That’s the average amount of time, the company said, that users spend each day on its Facebook, Instagram and Messenger platforms (and that’s not counting the popular messaging app WhatsApp).
Maybe that doesn’t sound like so much. But there are only 24 hours in a day, and the average person sleeps for 8.8 of them. That means more than one-sixteenth of the average user’s waking time is spent on Facebook.
That’s more than any other leisure activity surveyed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with the exception of watching television programs and movies (an average per day of 2.8 hours). It’s more time than people spend reading (19 minutes); participating in sports or exercise (17 minutes); or social events (four minutes). It’s almost as much time as people spend eating and drinking (1.07 hours).
“When you really think about it, 50 minutes is a tremendous amount of time — it’s huge,” said Ken Sena, a managing director and analyst at Evercore who covers consumer internet companies. “Usually, when a platform expands its user base, the average time spent goes down, because a lot of new people aren’t that active.”
But the average time people spend on Facebook has gone up — from about 40 minutes in 2014 — even as the number of monthly active users has surged. And that’s just the average. Some users must be spending many hours a day on the site, prone to the unofficial syndrome known as Internet Addiction Disorder.
“They’re doing a tremendous job of finding ways to keep people on the site,” Sena said.
Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, disclosed the 50 minutes metric almost as an aside during the company’s earnings call last month. But it could well have been the opening slide in his presentation, because time has become the holy grail of digital media.
Time is the best measure of engagement, and engagement correlates with advertising effectiveness. Time also increases the supply of impressions that Facebook can sell, which brings in more revenue (a 52% increase last quarter to $5.4 billion).
And time enables Facebook to learn more about its users — their habits and interests — and thus better target its ads. The result is a powerful network effect that competitors will be hard pressed to match.
Ranked by average time spent on the platform, Facebook has few rivals. According to the latest data from comScore, the only one that comes close is Alphabet’sYouTube, where users spent an average of 17 minutes a day. That’s less than half the 35 minutes a day users spent on Facebook (comScore’s data, unlike Facebook’s 50 minutes, is derived only from users in the United States).
Users spent an average of nine minutes on all of Yahoo’s sites, two minutes onLinkedIn and just one minute on Twitter, according to comScore. No wonder Twitter struggles to attract ads.
People spending the most time on Facebook also tend to fall into the prized 18-to-34 demographic sought by advertisers.
“Generally speaking, higher usage on Facebook skews to younger users, and toward millennials specifically,” said Andrew Lipsman, vice president for marketing and insights at comScore. “You hear a narrative that young people are fleeing Facebook. The data show that’s just not true. Younger users have a wider appetite for social media, and they spend a lot of time on multiple networks. But they spend more time on Facebook by a wide margin.”
The surging popularity of Facebook and other social media naturally brings up some questions: What aren’t Facebook users doing during the 50 minutes they spend there? Is it interfering with work (and productivity), or, in the case of young people, studying and reading?
That data is hard to come by. For one thing, people don’t want to admit in surveys that they are using social media when they are supposed to be doing something else.
While the Bureau of Labor Statistics surveys nearly every conceivable time-occupying activity (even fencing and spelunking), it doesn’t specifically tally the time spent on social media, both because the activity may have multiple purposes — both work and leisure — and because people often do it at the same time they are ostensibly engaged in other activities, according to a bureau spokeswoman.
The closest category would be “computer use for leisure,” which has grown from eight minutes in 2006, when the bureau began collecting the data, to 14 minutes in 2014, the most recent survey. Or perhaps it would be “socializing and communicating with others,” which slipped from 40 minutes to 38 minutes.But time spent on most leisure activities hasn’t changed much in those eight years of the bureau’s surveys. Time spent reading dropped from an average of 22 minutes to 19 minutes. Watching television and movies increased from 2.57 hours to 2.8. Average time spent working declined from 3.4 hours to 3.25. (Those hours seem low because much of the population, which includes both young people and the elderly, does not work.)
The bureau’s numbers, since they cover the entire population, may be too broad to capture important shifts among important demographic groups. ComScore reported that television viewing (both live and recorded) dropped 2% last year, and it said younger viewers in particular were abandoning traditional live television. People ages 18-34 spent just 47% of their viewing time on television screens, and 40% on mobile devices. Among those 55 and older, 70% of their viewing time was on television, according to comScore. So among young people, much social media time may be coming at the expense of traditional television.
Lipsman of comScore said he was skeptical social media use could be blamed for stagnating productivity or a decline in educational standards. He said comScore’s data suggests that people are spending on average just six to seven minutes a day using social media on their work computers.
“I don’t think Facebook is displacing other activity,” he said. “People use it during downtime during the course of their day, in the elevator, or while commuting, or waiting. That’s the biggest driver of so much of this engagement.”