How do UK online shoppers learn about brands on social media?

Published on 15/06/2022 by Eduardo Garcia

Social media can provide a great platform to build awareness of your product or service, but where should you focus your efforts? What do you need to know about consumers’ social media usage before you define your social media marketing strategy? We surveyed over 1,000 UK online shoppers to discover how they engage on social networks and what content they prefer from their brands.

Image of a consumer using social media to look for brands and make a purchase

Social media platforms provide a channel for businesses to reach out to new audiences, engage with customers, and drive brand awareness. With UK internet users spending an average of nearly two hours per day on their social feeds, businesses have been quick to react to this high social media usage. It is little surprise that ad spending on social media for brands in the UK is expected to reach £8.95bn by 2023

Businesses need to understand consumer behaviour on social networks to nurture relationships with potential customers, but this requires agility, as social media platforms continuously shift to adapt to new habits and customer demands. 

To find out about online consumers’ activity on social media, we surveyed 1,005 UK social media users who shop online at least once every six months. A detailed methodology of this survey can be found at the end of this article.

Facebook is the platform most used by online consumers

Although media outlets began to report early this year on the decline of Facebook users in the UK, it wasn’t long before the social media platform stopped losing users

Facebook is the social media network most used by the online consumers surveyed, with 81% of respondents using the platform. This was followed by WhatsApp, used by 69% of respondents, with Instagram (50%), Twitter (38%), and TikTok (28%) closing the top five. 

The top three most used social networks all belong to the same company, Meta, but provide slightly different services. For example, Whatstapp is an instant-messaging app, whereas Instagram is a content promotion site that focuses on photo and video-sharing.

Different age groups prefer different social networks

Different social media platforms can appeal to diverse age groups. Meta’s social networks feature among the top four social media platforms for all respondents. However, the most popular apps vary depending on the age group. Facebook features in pole position for every generation, barring Generation Z (born 1996 onwards), who prefer to use Instagram and WhatsApp. In this age group, TikTok and Snapchat are also used nearly as much as Facebook.

Knowing that different age groups use and prefer different apps is important when it comes to refining social media marketing strategies based on targeted audiences and choosing the right social network management tools to track, publish, and update content. 

Table showing social media usage by age with the 5 most popular social media networks per generation

Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest are the main networks for following brands

In a similar way that different social media networks are more appealing to different age groups, social media networks can be used for different motives.

Identifying the typical use of each social network can be important for businesses to understand online consumers’ behaviour on each platform and to tailor content marketing strategies to the channels these audiences use. For each social media network, we asked survey-takers to select the various activities they usually carry out on that platform. The top three results for each specified activity were the following:

  • To send messages or check updates from friends, family, or groups, most respondents use Facebook (71%), followed by WhatsApp (70%), and then Instagram (37%). 
  • To post or share photos or videos, the most used networks are Facebook (41%), Instagram (31%), and WhatsApp (25%).
  • To keep up with the news or the world, respondents prefer to use Facebook (35%), Twitter (29%), and Instagram (25%).
  • To follow or find information about brands and products, respondents use Instagram (21%), Facebook (20%) and Pinterest (15%).
  • To follow influencers, online consumers use Instagram (16%), TikTok (13%), and Twitter (10%).
  • To follow artists and celebrities, Instagram (12%), Twitter (12%), and TikTok (10%) are the three most used social networks.

While Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp appear regularly among the most used social networks for various activities, the image-sharing app Pinterest appeared as the third most used platform when respondents wanted to find information about brands. Despite a 6% decrease in global monthly active users in 2022, Pinterest has still reported 431 million users this year and can be a relevant social network for companies that want to increase brand awareness.

Online consumers prefer static content

Social media content can be delivered as:

  • Static content: Content that rarely or never changes, such as posts, pictures, videos, or profiles that remain on a platform.
  • Ephemeral content: Content with a short life span that stays on the platform for a limited amount of time before disappearing. Commonly used on social networks like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and WhatsApp in the form of ‘stories’, it may attract some users due to their fear of missing out (FOMO). 
  • Live streaming: Video content can be broadcast live. Some social media platforms like Twitch and Periscope are strictly focused on this type of content, but other platforms, like Facebook and Instagram, have added streaming to their wider offering. At a time when information and content can be accessed anytime, anywhere, live streaming can deliver a sense of urgency and real-life engagement.

According to our survey, 75% of online consumers prefer static content when receiving information and recommendations about products and services on social media networks. The FOMO of ephemeral content, preferred by 16% of respondents, or the real-time experience of live streaming favoured by 7%, did not seem to be the ideal choice for online shoppers who wanted to know more about brands.

One possible reason for this may be that consumers want to engage with brands on their terms and in their own time, and the time constraints provided by ephemeral and live streaming content do not allow this to happen. Additionally, given that users can refer back to static content to check information and details at a later date, it can also be a reason why it is preferred by some audiences. 

However, we yet again see different results depending on the age of respondents. While the majority of respondents of all age groups preferred static content, the difference in preferences towards ephemeral content was quite significant between older and younger generations. This difference is most evident between the 35% of Generation Z respondents who prefer ephemeral content as opposed to the 4% of Boomers. 

bar chart showing the type of content consumers prefer when receiving information about products on social media per generation

Consequently, marketers should identify their target audience and consider their age groups when developing content and social media strategies for businesses. From there, brands need to clarify what social networks their target audience use, what they use each network for, and how they consume their content in order to create and tailor messages and content for each platform. 

Influential sources of product information for consumers

People have their own individual tastes, but we wanted to know which sources served as influences for online consumers. Before making a purchase, consumers may discuss options with family and friends, and similarly, online shoppers may also discuss the new brands and products they have discovered. 

Our survey showed that for 46% of respondents, friends and family played the most important role when it came to receiving recommendations and information about brands on their social networks. However, brands also play an important role in letting online consumers know about their services, as 26% of respondents preferred to receive information directly from companies or brands on social networks. 

Pie chart showing the preferred sources for receiving information about products on social media networks

These preferences are constant throughout each generation, with the media playing a third role in informing online shoppers about products and services. However, according to our survey, millennials and Generation Z online consumers prove to be the exception, where influencers play almost as important a role in informing them about brands as the media. 

Online consumers like brands that post discounts and tips

Online shoppers can look for brand information on social media sites for different reasons, but our survey showed that 59% of respondents like looking at brands that post discounts and promotions on their social media platforms. Businesses can incorporate offers and promotions on their channel and create sales campaigns on social media for this purpose.

However, 42% of respondents also use brand channels on social media for tips on how to use their product or other tips related to their sector. For example, a company selling kitchen accessories might also offer recipe tips. Brands should bear this in mind when creating different content, including links to guides or video tutorials when necessary.

Other notable points are that consumers want creative and engaging content (40%), exclusive news (37%), and brands to actively reply to user comments in threads and posts (33%). The latter is worth noting as it shows the importance of developing customer service strategies that are focused on social media usage or using reputation management software to monitor what is being said about a brand on social media. 

Understand your consumers before building social media presence

The importance of social media for brands must not be underplayed. But before leaping in and applying social media strategies on multiple channels, brands need to understand how their consumers act and what they are seeking. Our survey showed that 27% of consumers search for information on brands on a daily basis, and a further 27% do so weekly, so brands must be ready to provide a steady stream of information to satisfy this demand.

Our survey highlights the relevance of Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp for online consumers across all generations, and even apps like Pinterest have a role to play in brand awareness. However, certain apps like TikTok are more relevant for Generation Z and millennials, in the same way that ephemeral content can appeal to them more than it does for older generations. 

These issues must be considered and addressed by brands when planning marketing strategies, while also ensuring they provide high-quality customer service, given the importance of word-of-mouth and recommendations from friends and family. Companies can track, gather, and analyze what people are saying about their brands to improve their services as well as use data-driven insights from their social media campaigns to improve their content.

Adapting to changes in social media technologies and consumer behaviour is an ongoing process given the ever-shifting environment of social networks. Businesses should be ready to be flexible, leveraging technology where appropriate to guide them in the process. 

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To gather the data for this report, we conducted an online survey of 1,005 consumers in April 2022. The selection criteria for the participants are as follows:

  • Resident in the UK
  • Between 18 and 75 years old
  • Must shop online at least once every six months
  • Must use social media at least once every month

This article may refer to products, programs or services that are not available in your country, or that may be restricted under the laws or regulations of your country. We suggest that you consult the software provider directly for information regarding product availability and compliance with local laws.

About the author

Content Analyst for the UK. Providing research and digital tech tips for SMBs. MA in Journalism. MA in Diplomatic Studies. Animal loving, sea revering, Mancunian

Content Analyst for the UK. Providing research and digital tech tips for SMBs. MA in Journalism. MA in Diplomatic Studies. Animal loving, sea revering, Mancunian


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