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Pew Report: Facebook Most Popular Platform for Seeking Information

by on July 1, 2016

When you think of finding the latest breaking news updates online, which social network comes to mind?  The Pew Research Center recently published a report on a survey it conducted between January and February, 2016, with 4,654 members of the center’s American Trends Panel. The survey examined news-seeking habits of adults across social media platforms.[1] For libraries, these survey findings provide insight on how to best reach patrons on social media as well as how adults find information online.

Diving Into the Survey Results

According to Pew, the majority (62 percent) of U.S. adults gets news on social media, and 18 percent answered that they do so often. These numbers have shifted from a slightly different Pew survey from 2013, where 49 percent of adults reported “seeing news” on social media. The new study removed three sites (Pinterest, Myspace, and Google+) and added one (Snapchat).Here are a few other key results when it comes to news on social media platforms:

  • Seventy percent of Reddit users receive news through the platform (up 8 percent from data reported in 2013)
  • Sixty-six percent of Facebook users receive news through the platform (up 19 percent from 2013)
  • Fifty-nine percent of Twitter users receive news through the platform (up 7 percent from 2013)
  • Thirty-one percent of Tumblr users receive news through the platform (up 2 percent from in 2013)

The study also examined the reach of these social networks among U.S. adults. Facebook is the largest social network and reaches 67 percent of U.S. adults. Pew writes, “The two-thirds of Facebook users who get news there, then, amount to 44 percent of the general population [of the United States].” By comparison, at 48 percent, YouTube has the second largest reach in terms of use among U.S. adults. But only about 10 percent of YouTube users reported that they get news from the video platform.[2]

How Social Media Users Find the News

In terms of news-seeking habits, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram users are more likely to find news “by chance” when they are doing other online activities. On the flipside, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Reddit news users are evenly divided between seekers (those who actively look for news) and non-seekers (those who find it by chance).

This makes sense as Reddit has forums dedicated to news topics (such as an election or a natural disaster). Twitter, on the other hand, has become a favored tool for journalists, professional and amateur, who “live tweet” events as they occur. The Pew Research Center covered the live-tweeting phenomenon after Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast.[3]

The Impact for Libraries

When libraries are sharing news with patrons, whether it’s about an upcoming program, a local bond measure, or an event relevant to the community, it’s important to consider the right platform. From Pew’s findings, it is apparent that Facebook is probably your best bet for sharing such information.

Libraries should be aware, however, of Facebook’s Edgerank algorithm for pages. Edgerank determines what posts people see and where they show up in people’s feeds. In other words, despite Facebook being the best place to share news, your community might not actually see your posts.[4] Thankfully, there are a few strategies you can take to use Edgerank to your advantage, which are detailed in this TechSoup for Libraries blog post.

This survey report is also useful for library staff in understanding how patrons find time-sensitive information. If it comes from Facebook or any other social network, however, librarians might need to assist a patron with verifying that the information is factual and correct.

[1] Jeffrey Gottfried and Elisa Shearer, “News Use Across Social Media Platforms 2016,” Pew Research Center, May 26, 2016.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Bruce Drake, “Twitter Served as a Lifeline of Information during Hurricane Sandy,” Pew Research Center, October 28, 2013.
[4] Michael Patterson, “A Guide to the Facebook News Feed Algorithm,” Sprout Social, January 26, 2015.

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