When a senior Google Exec suggested that nearly 40% of young people favour TikTok and Instagram over Google when searching for a place to have lunch, I was intrigued. TikTok’s rise has been incredible to watch and it was clear that a shift was happening, but 40% seemed a strong number. Whilst I am certainly no longer one of those “young people” myself, the number didn’t seem representative of what I see with how younger members of my family find information online. Was I just not seeing it, or was the figure wrong? I’m no longer directly involved in online marketing, but I was still intrigued to find out, so I did what all good data nerds do: I set about finding some empirical data.

Do you run a digital agency? When I’m not satisfying my own curiosity with original research, I coach agency leaders to run better agencies. You can learn more about my “real work” here.

What was actually said?

It’s worth just recapping on where that 40% figure came from, as I have seen it misquoted an misrepresented. The quote came from Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech Conference.  Google Senior Vice President Prabhakar Raghavan, who runs Google’s Knowledge & Information organization, was talking on the future of Google products and it’s use of AI. He said the following:

“In our studies, something like almost 40% of young people, when they’re looking for a place for lunch, they don’t go to Google Maps or Search. They go to TikTok or Instagram.”

According to TechCrunch the 40% figure comes from an internal Google survey of US users ages 18 to 24. There is no further information currently available about the study. We don’t know whether this was a loaded question asked to the children of a handful of Googlers, a significant study of user behaviour or anything in between. This is important not only to ensure that businesses are directing their marketing spend accurately, but also because that figure is certain to surface in discussions about Google’s monopoly of search.

A new, independent, study

Curiosity got the better of me and I decided to commission an new, nationally representative study with the help of FindOutNow. I was already using FindOutNow for one of the studies I am using for my BrightonSEO talk on Trust in AI content in October. It’s an amazing tool for quickly collecting survey data that I genuinely believe that every UK focused SEO or PR person should have bookmarked. FindOutNow allowed me to quickly poll 2,401 internet users including a Nationally representative sample of 2,004 users to compare the results.

Caveat: One significant difference between this study and what we know about the Google study is that this new study is of a UK audience. TikTok adoption is slightly higher in the US than in the UK. According to Statista, approx 41% of the US population actively used TikTok in April 2022, compared to 34% in the UK.  Incredibly figures in their own right and close enough to allow for some comparison between the two studies.

The study asked two questions. The first question was designed to as closely reflect the Google figure as possible:

Q1. Which of the following would you be mostly likely to use to search for a place to have lunch?

This was a single answer, multiple choice question with options of: Facebook, Google, Instagram, Maps (ie Apple or Google) TikTok, Other. The order of options was randomised. I was also interested to see how this compared to searches for a less TikTok friendly topic and chose something topical for the comparison question.

Q2. Which of the following would you be mostly likely to use to search for energy saving advice?

Key Results

Are Gen-Z really preferring TikTok and Instagram for lunch searches?

Those aged 18-24 are certainly more likely to use Instagram and TikTok to find a place to lunch than the wider population, but the results suggest that Google’s position is still significantly more dominant than the Google quote suggested. Instagram and TikTok account combined were the first choice for just 3% or the nationally representative sample, and 8% for those aged 18-24. That is a considerable swing, but nowhere near the “nearly 40%” that Google claimed.

In fact, with the increased use of Maps for lunch searches (11% Nat Rep, 17% 18-24), Googles overall share of these searches is likely to be higher than it is for the broader audience.

In fact, Facebook have most to fear from this shift. Not a single respondent aged 18-24 answered that they would use Facebook for this type of search. Similarly, the “others” (which would include specialist platforms like Tripadvisor) saw a significant drop in share of searches from the 18-24 audience.

How this compares with a less lifestyle search

Search share for TikTok and Instagram dropped off even further for the “non-lifestyle” search on energy saving advice. It would be interesting to repeat this test with a broader range of topics, but the combined share of TikTok/Instagram for 18-24s dropping from 8% top 3% seems logical. Again, this is larger than for the broad audience (1%), but a very small proportion of overall volume.

My Conclusions

I am not at all convinced by the “Nearly 40%” claim made by Google. Although our methods will have differed, it is difficult to explain such a different in results if the original internal Google study was done in a way that genuinely tried to answer questions about how the audience tackled such searches. My suspicion is that the original study had a different purpose and figure about lunch searches was an interesting observation based on less representative data. It will be interesting to see whether more details are released about the original study.

As far as the adoption of TikTok as a primary means of search, it does not appear that this is mainstream. It’s likely a growing trend, but we are far off Google’s dominance being threatened. Don’t agree with my conclusions? Feel free to slice and dice the data yourself. FindOutNow has some great tools for segmenting the results in interesting and useful ways. I have shared the interactive links below. If you use any data from this study I just request that you link back to this page at www.matbennett.com/tiktoksearch . Let me know what you learn in the comments

Source data and interactive segmentation:

The TL:DR Take-aways

  • Users aged 18-24 are more than twice as likely to use TikTok or Instagram to search for lunch, but 74% of them will still go to Google or Maps first
  • Only 8% of 18-24 year olds said they are most likely to use Instagram or TikTok as their first place to search for a place to have lunch
  • These results are made up from a survey of 2,401 users, including a nationally representative sample of 2,004
  • Not a single respondent aged 18-24 said that they would start their search for lunch on Facebook
  • Only 3% of 18-24s would choose TikTok or Instagram for the non-lifestyle search. This compares to 1% of the broad audience


Did you find this interesting and/or useful?

It’s not unusual for me to get distracted with questions like this that I just need to find answers for. I’ll be releasing a more exhaustive study into AI writing in October and there are likely to be others too. Connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter and say Hi if you’d like to hear when I do anything similar. 

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