City Dwellers Instagram, Suburbanites Do Pinterest

New York City’s High Line was the 10th most Instagram’d place in the world last year. Credit: janicebabineau on Instagram

The Pew Internet & American Life Project today published its year-end breakdown of how Americans use various social media services. With the caveat that some of the findings are snuggling the margin of error — 2.9 percent on a telephone poll of 1,801 respondents — the data do reveal subtle insights into how geography matches up against the demography of online social media, particularly when it comes to a pair of 3-year-old sites for image-based sharing: Instagram and Pinterest.

To start, Pinterest is the more popular of the two: 17 percent of online Americans report using Instagram, while 22 percent use Pinterest.

But here’s where things get more interesting. While 22 percent of Americans living in urban areas use Instagram, that number drops to 18 percent of suburban Americans and just 6 percent of rural Americans. For Pinterest, the pattern is reversed, at least in part: Some 19 percent of city dwellers say they use Pinterest, while 23 percent of suburbanites use the service. One additional wrinkle: 17 percent of those living in rural areas say they’re pinning away on the site.

Again, the differences are modest. And as always worth pointing out when it comes to discussing social media, everything else is just doing its best in the shadow cast by Facebook. A full 71 percent of online Americans use Facebook. (The breakdown there skews urban: 75 percent city folk, 69 percent suburbanites and 71 percent rural dwellers.) Twitter, meanwhile, tends to suck up far more media oxygen than Instagram or Pinterest but is used at about the same rate or less — about 18 percent of online adults in the U.S. report using Twitter.

There’s a chance that Pew’s demographics reflect how visual sites are purpose-built in ways that resonate differently in the day-to-day experiences their users. Pinterest, you can argue, tends toward being inward-looking and intimate, as befits the fact that it first got traction, really, as a way of sharing the visual elements of hobbies, whether that’s fashion, cooking or wedding planning.

Instagram skews more external, tapped for celebrating the sort of engaged spectacle that cities are known for. For what it’s worth, Instagram’s list of the most Instagram’d places of 2013 leans urban, too, including a giant shopping mall in Bangkok, the Staples Center in Los Angeles and New York City’s the High Line.

In fact, only two places in Instagram’s top 10 fall outside major world cities, and both are sort of pretend versions of city living: Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. and Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

Nancy Scola is a Washington, DC-based journalist whose work tends to focus on the intersections of technology, politics, and public policy. Shortly after returning from Havana she started as a tech reporter at POLITICO.

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