Social Media Plagued By Privacy Concerns and Addiction, New Study Says

October 7, 2019 Author: Mario X. Carrasco

The state of social media in 2019 is one of seemingly conflicting data points. We are more addicted to social media than ever, yet privacy concerns are driving us to seek sanctuary in private messaging apps like WhatsApp. Almost 30% of adult social media users are “under the influence” of social media influencers. Yet, a third of users feel like brands take advantage of them when they’re on the platforms. This dichotomy is the playground on which digital marketers find themselves where engaging consumers isn’t just a game of numbers, but one of strategy and sensitivity to growing privacy concerns.

In our new report, ThinkNow Social™ 2019, we explore social media consumption and perceptions among a representative group of U.S. consumers. Key takeaways from the study include:

  • Social media influencers still hold weight among critical audiences such as Females, Teenagers, and Hispanics.
  • Social media addiction is real, and marketers should understand the implications of the potential backlash.
  • Consumers are increasingly aware of being targeted on social media and are taking steps to avoid being targeted.

Social Media Influencers Still Matter

Many articles have come out recently signaling the demise of social media influencers. However, based on our research, the influence of social media influencers is alive and well. Twenty-six percent of adults surveyed pay attention to what social media influencers recommend in terms of products, services or brands:

Social Media Influencers

Delving deeper into the different cohorts, females and adults, in general, under 39 years of age, are the most likely to pay attention to social influencers. Teenagers, unsurprisingly, are the most likely to listen to influencers of all cohorts. Additionally, one-third of Hispanics, who tend to over-index on social media use, pay attention to social media influencers.

Females, who drive nearly 80% of all consumer purchasing decisions, teenagers, and Hispanics, are critical audiences for nearly all brands in the U.S. Omitting social media influencer strategy from your overall marketing plan leaves a gaping hole, especially when you factor in the impact influencers exert over these audiences.

Social Media Addiction Is Real

According to our research, about 30% of adults say they are at least somewhat addicted to social media:

Addicted to Social Media

This sentiment is more pronounced among women, young adults, and teenagers. About half of the teenagers surveyed say they are addicted, ranking the highest of any group.

Our findings are consistent with scholarly studies that discuss the correlation between social media use, addiction, and health and mental disorders in users, especially among children. FOMO, or the fear of missing out, is everything to young people, and the stress of not being included can contribute to many other factors.

In a 2018 systematic review and meta-analysis, problematic Facebook use was shown to have negative effects on well-being in adolescents and young adults, and psychological distress was also found with problematic use. Frequent social media use was shown in a cohort study in 15- and 16-year-olds to have a modest association with self-reported symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder followed up over two years. – Wikipedia


For marketers, it is important to be aware of social media addiction, whose effects have been compared to that of “drug addiction,” and courageous enough not to capitalize on it. Balance is key here. While social media marketing is critical to almost any fully integrated marketing campaign, it should be deployed responsibility.

Consumers Are Aware Of Social Media Targeting

In addition to social media addiction, marketers must be fully engaged in the conversation on privacy. Privacy breaches have been the headline for social media for at least a couple of years now, and consumers are paying attention and acting. Our study shows that approximately 25% of adults use private social media apps to avoid being targeted by brands.


That’s right. A quarter of social media users surveyed are hiding behind “end to end encryption” to protect their messages, pictures, and videos from marketers. Which means, there are no breadcrumbs of purchase intent to follow. Users ages 23-38, a key demographic for many brands, are leading the rebellion. It will become increasingly important for brands to consider these factors in their marketing strategies and be prepared to integrate other channels to possibly supplement the data they are losing when consumers go dark.

What It All Means

Despite its challenges, social media has staying power. It has become too ingrained in our everyday life to release its talons any time soon. But how it’s used will continue to evolve as brands learn how to navigate stricter privacy laws and consumers' growing intolerance of sponsored content. And social media influencers may still help boost brand awareness, but #sponsored isn’t the same thing as bona fide reviews.

So, social media marketers have got their work cut out for them. But, keeping the consumer at the forefront of the strategy will put guardrails around your strategy and keep you on the road.

Download this study.