Time Is Money. We’re Spending Both On Social Media.

We spend a lot of our time on social media. For businesses, that’s a great thing; you don’t need customers to leave home to spend money. But just how much of our day is spent scrolling?

I’ve always been fixated on the way we talk about time. Even as a young kid, it weighed heavily on my mind that we spent time or saved time, no different than what we did with a few dollars. Time is money, and ask plenty of folks and they’d say they’d like more of both. 

If we dedicate a lot of time to work, then what we do with free time (see, there it is again) means every minute off the clock is even more valuable. So, why do we choose to spend so much of our time on social media? Exactly how much time do we spent scrolling?

There’s a lot of research into consumer habits on social media. Luckily, because companies like Facebook and Twitter are data farms as much as anything, there is almost no limit to the amount of granular data on user behaviors, including how much of our day is spent staring at a screen. In 2019, the average social media user spent 144 minutes on sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or others. That’s a lot, but the change is even more telling. That 144 minutes was a 62% jump since 2012. In the US, the average is touch less, approximately two hours and six minutes. It’s South America who sees the most pixels, clocking in at a whopping three hours and ten minutes. 

It is important to remember that this isn’t all wasted time, either. (I’m leaning heavily on that, bear with me). Social media connects people that would otherwise have limited means to share ideas. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter are incredible tools for community-community building, sharing resources, and spreading both information and, unfortunately, misinformation as well. Users invest so much time on social media because they like it. Even teens, the age group that sees the most concern about platforms like Snapchat and TikTok, have plenty of positive things to say about these apps. 

The opportunity cost of social media has some very important consequences, however. Every minute we spend on Instagram is a moment of our finite lives that could have been spent elsewhere. That could have been spent with our families, exercising, reading and learning, working for real income, or even simply sleeping. All of those are activities that are affected by social media use, and they matter. 

Holding the same pattern of social media use in 2020 for the length of an average American lifespan, we’re going to spend a lot of time on our phones. If current patterns stay the same (and rest assured, they won’t) then we can expect to have spent roughly six years and eight months on social media. According to the Bureau of Labor, that’s more than the accumulative time we’ll spend doing chores, socializing, shopping, or eating and drinking. 

Of course, as marketers, it’s important to make it clear that time on social media is certainly shopping. Ads on social media hit $90 billion in 2019, and even in the midst of a global pandemic and recession, that ad spend is still expected to increase by as much as 5%. Brands essentially have more than half of the world’s total population, 3.8 billion people, are in a position to spend money for more than two hours a day. Especially with social distancing guidelines in place and consumer confidence sliding, an online presence is a lot more than a short-term solution; it’s the accelerated future arriving early.