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Snapchat used by 9 percent of US cell phone owners

The ephemeral messaging app, just 2 years old, is already half as popular as Instagram with adult cell phone owners, according to Pew.

Snapchat headquarters in Venice, Calif.
Chris Kirkman/Instagram

Nine percent of cell phone users in the US use Snapchat, according to a new study from the Pew Research Center's Internet Project.

The finding explains why investors are seemingly tripping over themselves to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into the 2-year-old app for exchanging impermanent messages. The discovery, however, is only partially telling of Snapchat's true popularity as Pew surveyed US adults 18 and up, and the app is known to have a large following among tweens and teens.

"Mobile apps like Instagram and Snapchat have capitalized on user bases equipped and eager to capture and share visual moments," Pew wrote in its study, published Monday.

Pew's survey, which was conducted earlier this month with 1,000 people, determined that double the number of cell phone owners, or 18 percent, use Facebook-owned Instagram. Instagram has more than 150 million active users. If Snapchat is, indeed, half as popular as the runaway photo-sharing sensation, then the Venice, Calif., company's quest for a $3.6 billion valuation makes sense. Instagram sold itself to Facebook for $1 billion when it had around 30 million registered users.

The success of both apps is indicative of a larger trend in social media around creating and curating photo and video content, Pew concluded. Unsurprisingly, 54 percent of Internet users have posted original photos or videos to Web sites, Pew found. The study also found that 47 percent share photos or videos they found elsewhere online -- aka they are curators -- which could be an indication of the popularity of Pinterest. The digital pin-board service, now worth $3.8 billion, is centered around the notion of cultivating inspiring ideas.

Though mobile consumers can't seem to get enough of Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat, none of the still-young services have yet to turn a profit. Instagram, having just initiated an ad-plan to promote brand-sponsored photos and videos, is furthest along in the process. Pinterest is also experimenting with sponsored pins, though not yet charging clients for the privilege. Snapchat, meanwhile, has expressed interest in selling in-app upgrades to its members but remains revenue-less for the time being.