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Life online. How Europeans use the internet, social media

Over six in ten European use social networks, with online phone and video calls on the rise in the EU. Internet usage has increased among companies in the European Union as well, with 95% of all large businesses being present online with a website.

Eurostat numbers show that 63% of EU internet users aged between 16-74 used social networks in 2016. Among the Member States, this share was highest in Hungary (83%), Malta (82%) and Belgium (80%). Among younger people aged 16 to 24 years, almost 9 in 10 internet users in the EU participated in social networks (88%). This share ranged from 77% in France and 80% in Slovenia to 97% in Belgium, Denmark and Hungary.

The percentages go down when it comes to older EU internet users. Amongst those aged 65 to 74 years, almost one third (32%) participated in social networks. This share was below 50% in almost all EU Member States, except for Belgium (56%), Hungary (55%), Malta (51%) and Portugal (50%).


How Europeans use the internet

The most common activities in 2016 were sending and receiving e-mails (86% of people who had used the internet during the last 3 months), finding information (80%), reading online news (70%) and participating in social networks (63%).

Over the last five years, a range of online activities gained in popularity: the share of internet users making phone or video calls via the internet increased by 10 percentage points, from 29% in 2011 to 39% in 2016, as did the share of those using social networks, from 53% to 63%.

Online behaviour of internet users differs between EU Member States: in 2016, making online telephone and video calls was most popular among internet users in Bulgaria (80%), while participating in social networks was most common in Hungary (83%) and Malta (82%). Finland (92%) as well as Denmark and the Netherlands (both 91 %) had the highest shares of internet users who used internet banking and Lithuania (93%) and Croatia (91%) of those who read news online.

Social networks are most popular with young users

The most important factor in the use of the internet seems to be age. Among younger users aged 16 to 24 years in the EU some of the most popular online activities in 2016 included participating in social networks (88 %), watching videos from commercial or sharing services such as YouTube or Netflix (83%) and listening to music (80%). On the other hand, for older users aged 65 to 74 years, reading the news (64%) and seeking health information (59%) were among the most popular online activities.

In 2016, the share of younger internet users who were active on social networks ranged from 77% in France and 80% in Slovenia to 97% in Belgium, Denmark and Hungary, while among older internet users this share was below 50% in almost all EU Member States, except for Belgium (56%), Hungary (55%), Malta (51%) and Portugal (50%).

The internet changed EU businesses

Companies all over the European Union had to keep up with the times, as last year eight out of ten internet users in the EU searched online for information about goods or services. Data show businesses are increasing their internet presence, for example by having a website, using social media or targeted advertising.

In the EU, 80% of businesses with internet access had their own website in 2016, compared with 71% in 2010. Among the EU Member States, this share was highest in Finland (95%), Denmark (93%), Germany and Sweden (both 91%).


Almost all large businesses (95%) in the EU had a website in 2016 compared with 79% of small and medium-sized enterprises. Internet presence, measured by the share of businesses with their own website, is also linked to the economic sector in which a business operates: almost all businesses in the accommodation sector (96%) had a website compared with 67 % of businesses whose main activity was in transportation & storage.

Businesses use their website to provide different information and functionalities to their customers or business partners. Most commonly, those businesses which had a website in 2016 provided product catalogues or price lists (72%), while 35% advertised jobs or accepted online job applications, 24% offered online ordering, reservation or booking options, and 11 % had website functionalities that provided for online tracking of orders.

Almost half of all EU businesses with internet access (46%) reported in 2016 that they used at least one social media channel: most common were social networks (such as Facebook, LinkedIn or Xing) that were used by 43% of businesses with internet access, followed by multimedia content sharing websites (such as YouTube, Flickr or Picasa) which were used by 15% and blog or microblogs (such as Twitter) used by 14%.

Especially for the online marketing of goods and services, just over one quarter (26%) of EU businesses with internet access reported in 2016 that they used the internet for targeted advertising. Among the EU Member States, internet advertising was most popular in Malta (47% of businesses with internet access), followed by Sweden (42%) and Denmark (40%).

John Beckett