There are now 4.2 billion social media users around the world, representing year-on-year growth of more than 13% – or more than 490 million new users – and the fastest growth rate in three years, according to the latest annual report Digital 2021 from social media management leader, Hootsuite and creative agency, We Are Social.

Survey respondents said they are spending the same amount of time on social media each day as they did in the previous year at 2 hours 25 minutes. Facebook remains the most used social platform, followed by YouTube and WhatsApp.

The report also outlines the expanded use of social media, with 45% of users aged 16 to 64 searching for brand information on social networks, and 40% using social media for work purposes. A key consideration for marketers is the growing popularity of messaging platforms, with 91% of internet users aged 16 to 64 now using chat apps each month.

Further, more than three quarters (77%) of internet users aged 16 to 64 say that they buy something online each month, with food and personal care the fastest-growing consumer ecommerce category.

Another key takeout from the report was that older age groups are the fastest-growing segments among some of the top social platforms’ audiences with users aged over 50 growing more quickly than any other age group on Facebook and Snapchat.

Hootsuite CEO, Tom Keiser said consumers are increasingly connecting with brands in the same way they do with friends and family via social and messaging apps.

“The pandemic has only accelerated this shift, with even laggard brands now moving to online interactions,” he said.

We Are Social co-founder and group CEO, Nathan McDonald said it was no surprise to see massive growth in social media and internet users.

“Much of our lives are now being played out through digital channels, whether that’s connecting on social media, shopping on mobile, using voice, installing smart devices or playing online games. The pandemic has accelerated a shift that had already begun, and 2021 is shaping up to continue in this vein.  For marketers, understanding how to connect in culturally relevant ways with online audiences will be more crucial than ever,” he said.