Digital 2019: Global Internet Use Accelerates

Special reports
Simon Kemp

We Are Social and Hootsuite’s latest collection of Global Digital 2019 reports reveals that internet users are growing by an average of more than one million new users every day, with all of the original ‘Next Billion Users’ now online.

The number of people using the internet has surged over the past year, with more than one million people coming online for the first time each day since January 2018. It’s not just internet users that have been growing either, as the extensive new collection of Digital 2019 reports from Hootsuite and We Are Social reveals.

We’ll explore all of the key trends and insights from this year’s reports in detail below, but here are the essential headlines you need in order to understand ‘Digital in 2019’:

With thousands of charts across more than 200 global and local reports, this year’s Global Digital series is one of the most comprehensive and up-to-date studies of today’s connected world. This article and the SlideShare embed above distil the essential headlines, trends, and insights you need in order to make sense of digital in 2019.

Before we get into the analysis though, thanks to all of the wonderful data partners who’ve made this year’s series of reports possible, in particular:

GSMA Intelligence
App Annie

Internet users in 2019
2018 really was another year of impressive growth across all things digital. However, perhaps the most compelling story in this year’s numbers is that internet user growth actually accelerated in the past year, with more than 366 million new users coming online since we published our Digital 2018 reports.

Our latest internet data – collected and synthesised from a wide variety of reputable sources – shows that internet users are growing at a rate of more than 11 new users per second, which results in that impressive total of one million new users each day. It’s worth noting that some of this growth may be attributable to more up-to-date reporting of user numbers, but that doesn’t detract from the implications of this growth.

Internet user behaviours in 2019
The ways in which people use the internet are evolving quickly too, with mobile accounting for an ever-increasing share of our online activities. We’ll dig into the specifics of mobile and app use in the dedicated mobile section below, but it’s worth noting here that mobile phones now account for almost half the time that people spend on the internet.

On average, the world’s internet users spend 6 hours and 42 minutes online each day. That’s down slightly on last year’s figure of 6 hours and 49 minutes, but our suspicion is that this drop may be in part due to the large number of new users who are still learning how to use the internet, and who use the internet less than those more seasoned users who turn to their connected devices hundreds of times each day.

But what are the world’s 4.4 billion internet users actually doing online for those 6½ hours each day?

As you might expect, Google continues to dominate the rankings of the world’s most visited websites, with both SimilarWeb and Alexa putting the search giant at the top of their tables. Alphabet’s ‘other’ big platform – YouTube – comes in at number two on both lists, while Facebook takes the third spot.

Social media platforms feature strongly on both companies’ lists, and it’s interesting to note that Twitter continues to show strong results in website rankings, despite its eroding user base (more on that in the social media section below).

E-commerce sites have been steadily rising through the ranks of these lists over the course of the past year, and Alexa’s latest data puts 5 e-commerce sites in the top 20 ranking. Chinese platforms are particularly well represented this year, and it’s worth highlighting that both Taobao and Tmall now rank higher than Amazon in terms of global traffic.

‘Adult’ sites continue to feature strongly in SimilarWeb’s rankings too, although Alexa’s data tells a slightly different story. Either way, the numbers all indicate that people spend a lot of time consuming adult content.

GlobalWebIndex reports that 92 percent of internet users now watch videos online each month, meaning that more than 4 billion people around the world are consuming online video content in early 2019. For context, roughly 6 billion people around the world have a television set at home, based on data reported by the ITU.

The ways in which people ‘interface’ with the internet are changing too. The use of voice control tools increased significantly during 2018, with roughly four in every ten internet users now using voice commands or voice search every month.

Social media users in 2019
Our full suite of Digital 2019 reports include extensive insights into people’s use of the world’s top social platforms in more than 230 countries and territories around the world. These in-depth numbers tell a mixed story though, with some platforms showing impressive growth over the past 12 months, and others starting to lose ground.

Worldwide social media user numbers have grown to almost 3.5 billion at the start of 2019, with 288 million new users in the past 12 months pushing the global penetration figure to 45 percent. Social media use is still far from evenly distributed across the globe though, and penetration rates in parts of Africa are still in the single digits.

Social media behaviours in 2019
The amount of time that people spend on social media has increased again this year, albeit very slightly. GlobalWebIndex reports that the average social media user now spends 2 hours and 16 minutes each day on social platforms – up from 2 hours and 15 minutes last year – which equates to roughly one-third of their total internet time, and one-seventh of their waking lives.

It’s worth noting that the time spent on social media varies considerably across cultures though, with internet users in Japan spending an average of just 36 minutes on social media each day. At the other end of the scale, Filipinos continue to spend the most time on social media, with this year’s average of 4 hours and 12 minutes reflecting an increase of 15 minutes per day (6 percent) versus the average that we reported last year.

Top social media platforms in 2019
Despite a troubling year in 2018, Facebook maintains its top platform ranking in early 2019, and – contrary to ongoing media hysteria – there’s little evidence to suggest that people are leaving the platform in any significant numbers.

In fact, Facebook’s monthly active users (MAU) numbers grew steadily across the past 12 months, and the platform’s latest earnings announcement reports year-on-year user growth of almost 10 percent. The platform’s five-year growth chart looks pretty impressive too.

Despite some leadership hurdles in 2018, Instagram posted some strong numbers over the past 12 months. Back in June, the company announced that it had passed the 1 billion ‘active accounts’ mark, and although the company later clarified that this figure did not represent unique users, the milestone was no less impressive.

The platform’s latest advertising audience figures show that this strong performance has continued into 2019, with active users growing by more than 4 percent in the past 3 months to reach an advertising audience of 895 million active users around the world at the time of writing.

2018 was less favourable to Twitter, who reported declines in global active users in their two past earnings announcements. This downward trend is clearly visible in the platform’s advertising audience numbers too, which indicate that Twitter’s total addressable audience has fallen by 1.5 percent since October. Twitter’s advertising audience also skews significantly towards men, with the platform reporting that almost two-thirds of its addressable audience is male.

Snapchat’s latest numbers tell an even more worrying story than Twitter’s. The company’s latest earnings announcements have shown steady declines in daily active users, but the company’s advertising audience figures show some even more precipitous drops.

Snapchat’s total addressable audience sits at 306.5 million at the start of 2019, down more than 10 percent since October (note that this number is based on the figures published by Snapchat itself, in the platform’s own advertising tools).

Mobile users in 2019
The number of people around the world who use a mobile phone increased by 100 million in 2018, with the global total reaching more than 5.1 billion users by January 2019. This figure brings worldwide mobile penetration to 67 percent – more than two-thirds of the total global population.

Smartphones now account for two-thirds of global mobile connections. With roughly 5.5 billion smartphones in use across the world today, it’s little surprise that the mobile app market is booming.

More than 2.5 billion ‘feature phone’ handsets are still in use around the world though, while cellular ‘internet of things’ (IoT) connections have reached almost 300 million.

E-commerce users in 2019
We’ll finish this year’s analysis on another high point. The latest data from Statista’s Digital Market Outlook studies show that e-commerce spend has grown by 14 percent year-on-year, with the company estimating that full-year 2018 spend on consumer goods alone topped US$1.78 trillion.

At 17 percent, Fashion & Beauty posted the strongest growth over the past year, with annual global spend in the category now topping half a trillion US dollars. However, online travel and accommodation bookings accounted for the largest share of consumer e-commerce spending in 2018, with users around the world spending a combined US$750 billion on online travel over the course of the full year.

The local picture

So… what’s next?
Hopefully, that extensive (!) roundup of key data points has given you a thorough grasp of digital today, but let’s finish up by taking a look at the year ahead. But this isn’t a predictions piece; rather, it’s an extension of the trends that I’ve been seeing in this year’s data.

1. Voice control will increase in importance: the next phase of internet growth will come almost entirely from developing markets. However, as you can see in the chart below, many of these countries suffer from lower levels of literacy compared to the countries that dominate the internet today.

As a result, global platforms like Google, Facebook and Amazon will look for more user-friendly interfaces to serve these new users, and voice looks set to dominate these efforts, at least in the near term. For clarity though, this isn’t a story about the rise of smart speakers in Africa; rather, it’s about a complete and revolutionary change in the way people interact with connected content and devices.

2. The social landscape will evolve: with some of the world’s top social platforms losing users over extended periods, it’s likely that we’ll see some attrition and consolidation in the social media industry over the coming months. If current downward trends continue, we can expect investors in both Twitter and Snapchat to increase pressure on those companies’ boards to accept an offer of acquisition.

At the same time, it feels like ‘the next big innovation’ is already overdue. However, this isn’t about the move to the ‘stories’ format, much as that will inevitably be one of the biggest stories in social media in 2019. Rather, my sense is that privacy concerns, changes in people’s social media preferences and behaviours, and broader fatigue with existing platforms will all combine to inspire a series of new social platforms in 2019, perhaps making use of new innovations like SOLID. This would fundamentally change the very fabric of business on the internet though, so expect to see plenty of resistance from the ‘Four Horsemen’.

3. Marketing as a service: looking behind the scenes of the brands that achieve the greatest success on the internet, it becomes apparent that many of them share something in common: they treat marketing as a service. Rather than pumping out endless corporate propaganda and trite advertising, these brands use their marketing budgets to create things of value for their audiences. Whether it’s something as simple as a valuable how-to video on YouTube, or a large scale event that puts the audience at the heart of the action, this ‘marketing as a service’ is the only antidote to ongoing media inflation and the audience shift from newsfeeds to stories.

This is an edited version of Simon Kemp’s complete Digital 2019 analysis, which you can read in full over on DataReportal.