Social Media: Definition, Effects, and List of Top Apps

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Social Media Definition

investopedia / Julie Bang

What Is Social Media?

Social media facilitates the sharing of ideas and information through virtual networks. From Facebook and Instagram to Twitter and YouTube, social media covers a broad universe of apps and platforms that allow users to share content, interact online, and build communities. More than 4.7 billion people use social media, equal to roughly 60% of the world’s population.

Today, social media messaging apps and platforms are the most commonly used sites worldwide. In early 2023, 94.8% of users accessed chat and messaging apps and websites, followed closely by social platforms, at 94.6% of users. Search engine sites were next, with 81.8% of users accessing them.

Key Takeaways

  • Social media is a digital technology that facilitates the sharing of content, multimedia, and information through virtual networks and communities.
  • There are more than 4.7 billion social media users around the world.
  • In 2022, the number of social media users worldwide grew by 137 million, or about 3%.
  • The largest social media platforms are Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram, and WeChat.
  • Social media typically features user-generated content and personalized profiles that lend themselves to engagement via likes, shares, comments, and discussion.

How Did Social Media Evolve?

Social media originated as a way to interact with friends and family, but soon expanded rapidly to serve many purposes. In 2004, MySpace was the first network to reach one million monthly active users.

As social media exploded in the years that followed with the entry of Facebook and Twitter, businesses gravitated toward these platforms as they could reach an audience instantly on a global scale.

On average, global users spent 2.24 hours each day on social networks in 2020, the highest across almost any media type.

Going further, according to Global Web Index, 46% of internet users worldwide get news through social media platforms. That compares to 40% of users who view news on websites. Gen Z and millennials were most likely to view news on social media sites versus other generations.

Social media plays a key role in businesses' marketing strategies given the sheer amount of time individuals spend each day on social platforms and apps. At the same time, social media is an ever-changing field. New apps such as TikTok, Signal, and Clubhouse have joined the ranks of established social networks like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram.

What Are Different Types of Social Media?

Social media may take the form of video sharing, social gaming, professional business networks, virtual worlds, review platforms, and beyond.

People use various social media applications to network career opportunities, find others across the globe with like-minded interests, and share their views across a social network. Governments and politicians utilize social media to engage with constituents and voters.

For businesses, social media is a key tool. Companies use the platform to find and engage with customers, drive sales through advertising and promotion, gauge consumer trends, and offer customer service or support.

Social media's ability to collect information helps businesses to focus on marketing efforts and market research. In this way, it helps promote products and services, as it enables the distribution of targeted, timely, and exclusive sales and coupons to would-be customers. Further, social media can help build customer relationships through loyalty programs linked to social media.

151 minutes

The average daily social media usage of internet users ages 16 to 64 worldwide.

What Are the Benefits of Social Media?

With hundreds of social media sites globally, these platforms offer users the ability to access information in real time, to connect, and find niche communities. On one hand, social media has helped many individuals find common ground with others online, making the world seem more interconnected and within reach. Yet on the other hand, social media is prone to spreading disinformation, creating polarization, and causing harmful psychological effects.

Still, according to a 2019 survey by Pew Research Center, people's use of social media is correlated with having more friends and more diverse personal networks, especially within emerging economies. For 80% of teenagers, social media allows them to feel more connected to peers, according to a 2022 Pew Research Center survey of U.S. teens ages 13 to 17. Overall, one in three said that social media has had a mostly positive effect on them, while 59% said it had neither a positive nor a negative effect.

Businesses are also using social media marketing to target their consumers, establish a following in order to build a loyal fan base, and create a culture behind their own brand. According to Facebook, more than 200 million small businesses use their platform for marketing purposes. Separately, 90% of marketers say they use Facebook for promotion. 

In 2022, social media and search advertising spending made up roughly 55% of overall ad spending globally. It is also the fastest-growing category across advertising channels.

What Are the Top Social Media Sites?

Facebook is the largest social media platform in the world with over 2.9 billion users, though it has similar audiences to other platforms, such as Twitter and Instagram. Here are the figures for the most popular social media websites as of January 2023:

  1. Facebook (2.96 billion users)
  2. YouTube (2.51 billion users)
  3. WhatsApp (2 billion users)
  4. Instagram (2 billion users)
  5. WeChat (1.31 billion users)
  6. TikTok (1.05 billion users)
  7. Facebook Messenger (931 million users)
  8. Douyin (715 million users)
  9. Telegram (700 million users)
  10. Snapchat (635 million users)

What Is the Use of Social Media?

Social media allows individuals to keep in touch with friends and extended family. Some people will use various social media applications to network and find career opportunities, connect with people across the globe with like-minded interests, and share their own thoughts, personal updates, and insights online.

What Are the Six Types of Social Media?

The six types of social media, though this can be broken down in many ways, include social networking, bookmarking, social news, media sharing, microblogging, and online forum sites.

What Are the Top 10 Social Media Apps?

Globally, the top 10 social media apps are Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram, WeChat, TikTok, Facebook Messenger, Douyin, Telegram, and Snapchat.

What Is the Most Popular Social Media?

The most popular social media site is Facebook, with over 2.9 billion users.

What Is Social Media Marketing?

Social media marketing is the use of social networks in order to market a company's products, such as through Facebook or Instagram ads, using influencers, or otherwise building an online presence to engage with customers.

The Bottom Line

Social media has reshaped our lives, capturing more than 4.7 billion users worldwide and counting. Whether or not each platform resonates with you personally, it offers a gateway for people and brands to connect across different interests or communities. From a business marketing perspective, it provides a vital way to promote to a vast audience, target customers, and incentivize them to ultimately make a purchase across digital channels.

Article Sources
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  2. Global Web Index. "The Global Media Landscape."

  3. Our World in Data. "The Rise of Social Media."

  4. Pew Research Center. "2. Social Media Users More Likely to Interact With People Who Are Different From Them."

  5. Pew Research Center. "Connection, Creativity, and Drama: Teen Life on Social Media in 2022."

  6. Facebook. "Fourth Quarter 2020 Results Conference Call."

  7. Statista. "Leading Social Media Platforms Used by Marketers Worldwide as of January 2022."

  8. Zenith. "Zenith Forecasts 4.5% Growth for 2023 After 7.3% Uplift in 2022, Marking Continued Healthy Growth."