Digital Report 2021: State of the art of digital in the world


Half a billion new users on social media. 1.3 billion years spent online. Trillions of dollars spent on e-commerce… If you’re looking for the latest data and statistics on digital and social media, you’ll find them all in this Digital Report 2021. This year’s reports reveal that connected technology has become an even more essential part of everyday life over the past year.

Social media, e-commerce, streaming content, and video games have all seen significant growth over the past 12 months. In this report, we’ll cover eight points, including the changing demographics of online audiences and the importance of e-commerce and mobile growth. ENJOY!


The number of social media users has jumped more than 13% in the past year, with nearly half a billion new users, bringing the global total to nearly 4.2 billion by early 2021. On average, more than 1.3 million new users joined social media every day in 2020, which equates to roughly 15.5 new users every second. The typical social media user now spends 2 hours and 25 minutes a day on social media, which is roughly equivalent to one waking day of their life each week. By the end of 2021, social media users worldwide will spend a total of 3.7 trillion hours on social media, the equivalent of more than 420 million years of combined human existence.

As we have seen in previous years, however, there are significant differences between countries. According to GWI, Filipinos are still the world’s biggest social media consumers, spending an average of 4 hours and 15 minutes a day on social platforms, half an hour more than second-place Colombians. At the other end of the scale, Japanese users report spending less than an hour a day on social media, but this year’s figure of 51 minutes is still 13% higher than the figure we reported for Japanese at this time last year.


The data from App Annie show that Android users worldwide now spend more than 4 hours a day using their phones. In total, this means that Android users have spent more than 3.5 trillion cumulative hours on their phones in the past 12 months. App Annie’s “State of Mobile 2021” report also reveals that the population now spends
on their cell phones than they do in front of a conventional TV set. GWI’s data tells a similar story.

The latest research shows that the typical global Internet user now spends 3 hours and 39 minutes a day connected to the Internet on their cell phone, compared to a total of 3 hours and 24 minutes per day watching TV. Internet user now spends about 7% more time using connected services on their phone than watching TV. However, as we will see later, mobile devices still only account for about half of our daily Internet usage time.


In total, the average Internet user today spends nearly 7 hours a day on the Internet on all types of devices, which equates to over 48 hours a week online, or 2 full days out of 7! Assuming that the average Internet user sleeps between 7 and 8 hours a day, this means that we now spend about 42% of our waking life online and spend almost as much time using the Internet as sleeping. Scary…

If Internet usage remains at these levels throughout 2021, Internet users worldwide will spend nearly 12 trillion hours online this year, which is more than 1.3 billion years of combined human time. However, the amount of time spent online varies considerably from country to country. Filipinos report spending the most time online, averaging nearly 11 hours per day. Brazilians, Colombians, and South Africans also reported spending an average of more than 10 hours a day online. The Japanese, on the other hand, report spending the least amount of time online, less than 4.5 hours per day.

Interestingly and surprisingly, China is not at the top of the rankings, with only 5 hours and 22 minutes per day, 1.5 hours less than the global average of 6 hours and 54 minutes.


Searching for information remains the primary reason people go online. However, the latest GWI data indicates that search behaviors around the world are changing, and this shift can have significant implications for anyone who wants to engage with an audience on the web. Conventional search engines remain a key component, with 98% of respondents saying they use a search engine each month. However, more than 7 in 10 respondents also say they now use at least one tool other than text-based search engines to find information online each month.

Voice interfaces are the most popular alternative, with 45% of global Internet users reporting that they have used voice search or voice command in the past 30 days. At the same time, nearly a third of Internet users also use image recognition tools on their cell phones each month, tools that are used to find information in a variety of ways. Pinterest Lens and Google Lens is being particularly adopted in Latin America and Southeast Asia.

But perhaps the most interesting trend in the evolution of search behavior is the rise of social search. Approximately 45% of Internet users worldwide now say they turn to social networks when looking for information about products or services they are considering purchasing. This figure is even higher among younger users, with Gen Z users saying they are more likely to search for brands on social media than on search engines.


Cell phones now account for 53% of the world’s time spent online, but the data clearly shows that other devices still play an important role in our connected lives. GWI data shows that 9 out of 10 Internet users go online via a smartphone, but two-thirds also say they use a laptop or desktop computer to access the Internet.

The cell phone is now the most used device in all countries to go online, but the gap between cell phones and computers is often quite small, especially in Western Europe. The latest data from StatCounter show that computers still account for a significant share of web activity worldwide. More than 40 percent of web page views in December 2020 were from web browsers running on mobile and desktop devices, although the overall share of these devices is down slightly from December 2019.


Kepios Data collected by GWI shows that at least 98% of users of a given social media platform also use at least one other social platform. Different social platforms are also subject to significant audience overlap, with 85% of TikTok users between the ages of 16 and 64 saying they use Facebook, and nearly 95% of Instagram users in the same age range also saying they use YouTube. While the general concept of overlapping audiences is not surprising, the magnitude of these notes particular importance this year.

The key point to remember is that brands do not need to be active on every platform. Data shows that a presence on just one or two of the largest platforms has the potential to reach nearly every social media user in the world. For context, at least 6 platforms now have over 1 billion monthly active users, while at least 17 have over 300 million. However, this does not mean that marketers should focus solely on these large platforms.

In fact, the data support a more strategic approach: rather than focusing all attention on reach, it’s time to explore other factors, such as the specific creative opportunities offered by each platform’s formats, or the different
engagement opportunities available on more niche platforms.


One of the most notable digital trends in 2020 was the rise of e-commerce, as the COVID-19 pandemic pushed consumers around the world to turn to online shopping. Globally, nearly 77% of Internet users between the ages of 16 and 64 now report buying online each month. Indonesian internet users are the most likely to shop online, with more than 87% of respondents to the GWI survey saying they have purchased something online in the past month. At the other end of the spectrum, only 57% of Egyptian Internet users report having made an online purchase in the past 30 days.

On the other hand, what Internet users have purchased in recent months makes for an interesting analysis. According to Statista, the Fashion & Beauty sector accounts for the largest share of global B2C e-commerce revenue in 2020, at over US$665 billion. Normally, it’s more common for the travel sector to reap the largest share of revenue, which shows how tough the last few months have been for travel and tourism players. In fact, Statista reports that online revenues in the travel, mobility, and accommodation category lodging were down more than 50 percent from the previous year, resulting in more than half a trillion U.S. dollars less in annual consumer spending…

Many other categories, meanwhile, saw strong growth in e-commerce revenue in 2020. Food and personal care was the fastest growing e-commerce category in 2020. The explanation? COVID-19-related containment and social distancing measures act as a catalyst for a significant increase in online grocery purchases. Globally, this category saw annual revenues exceed US$400 billion in 2020, an increase of more than 40 percent from the previous year. These figures confirm that many Internet users say they are thinking about continuing some of the new online shopping behaviors adopted during the confines.


This Digital Report has given you a good understanding of where digital is today. But what does the future hold? Here are a few things to watch closely in the coming months.

  • The demise of third-party cookies: Google’s Chrome browser will stop supporting third-party cookies at the end of 2021. So we can expect significant changes in advertising this year. 


  • More flexible work: telecommuting seems to be a permanent fixture in many people’s work lives in the future. We should therefore see further innovations in products and services designed to facilitate remote working in the coming months, especially in the areas of communication and “team-building”. 


  • Digital transformations: connected products and services will continue to disrupt all markets, but three sectors are to be followed with a particular interest in 2021:
    o Health (telemedicine and connected services that contribute to mental well-being).
    o Finance, with insurance and cross-border payments, two sectors that hold great promise for innovation.
    o Education, with governments and philanthropists coming together to create more effective solutions for a more connected education, while businesses focus their attention on emerging online “upskilling” opportunities. 
  • Wearable digital identities: with privacy back in the spotlight following recent updates to WhatsApp’s terms and conditions, a “decentralized” approach to digital identity could be on the cards. Inrupt is certainly one to watch, but it certainly won’t be the only competitor…


Let’s conclude this review with an update on one of the most contested battles on the Internet. The team dog/team cat war continues apace. #TeamDog has published 44 million more #dog posts on Instagram in the past 12 months, while
#TeamCat has generated only 33 million new #cat posts. The same is true on Twitter, where the platform’s advertising tools reveal that 307 million users are “interested” in dogs today. Versus only 23 million who are “interested” in cats. That’s it for the start of the year.

If you have any questions or would like to learn more about certain themes or topics, GOnnected will be happy to answer them. Gonnected informs you that our team has more reports from 2021. Among them: fashion, McKinsey & Company, data, etc… Do not hesitate to contact us and we will share them with great pleasure!