12½ trillion hours spent online, a new milestone in internet adoption, and new records for social media use…
If you expected digital to return to “business as usual” in 2022, you may want to reset those expectations.
The new Digital 2022 Global Overview Report – published in partnership between We Are Social and Hootsuite – reveals that most of the connected world continues to grow faster than it did before the pandemic.
Big stories in this year’s report include:
- Double-digit growth in social media users
- Big gains for YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok
- New insights into the world’s social media preferences
- The rise of social commerce
- Significant increases in the cost of social media ads
- Some uncomfortable truths about advertising
We’ve also got a look back at the first ten years of the Global Digital Reports series.
At almost 8,000 words, this article’s a bit of a beast, so get yourself comfortable, and prepare for a full-on feast of facts and figures.
As always, I’d like to start by saying a very big thank you to the world-class data partners who’ve made this year’s reports possible, especially:
Just before we get into the numbers, I’d like to encourage all readers to review our detailed notes on data, to understand how changes in data sources and methodologies may impact this year’s numbers.
Alerts to highlight include:
- Internet users: delays in reporting due to COVID-19 may mean that figures for “year-on-year change” represent change over periods of more than one year.
- Social media users: big changes in platform reporting mean that various numbers included in this year’s reports are not directly comparable with figures for the same data points featured in our previous reports. Where we’ve been able to calculate representative growth figures, we’ve included those growth figures within this year’s reports, but where we haven’t included growth figures, it’s likely that any comparisons with historical data will deliver incorrect values. As a result, please avoid comparing social media users and advertising audience figures in this year’s reports with figures published in our previous reports.
But without further ado, let’s dive into the data…
Top 10 takeaways
I’d recommend starting with this video, which offers a handy summary of this year’s essential headlines and trends.
Once you’ve finished watching that, read on below for the full report.
You’ll find our Digital 2022 Global Overview Report in the SlideShare embed below (click here if that’s not working for you), but read on below for my complete analysis of this year’s top findings.
Here are the key figures you need to understand the ‘state of digital’ today:
- Global population: The world’s population stands at 7.91 billion in January 2022, with the annual growth rate of 1.0 percent suggesting that this figure will reach 8 billion sometime in mid-2023. Well over half (57.0 percent) of the world’s population now lives in urban areas.
- Global mobile users: More than two-thirds (67.1 percent) of the world’s population now uses a mobile phone, with unique users reaching 5.31 billion by the start of 2022. The global total has grown by 1.8 percent over the past year, with 95 million new mobile users since this time last year.
- Global internet users: Global internet users have climbed to 4.95 billion at the start of 2022, with internet penetration now standing at 62.5 percent of the world’s total population. Data show that internet users have grown by 192 million (+4.0 percent) over the past year, but ongoing restrictions to research and reporting due to COVID-19 mean that actual growth trends may be considerably higher than these figures suggest.
- Global social media users: There are 4.62 billion social media users around the world in January 2022. This figure is equal to 58.4 percent of the world’s total population, although it’s worth noting that social media “users” may not represent unique individuals (learn why). Global social media users have grown by more than 10 percent over the past 12 months, with 424 million new users starting their social media journey during 2021.
These numbers provide valuable context for digital adoption and growth, but in order to make sense of what people are actually doing online, we need to dig deeper into the numbers.
And the good news is that we’ve got lots of numbers to dig into…
A decade of digital growth
This year marks the tenth anniversary of the first global report in our Global Digital Reports series, so we can now look back over a full decade of digital data.
You can also find my comprehensive analysis of key trends over the past decade in this in-depth article.
Note that considerably more data is available today than it was at the time we produced many of our earlier reports though, so some of the figures I’ll cover below may not match those that we published in previous reports.
Internet user growth
Kepios analysis reveals that internet users have more than doubled over the past 10 years, climbing from 2.18 billion in 2021, to 4.95 billion at the start of 2022.
That results in a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 8.6 percent for the past decade as a whole, but – as you can see in the chart below – annual growth rates have fluctuated meaningfully from one year to another.
The latest data suggest that internet users grew by 192 million over the past 12 months, resulting in annual growth of just 4.0 percent in 2021.
However, we strongly suspect that this lower growth figure is more likely the consequence of challenges associated with collecting and reporting data during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and that these numbers don’t reflect the actual growth in internet users over the past year.
As a result, there’s a very good chance that we’ll report higher numbers for growth between 2021 and 2022 once newer data becomes available.
Social media user growth
Meanwhile, social media users have seen even faster growth than internet users over the past decade.
Today’s total of 4.62 billion social media users is 3.1 times higher than the 1.48 billion figure we published in 2012, and means that social media users have grown at a CAGR of 12 percent over the past decade.
Social media user growth has continued at a double-digit rate of 10.1 percent over the past 12 months too, but I confess I’m surprised that the growth rate between 2021 and 2022 has remained above pre-pandemic levels.
For context, the latest data indicate that 424 million users started their social media journey over the past year, equating to an average of more than 1 million new users per day, or roughly 13½ new users every single second.
However, anyone who had been wavering about joining social media before the pandemic struck would have been most likely to join during the early days of lockdown in 2020, so I’m hesitant to attribute any meaningful share of growth over the most recent 12 months to some kind of “COVID effect”.
Moreover, with social media users now equating to 58.4 percent of the world’s total population, we should expect to see growth rates start to decelerate over the next few years, and this may well be the last time that we report double-digit annual growth in social media users.
The good news is that we should see social media users reach the equivalent of 60 percent of the global population sometime in 2022 though, so even if growth rates do subside, the overall reach potential of social media should still offer plenty to get excited about.
Dig deeper: click here to learn more about what future digital growth rates might look like.
Ever fewer offline, but big challenges remain
Data reveal that the number of people who remain “unconnected” to theinternethas now dropped below 3 billion for the first time.
This marks a significant milestone in the world’s journey towards equal digital access, and has particular relevance as the role of connected devices has moved from luxury to lifeline, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the latest data also reveal that there’s plenty more work to do.
More than 1 billion people remain offline across Southern Asia, while almost 840 million people are yet to come online across Africa.
Meanwhile, despite accounting for roughly 1 in 5 of the world’s connected population, China is still home to more than 400 million of the world’s “unconnected”.
For context, the median age of the population plays an important role in shaping adoption levels across many parts of Africa, with more than half of the populations of several countries in the region still below the age of 20.
However, basic infrastructure challenges remain an important consideration too.
For example, in the Central African Republic – where internet adoption remains stubbornly low – barely 1 in 7 people currently has access to electricity, and the vast majority of people still don’t have access to basic sanitation either.
Furthermore, the excellent State of Mobile Internet Connectivity 2021 report from GSMA Intelligence reveals that 1 in 4 people across lower- and middle-income countries is still unaware of the existence of mobile internet.
In other words, hundreds of millions of people around the world may still not even know that the internet exists.
So, while the UN may have designated internet access a “basic human right”, there’s still a long way to go to ensure that everyone has equal access to what is arguably the most important innovation of our age.
Related: click here to learn more about the world’s top motivations for going online.
Social media favorites
When it comes to the world’s “favorite” social media platforms, GWI’s latest data reveals that Instagram has now overtaken Facebook to claim second place in the worldwide rankings.
It’s still a close call though: 14.8 percent of global internet users identify Instagram as their favorite platform, compared with 14.5 percent for Facebook.
However, yet another Meta platform – WhatsApp – tops the global rankings, with 15.7 percent of working-age internet users choosing the messenger app as their favorite social platform.
Interestingly, WeChat gains enough votes to rank fourth at a global level, despite a whopping 99 percent of the platform’s votes coming from users within Mainland China.
China is home to roughly 20 percent of the world’s total internet users though, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that the country’s social media users have such a big impact on these global rankings.
However, you may be more surprised to see TikTok gain just 4.3 percent of the total vote.
That doesn’t quite match the excitement TikTok generates in the media, but it’s worth noting that the number of people choosing TikTok as their favorite social platform has jumped by 71 percent in the past 90 days, and TikTok’s overall share of the vote has increased by 180 basis points in just 3 months.
Furthermore, App Annie reports that TikTok was the most-downloaded mobile app in 2021, and the platform continues to enjoy strong growth in ad reach too (more on that below).
As a result, we might expect to see TikTok make even bigger gains in these rankings over the coming months, so be sure to follow our quarterly Statshot reports in 2022 to keep track of its progress.
Dig deeper: take a closer look at how social media favorites vary by age and gender in this article.
Time spent using connected tech continues to rise
One of the top stories at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic was how much more the world came to depend on the internethttps://thenextweb.com/topic/internet, especially as countries entered lockdown.
However, despite fluctuations in movement restrictions over the past two years, the latest data show that people are in fact spending more time than ever using connected tech.
Research from GWI reveals that the “typical” global internet user now spends almost 7 hours per day using the internet across all devices.
For context, if we assume that the average person sleeps for roughly 7 to 8 hours per day, the typical internet user now spends more than 40 percent of their waking life online.
The amount of time we spend online continues to climb too, with the daily average increasing by 4 minutes per day (+1.0 percent) over the past year.
That may not sound like a big increase, but added up across all of the world’s internet users, those 4 extra minutes per day should equate to more than 5 billion additional days of internet use in 2022.
In total, the latest numbers suggest that the world should spend more than 12½ trillion hours online in 2022 alone.
As with most data points in our Global Digital Reports, however, there are considerable differences in time spent by geography.
South Africans now spend the greatest amount of time online each day, with the country’s working-age internet users saying that they spend an average of 10 hours and 46 minutes using connected tech every day.
Filipinos, Brazilians, and Colombians aren’t far behind, with the average internet user in those countries each spending more than 10 hours per day online.
At the other end of the scale, Japanese users spend the least amount of time online each day, with the national average still below 4½ hours per day.
It’s also interesting to note that China sits quite far down these rankings, with the country’s internet users saying they spend an average of 5 hours and 15 minutes per day online.
Social media time
At an average of 2 hours and 27 minutes per day, social media accounts for the largest single share of our connected media time, at 35 percent of the total.
The time we spend using social media has grown again over the past year too, up by 2 minutes per day (+1.4 percent).
However, social media’s share of overall internet time has actually fallen slightly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our analysis suggests that this is mainly because people have embraced a variety of new online activities over the past two years, so – relatively – social media now accounts for a smaller share of total online time than it did when people did fewer things online.
However, with the world set to spend more than 4 trillion hours using social media in 2022, there’s little doubt that social media still plays a central role in our everyday lives.
Dig deeper: click here to see how social media time compares with time spent watching TV.
Social media time by platform
But how does that social media time break down by platform?
Well, the good news is that the wonderful folks at App Annie have shared some great data with us this year that reveals how much time people spend using the Android apps of several top social platforms.
For context, handsets running Android account for roughly 7 in 10 smartphones in use around the world today, so – while these figures may not include all social media users – they still provide rich insights into how the world actually uses social media platforms.
Overall, App Annie’s data shows that YouTube accounts for the greatest total time spent using social media apps on Android phones, and it also clocks the highest average time per user.
App Annie’s research indicates that the typical YouTube user now spends almost a full day – 23.7 hours – per month using YouTube’s mobile app, but do take into account that the platform likely also collects video views on its website, as well as via embeds on third-party websites.
Facebook comes second in terms of total, cumulative time spent using social media apps, with Android users averaging 19.6 hours in the platform’s app each month.
TikTok users also clock in an average of 19.6 hours per month using the TikTok Android app, but because the platform has fewer overall users, TikTok only comes fifth in these rankings by cumulative time spent across all users.
WhatsApp comes third in terms of total time spent, with users spending an average of 18.6 hours per month using the messenger app on Android phones.
Instagram ranks fourth, but users spend considerably less time using the app each month compared with the rest of the top 5, at just 11.2 hours per month.
At 11.6 hours per month, LINE also sees impressive average use rates, but with considerably fewer users overall, it only places ninth in the global rankings by total time spent.
For context, the average monthly time per user has remained relatively stable across Facebook, YouTube, and WhatsApp over the past year.
Meanwhile, the time spent using Instagram has increased by 10 percent year over the year, equating to almost 1 additional hour of use per month.
However, TikTok has seen the biggest gains across the top 5 over the past 12 months.
TikTok’s users now clock in an extra 6 hours and 20 minutes per month using the platform’s Android app compared with this time last year, equating to a year-on-year increase of 48 percent.
It’s important to stress that these figures vary considerably per region, and local rankings can be quite different from this global picture.
Dig deeper: Explore local data for time spent across the top 5 platforms in the full Digital 2022 report (see embed at the top of this article).
Facebook is still the most-used social platform
Insights into people’s “favorite” platforms and the time they spend using each one are perhaps the most representative data points for marketers preparing a social media plan.
However, active user numbers still provide valuable benchmarks, especially when it comes to understanding a platform’s momentum.
Data published in Meta’s Q3 2021 investor earnings announcement confirms that Facebook is still the world’s most-used social media platform, with 2.91 billion users as of October 2021 (the latest “official” figure at the time of writing).
Facebook’s monthly active user base grew by a solid 6.2 percent (+170 million users) over the past year, despite already reaching more than half of its total potential audience by age and accessibility (note that Facebook is still blocked in China).
YouTube has closed the gap with Facebook over the past year though, with the platform’s audience growing almost twice as fast as Facebook’s.
YouTube now has at least 2.56 billion active users, which equates to roughly 88 percent of the latest Facebook total.
However, note that the figures we publish for YouTube are based on the platform’s ad audience, whereas the figures for Facebook represent total monthly active users.
Meta hasn’t published any official updates to global WhatsApp user numbers in the past year, but it’s likely that the platform still ranks third, with at least 2 billion active users per month.
Instagram ranks fourth at a global level, and has seen some of the fastest growth of any platform in the past year (you’ll find more detailed analysis of Instagram’s growth later in this article).
WeChat closes out the top five, with China’s favorite social media platform now claiming 1.26 billion monthly active users.
However, all eyes will doubtless be on TikTok, which currently sits in sixth place in these active user rankings.
Bytedance announced that the platform had passed 1 billion monthly active users back in September 2021, but the company has been characteristically tight-lipped since then, so that figure remains the latest “official” number.
However, it’s worth noting that TikTok’s active user base roughly doubled between December 2019 and September 2021, and with the platform still claiming top spot in the global app download charts, it’s almost certain that TikTok’s monthly active users continue to grow (more on that below).
Meanwhile, Meta hasn’t published an “official” monthly active user (MAU) number for Messenger since September 2017, so we’ve decided to use the platform’s latest ad audience reach figure in these rankings, instead of that older MAU headline.
Note that LinkedIn doesn’t publish active user numbers, which is why we’re unable to include it in this list.
Instagram keeps growing
The latest data published in Meta’s advertising resources shows that Instagram’s ad reach has jumped by an impressive 21 percent over the past year, despite important changes in how the company reports its ad audience numbers.
Meta’s own data suggests that more than a quarter of a billion new users joined Instagram during 2021, pushing the platform’s global ad reach to almost 1.5 billion users by the start of 2022.
What’s more, Instagram’s audience grew by more than 6 percent (+85 million users) in just the past 90 days, which suggests that its growth rates continue to accelerate.
Instagram has been