If you want to use social media to reach the average rural resident who goes online, Facebook and Pinterest are the way to go.
LinkedIn and Twitter, not so much – at least for now.
About two-thirds of rural people who use the Internet are on Facebook, according to a survey by Pew Research Center on the Internet, Science and Technology. That’s close to the same percentage of urban and suburban online adults who use Facebook.
Pinterest, the second most-popular social networking platform, attracts only about a third of rural Internet users. But Pinterest is the only social media platform that is more popular among rural online adults than urban ones.
Each year the Pew Center looks at social media use among Americans. The data they report includes breakouts on overall percentage of rural, suburban, and urban Internet users who get on various social networking platforms. We can’t see how different segments of rural are behaving, but we can see rural users as a whole, though the margin of error, at 9.1 percentage points, is a bit on the high side for drawing too many conclusions. (The margin of error is an indication of how precise the poll is likely to be.)
(While we’re on the subject of methodology, here’s another thing to keep in mind: The results in the Pew Center survey are based on the percentage of adults who are online, not the overall population. Rural residents are less likely to have or use the Internet, according to numerous reports like this one. The Pew study looks at the behavior of people who are already using the Internet.)
The annual report shows that rural Internet users are less likely overall to log on to social media platforms than their urban or suburban counterparts. But the most popular platforms, Facebook and Pinterest, have a substantial foothold in rural America.
Facebook is the most popular social media platform among rural users, as it is with suburban and urban Internet users, too. In cities, about three-quarters of people online use Facebook. In suburbs, it’s 72 percent, and in rural it’s 67. Those percentages are well within the poll’s margin of error.
Donna Kallner, a rural fiber artist, said the national trend matched her experience in Langlade County, in northern Wisconsin. Here’s what she wrote in an email to the Daily Yonder:
Facebook is hugely popular in my rural community – in part, I think, because everyone and their grandmother use it to share pictures. It helps connect generations, extended families, distant relatives, classmates who move away, and those who come back. There are Facebook groups that foster connections (“You might be from White Lake if…”), share information (from the school funding referendum to local garage sales), and let families share pictures and events privately. Almost every local fundraiser gets promoted on Facebook. And it’s free.
Coming in a very distant second place among rural social media users was Pinterest. Thirty-one percent of online rural residents had used that platform in 2015. That’s slightly less than the suburban rate (34 percent) but higher than urban rate (26 percent). Again, those numbers are close enough to be a statistical tie, given the margin or error.
Instagram (used by 18 percent of rural online adults), LinkedIn (12 percent), and Twitter (15 percent) were significantly less popular with rural Internet users than with urban ones.
On the other hand, Twitter may be one to watch for rural Internet users. Use of Twitter grew significantly among urban online adults (from 18 to 30 percent from 2013 to 2015). In the past, higher urban adoption rates of social media meant increases for rural users down the line. .
Kallner said all online tools are important for rural businesses and community organizations.
Kallner said she uses “it all” – “website, blog, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Etsy and more.”
“I have to be where my market can find me,” she said. “Pinterest and YouTube are huge search engines. If you want to be found by customers, you want to be found by search engines.”
James Barnes, an agriculture economist at Mississippi State who has helped rural business with Facebook marketing, said new data from Facebook could prove useful for rural businesses seeking to expand sales.
He’s analyzing Facebook messages to see which ones are most effective at reaching potential customers.
“When we train 82 farmers markets in Mississippi, we already know which posts did the best in-state and nationally,” he wrote in an email to the Daily Yonder. “This is the key to learning what works best on Facebook to reach more people.”
The study used a modified version of the Office of Management and Budget definition of rural. Respondents classified as urban lived in the principal city of a metropolitan statistical area (MSA). Suburban respondents lived in a county within a MSA but outside that MSA’s principal city. Rural respondents lived in nonmetropolitan counties, which are counties located outside an MSA.