This Just In: See How Iowa’s Digital Media Habits Have Evolved Over The Last Few Years

Blue Compass is back with our digital media survey to detail what has changed within the digital space between 2021 and 2023. Spoiler alert: We’ve been busy! In just two years, long-talked-about AI has become accessible via apps like ChatGPT, Google shifted its focus toward visual search results pages and user-centric reporting metrics, and social media platforms began to favor short-form video. As our digital experts reflect on how marketers and business owners have had to navigate numerous shifts and innovations within the digital space since 2021, we wanted to take a closer look at how Iowans’ use of digital media has evolved.

The political and cultural climate of 2020 and 2021 had serious repercussions across the globe, including for popular social media platforms and large tech giants who lost favor with their users. Due to polarization and a push for social platforms to create clearer community guidelines, we understand why our 2021 survey reflects Iowans taking a break from major platforms like Facebook. The wide adoption of video-based TikTok coinciding with users spending more time at home only escalated Facebook’s fall from grace. In a time when users wanted digital connection to bring them closer to loved ones, we were surprised to see some of the long-reigning platforms declining. But if there’s one thing we know about Iowans, we’re resilient—and our 2023 digital media survey exhibits just that.

We surveyed hundreds of Iowans aged 18-44 so marketers and business owners can utilize our 2023 digital media survey to keep up with their digitally agile target audiences. Ultimately, we hope you develop a deeper understanding of how Iowans perceive, interact with and adapt to evolving digital media platforms.

A Majority of Iowans Remain on Social Platforms

Despite the building conflict and tension a couple of years ago, platforms were able to pivot and maintain Iowa users. Down from 4 percent in 2021, this year our survey found only 1 percent of Iowans have opted out of social media altogether. As users appear to be in it for the long haul, one platform in particular earned back its popularity among Iowans.

Facebook, TikTok and Snapchat Win Over Iowans

Which platform people use.

This year, at 87 percent, Facebook remains the most popular social media channel among Iowans. Facebook usage declined in 2021 for the first time since we started surveying people, leading us to think that its long reign as Iowa’s preferred social platform would continue to shift downward. After seeing a 5 percent rise since 2021, it appears Iowans still spend more time scrolling their Facebook feed over any other platform, followed by TikTok at 21 percent. Users across the world have continued to adopt the video-based channel, and Iowans have followed suit, with 7 percent more people saying they spent the most time on TikTok compared to 2021.

Chart of which social platform users spend the most time on.

Popular among Gen Z, Snapchat wins the bronze medal for being the social platform where 13% of respondents spent the most time. Up from 10 percent in 2021, our experts believe users have an appreciation for Snapchat that differs from other channels like Facebook and Instagram. Because messages, photos and videos disappear after viewing, users can detach from their messaging in a way they can’t when posting to a native feed. In summary, we think the interaction between Snapchat users doesn’t feel as permanent, and that’s attractive to younger target audiences who have been plugged into devices most of their lives.

Iowa’s Instagram Usage Declines for the First Time in Five Years

For the first time in five years, Iowans’ Instagram usage has decreased. Trending downward by 11 percent between 2021 and 2023, the largest changes come from Iowans aged 18-24 years old (-21% from 2021) and 25-34 years old (-12% from 2021). Our digital experts paid extra close attention to this metric due to the fact that Iowan’s time spent on social increased and stayed consistent for platforms like Facebook, TikTok and Snapchat.

Percentage of age groups where they spend the most time on graph in 2023.

Platforms where people spend the most time.

It’s true Instagram has implemented several changes to the platform over the last few years, including the launch of Reels, Instagram's version of short-form video. And the platform didn’t do itself any favors by reorganizing users’ feeds from chronological order to algorithm-selected feeds. Content many users had come to expect from loved ones and friends now gets lost in the shuffle, defeating what made the once image-based, linear platform popular in the first place. Focusing heavily on being an e-commerce platform has also created a wedge between users and their followers, making it even more difficult to connect with friends and family. As Iowans value using social media to connect with loved ones first and foremost, it’s possible these changes to Instagram haven’t resonated with once-loyal users.

Age Impacts Search and Social Media Usage

Every social platform has unique aspects that appeal to the preferences of certain age groups. Around 90 percent of those aged 25-44 reported using Facebook, making it the most used social platform in Iowa. As these age groups likely experience major life events, it makes sense that they want to share the information with friends and family through pictures, videos, and Facebook is the perfect place to do so. 

With that said, together, Instagram and Snapchat are the most popular social media platforms among Gen Z (18-24 years old). Both platforms are visual with short-form content that Gen Z responds well to. This generation prefers bite-sized content that’s quick and easy to consume and interact with through liking, commenting and resharing. Understanding how each age group uses social media and how they prefer to receive information is crucial when deciding what platforms brands should have the largest presence on.

Top three used social platforms in each age group chart.

Snapchat Reigns Supreme Among 18-24 Year-Olds

Of the 18-24 year-olds surveyed, 95 percent reported being active on Snapchat—the highest usage of any age group on any platform! Back in 2021, Instagram was the most popular platform for 18-24 year-olds at 84 percent, a percentage that stayed consistent in 2023. However, Snapchat shot up from 76 percent to 95 percent, a 19 percent increase in two years, claiming the most prominent spot among younger users. This shift in platform usage doesn’t surprise us since changes to Instagram’s algorithm, as previously noted, potentially limited its growth as users struggled to adapt.

Chart if which age groups use a social media platform.

Snapchat's annual earnings report shows that from 2021 to 2023, it increased its total users by 32 million, 82 percent of which are from Gen Z. Brands continue to gravitate toward advertising on Snapchat to capture the younger audience base, show shoppers in real-time what their products look like and encourage interactions with their brand through the use of relevant filters.

As Iowans Age, Their Platform Usage Decreases

Another trend we’re seeing in 2023: as age increases, platform usage shrinks. For the youngest demographic surveyed (18-24 year-olds), 59 percent selected five or more social platforms when asked if they use Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitter, LinkedIn or Pinterest. The next group, 25-34 year-olds, start to narrow their platform presence, with 42 percent saying they use five or more social media channels. However, less than one-third of 35-44 year-olds use five or more social channels and 4 percent aren’t active on any social media platforms. Ultimately, for companies targeting older age groups, it makes sense to put more effort toward mastering a few key platforms.

Number of platforms used by age.

Our findings make sense: as Iowans grow up and responsibility increases, prioritizing time to be active on five social media channels gets difficult. Our experts are interested to see if Gen Z continues to remain active on five social platforms or if they, too, consolidate their social presence as the years go on. Being the first generation to grow up with social platforms from the start, Gen Z may not dream of anything different.

What Are Iowans Most Likely Doing on Their Phones?

What’s the first thing you do in the morning? Our experts are placing bets that you pick up your phone, maybe shut off your alarm, check recent notifications or scroll social media to see what you missed overnight. It’s no secret that cell phones have become the center of the universe for many of us. Since the launch of the iPhone in 2007, cell phones have quickly become our hub for communication, search and passing leisure time. So, how does this translate to how Iowans actually use their phones?

Iowans Prefer Texting Over Talking

Decreasing from 11 percent in 2021, only four percent of Iowans surveyed are picking up their cell phones to talk in 2023, making phone calls the least common activity on a cell phone among Iowans 18-44. As our phone capabilities have grown from call-only to encompass texting and social media sharing, there’s rarely a time when users aren’t plugged in and connected to each other.

What are you most likely doing on your cellphone.

The top activity drawing users into their phones is text messaging, with 43 percent of Iowans reporting using this feature upon first picking up their phone, a 5 percent increase from 2021. With 21 percent picking up their phones to read content and another 21 percent to watch content, it’s clear Iowans are highly engaged with their phones regardless of whether they are interacting with others or not. Either way, our main takeaway is users are prioritizing non-verbal paths to communication. Back-and-forth discussions over the phone don’t seem to appeal to as many users, but catchy content or a timely text captures attention right away.

Iowans Use Social Platforms Primarily to Stay Connected to Friends and Family

As the heart of the heartland with our “Iowa nice” reputation, it only makes sense that our study shows Iowans realigning the use of social media back to its intended purpose: staying connected with friends and family.

Bar chart of statements people agree with.

Respondents agree they use social media more positively this year compared to 2021 when doom scrolling became a difficult habit to break. Still, COVID-19 increased the awareness of people seeking opportunities to stay connected. Social media platforms saw increased engagement as Iowans turned to their feeds for entertainment, news updates and social interaction, a trend that continued into 2023. This year, there was a 24 percent increase in people selecting the statement: “I use social media for fun, to be entertained and to pass the time,” and three out of four respondents now agree that they “use social media to stay connected to friends and family.”

From 2021 to 2023, the number of people who reported using social media to stay connected to community and local businesses increased by 8 percent! Companies have leveraged increased reliance on phones to reach their target audience. Respondents who reported using social media to find local events and businesses jumped from 54 percent in 2021 to 62 percent in 2023. Only 1 percent of respondents indicated they didn’t use social media for any of the sentiments listed, showing that people rely more on their phones than ever before.

Facebook and Instagram: The Preferred Platforms to Make a Purchase

If you’re selling products on social media, Facebook is likely your best chance for success. According to this year’s survey, 42 percent of Iowans reported they’re more likely to make a purchase on Facebook than on any other social platform. Almost half (44%) of those who responded with Facebook as their preferred product purchasing platform came from individuals between 25-34 years old. Facebook has long been a successful platform for selling exciting and trendy products. Since the launch of Facebook Marketplace in 2016, Facebook has been a popular avenue for selling and buying everyday household items like furniture, cleaning supplies, books and other items in high demand.

Pie chart on platforms people are most likely to purchase on.

Even with the decrease in Instagram usage, Iowans aren’t deterred from making a purchase on Instagram. As Instagram has branded itself a visual social channel and created in-platform shopping capabilities, this is advantageous to those who are in the market to make a quick and easy purchase. Since 2021, Instagram’s algorithm has increasingly focused on showcasing recommended brands and products to users through Stories and Explore pages, benefitting brand exposure and conversions for sellers.

This year, our survey shows that 32 percent of Iowans wouldn’t purchase from any social platform. The good news is that we’ve found social media platforms often inspire users to go out and buy goods in person. Unless your product or audience is in an extremely specialized market segment or is recognized as an e-commerce brand, gaining considerable sales on social media platforms may be challenging. Still, social media is a critical marketing opportunity brands shouldn’t miss out on. Having social media in your toolkit better positions your brand identity and provides the opportunity to create content that resonates with users on platforms they interact with daily.

Iowans Still Have Their Guard Up on Social Media

In 2023, more people expressed distrust of news, product ads and posts from corporations compared to 2021. Close to half of respondents (46%) reported not trusting news they saw on social media, an increase of 7 percent from 2021. Product ads are also mistrusted by many users: 44 percent of respondents report ad content causing red flags to go up.

However, local businesses are becoming a leading source of trustworthy content. The percentage of respondents who report being wary of content from local businesses dropped from 16 percent in 2021 to just 7 percent in 2023. So what are local businesses doing right? We know connecting with local businesses is a top priority for users on social media platforms, but as we shared above, entertaining content and content that helps users feel connected are two other big selling points for social media.

Our discoveries demonstrate the importance of an impactful organic presence to establish trust and familiarity that will enhance future ad campaigns. When users feel understood or come across relatable content that resonates, they feel encouraged to engage with your brand. By remaining accurate, dependable and ethical throughout your channels, your brand is positioned to earn trust and give the green light for users to make a purchase.

Bar chart of what people don't trust on social media.

Google Is Still Iowa’s Most-Used Digital Service

It’s no surprise Google is the most used digital service among Iowans with 97 percent indicating they use the search engine giant. This tracks since we already know Google earns 85 percent of the search market share globally. Respondents said they utilize Google at a much higher rate than its competitors. Just 17 percent said they use Bing and another 8 percent use Duck Duck Go. Bing usage has actually declined by 11 percent in the past two years, along with other informational sources like NextDoor, alternative messaging platform WeChat (down 13%) and Telegram (down 16%). Further decreases in reported use include alternative social channels, Parler (down 10%) and Gab (down 11%).

Bar graph of what people use.

Our findings support the importance of keeping up with Google's algorithm updates and ensuring your content is SEO-compliant to become discoverable in search. As an SEO-first agency with successful search engine optimization strategies under our belt, talk with our digital marketing experts about how we can improve your ranking in Google.

Talk With Our SEO Experts

Get the Full Results of Our Iowa Digital Media Survey

Discovering how your target audience uses social media is the best way to ensure you provide users with the most relatable and relevant content. Gen Z (18-24 years old) values social causes like equality, mental health or environmental sustainability practices and utilizes visual platforms like TikTok or Snapchat. Millennials (25-34 years old) share content, learn and connect with friends and family. This generation favors informative and inspiring content from brands they buy products or services from, mostly on Facebook and Instagram. Generations beyond Millennials appear to favor a couple of social media channels, especially Facebook, rather than exploring a variety of platforms.

At Blue Compass, we are data-driven marketers who offer our clients guidance based on analytics and strategic market research. We conducted this survey and analyzed the results to stay up-to-date on digital marketing usage so we can better serve our clients. While this article shares key insights from our market research findings, check out our executive summary of data. If your business is ready to take your digital marketing or SEO to new heights, contact Blue Compass today to learn how we can serve you!

Survey Details

The analysis in this report was based on data collected from an online survey conducted January 13, 2023 through January 18, 2023 among a sample of adults, 18-44 years of age, living in Iowa.

The total population size that our research represents is 1,084,005 based on data from the population estimates for 2016 as provided by Iowa State University. The overall Margin of Error for the findings is approximately 5.5 percent.

Drew Harden
Drew Harden

CEO and Co-Founder of Blue Compass, Drew Harden has grown and guided the company from a two-person startup in 2007 to one of the Midwest's leading digital marketing companies today. He's a published author, has been cited by PR News and USA Today, and has led web projects that have been honored by organizations like Adobe and American Design Awards.