this page as needed in the future.