We know social media is huge – it’s everywhere! But how popular is it around the world, with whom, and why?

In our new study, Social for Everyone, we delved into these questions. To find answers, we spoke to over 40,000 participants across 35 markets via online surveys and 91 participants in 16 markets via interviews, online journals and dinner discussions. Here’s what we learned:

Social media has a massive presence in people’s lives. Globally, 86% of people aged 12 to 54 have a social media account. It’s popular among all ages and both genders. Even among kids aged 6 to 11, close to half (44%) use social media. It’s entrenched in everyone’s daily routines, with 76% of people 12 to 54 checking in at least every 6 hours.

The benefits of social media outweigh the drawbacks. There is a perception that too much social media is bad for you – and users do have their concerns. Over half (55%) say they worry about social media in some form, 48% say they worry about posted pictures or stories causing problems for them in the future, and 36% worry about online bullying. But their overall sentiment is positive, with 82% saying that social media positively affects at least one area of their life – such as relationships, work, social life, or political involvement. Just 30% feel that social media has a negative impact upon any of these areas.

Social media addresses many of our core human needs. By connecting people, social media has 4 key practical and emotional benefits:

  • Enhancing and strengthening relationships. The majority (78%) feel that social media has a positive impact on their relationships with a range of people, especially friends (67%), siblings (57%) and parents (46%). Just 1 in 5 feel that social media has a negative effect on their relationships.
  • Converting strangers with shared passions into friends. Social media creates a whole new definition of friend, removing limitations of location and situation so people can connect with others who share their interests. In 2012, global 12- to 30-year-olds had an average of 26 online “friends” that they had not met in person. In 2017, this number nearly tripled to 69 friends.
  • As a source of new discoveries and inspiration. More than 8 in 10 say the internet has introduced them to new things they wouldn’t have discovered otherwise. And social media is a platform for creativity and social expression, with 80% of 12- to 54-year-olds expressing themselves visually on social media using photos, videos, clip art, emojis, or gifs.
  • Giving people a voice. Around the world, people are feeling their power – 75% consider themselves “empowered,” up from 68% in 2012. Social media unites people and helps them spread their messages further, facilitating activism and cultural conversation. People perceive social media as a source of collective power, with two-thirds saying they believe the internet is more powerful than any government.

And of course, social media is just plain fun. The main reasons people use social media are to keep in touch with friends and family, for pure entertainment, and to kill time. The platforms they use most for entertainment are Snapchat (41%), Instagram (41%), Tumblr (41%), and Facebook (39%).