Twitter vs. Facebook vs. Instagram: An Overview

Social media helps billions of people worldwide stay connected, and Facebook (FB), Twitter (TWTR) and Instagram—owned by Facebook—are among the most successful social-media brands. Each of the three sites appeals to different demographics.

With over one billion users worldwide, Facebook tends to appeal to adults, while Twitter's active users tend to be younger, and Instagram’s are often between the ages of 18 and 29.

Launched in 1997, SixDegrees.com is believed to be one of the first social media sites.

Facebook

Since a substantial portion of the world’s population is actively using Facebook, “Who isn’t Facebook’s target market?” may be an easier question to answer. According to the company's website, 1.56 billion users around the world were active every day on the platform as of March 2019. On a monthly basis, Facebook reported an average of 2.38 billion active users globally as of March 31, 2019.

But let's break down the numbers a little more. For the year ending 2018, 214 million American adults used Facebook in the United States, according to market and consumer data site Statista. The site is especially popular among people 25 to 34, who accounted for 58.3 million of those users. While its user base is dominated by those over 25, Facebook still has more than 46 million users under the age of 25.

Facebook is more popular with middle-aged adults than other social networks. In the United States, 84% of users were between the ages of 30 and 49. Facebook is popular among those in rural, suburban, and urban areas, and those at every income level and educational background. There is also not much of a difference in usage among different ethnic backgrounds. The bottom line is, almost everyone who uses the internet as a means of communication is on Facebook regularly.

As one of the world's most anticipated initial public offering (IPO) in financial history, Facebook went public on May 18, 2012. It was the largest technology IPO ever, with a valuation of $104 billion or $38 per share. Facebook reported its fourth-quarter earnings on Jan. 30, 2019, raking in $16.91 billion in quarterly revenue which represented a 30.4% increase from the same period in 2017. The company makes its money primarily through digital advertising from targeted ads and user data. Revenue is also generated through video content and ads through its messenger service.

The company's largest shareholder is also its founder, CEO, and chairman, Mark Zuckerberg. As of August 2018, he held roughly 11.92 million Class A shares along with 392.71 million Class B shares in the company.

Since its founding, the company has grown by leaps and bounds, making a series of acquisitions. In 2012, Facebook acquired Instagram for $1 billion, and then purchased messaging and calling service WhatsApp for a reported $19 billion in 2014.

Twitter

Younger users depend on Twitter for news. No other medium in recent history has changed how news is distributed more than Twitter. The microblogging site allows users to keep up with events in a real-time news feed and charges advertisers to promote their targeted messages. According to Statista, 14% of Twitter’s 321 million active users in 2018 were between the ages of 18 and 24. Another 21% were between the ages of 25 and 34, and 19% between the ages of 35 and 44.

Internet users living in urban areas are more likely than their suburban or rural counterparts to use Twitter. The majority of regular Twitter users are male, while women tend to gravitate toward Facebook and Instagram. Twitter is more popular than other sites with the more affluent.

Although the number of Twitter users can't compare to Facebook's, the site has seen its numbers rise thanks, in part, to U.S. President Donald Trump. With more than 60 million followers, the outspoken Trump uses his Twitter account daily to make announcements and observations.

Twitter went public on Nov. 7, 2013, with shares set at $26 each for its IPO, valuing it at $14.2 billion. In its Q1 earnings report for 2019, the company's revenue totaled $787 million, an increase of 18% from the same period in 2018. The majority of Twitter's revenue comes from advertising through promoted tweets and accounts. The remainder of its revenue is generated through licensing and other sources.

Twitter's largest individual shareholder is co-founder Evan Clark Williams. As per a filing with the SEC on Oct. 10, 2018, the Twitter board member owned 1.4 million shares directly, along with another 18.3 million shares he held indirectly. Williams is a co-founder and general partner of Obvious Ventures, as well as the CEO of Medium.

Instagram

Young people cannot survive without Instagram. The photo- and video-sharing network has become completely entrenched in the lifestyles of younger internet users. The migration of youth from Facebook to photo-sharing social networking sites such as Instagram explains why 64% of its 500 million daily users are between the ages of 18 and 29.

Instagram was launched on Oct. 6, 2010.

More than half of American teens and people in their early twenties are on Instagram, and it is even more heavily used among higher-income youth. Americans in this demographic rely heavily on mobile devices, and posts to Instagram can only be made using one, adding to its popularity. In its infancy, Instagram was heavily skewed toward female users, and even as of 2018, 68% of its users were women.

Instagram was purchased by Facebook in 2012 for $1 billion and makes the majority of its money through advertising. The purchase was met with skepticism because the photo-sharing site didn't have revenue. But that changed, and the platform is said to be worth more than $100 billion, according to Bloomberg. And because Instagram is an app-based platform, it's helped Facebook shift from web browsers to mobile devices.

Key Takeaways

  • Facebook has universal appeal and is the most popular social network among middle-aged (in internet terms) users.
  • Twitter's audience skews younger than Facebook's and is primarily a source for news.
  • Instagram's users tend to be very young—in their teens and twenties—and very active and loyal.