Social media networking sites continue to be one of the hottest commodities in the international online marketplace. Just ask the citizens of Egypt, where social networks played a major role in their recent revolution.
It's easy to believe, considering the same type of social media revolution took place here in the U.S. back in 2008 with the presidential elections.
As the number of people linked into these sites increases, the software applications and venues available to users expand as well. While there are several articles speaking of the demise of sites like MySpace and Friendster, it seems these reports continue to be greatly exaggerated.
The popularity of Facebook and related gaming applications is still on the rise and will likely see even more growth in the next few years. Twitter provides instant gratification for millions around the globe, while niche networking sites are gaining market share as well.
Even though we see these giants of social networking sites dominating the U.S. market, a look around the world reveals a much more diverse social media marketplace and plenty of opportunity.
Orkut still reigns supreme in Brazil, with nearly 30 million users recorded in just one month, according to recently released statistics from data collection firm Alexa. Owned and operated by Google, Orkut was originally available only by invitation from an existing user. Today, anyone can join and link up with friends through the site.
Twitter is also popular in Brazil, with 20 percent of Internet users reporting activity on the site.
Instant messenger applications remain the most commonly used social media in Mexico, in part due to the easy portability of the software, according to Andy Atkins-Krüger's recent WebCertain Search and Social Report 2010.
Twitter and Facebook are gaining in popularity, however, with about 50 percent of online users are now active on Facebook as well.
Internet access is limited to just over 25 percent of the Mexican population, so the potential for growth in this largely untapped market makes it a popular target for newer social media sites.
One key to the success of Chinese social media sites like Kaixin001 and Xing is the Golden Shield Project enforced by the Chinese government. This national firewall serves as a barrier to sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Even under these restrictions, latest Alexa figures show that over 45 percent of Internet users in China participate in some way in the social media scene, with Internet forums and blogs being a popular choice for many in the country.
With none of the constraints experienced in the Chinese social networking marketplace, Orkut and Facebook have been competing for their share of users for several years in India.
Facebook finally gained supremacy, with 20 million users to Orkut's 19 million this past year. This is expected to increase as more social media users gravitate to Facebook's larger audience base and wider range of applications.
Twitter is rapidly gaining popularity in Japan, but local Japanese sites like Mixi and Gree still maintain dominance over the social media market, according to online statistics firm Socialbakers.
Mobage-Town is also popular and is specifically designed for mobile phones. Its appeal is largely due to easy portability and providing free games on the social media platform.
Koreans love their busy, animation-rich sites. With an interface that evokes the video game "The Sims," Cyworld has over 20 million users in Korea and is the most popular social networking site in the country. Similar to Facebook, Cyworld can be used to promote products and services and has gained a number of new commercial users as a result.
Local networking sites dominate the Korean marketplace, with Facebook lagging far behind at about 1.5 million users. In a recent article in Korea JoongAng Daily reported that Facebook is beginning to close the gap on Cyworld and may overtake it in coming years.
Coming in at number four in total social media saturation, Russia's market is dominated by local networks, including VKontakte and Odnoklassniki. These sites are hitting more than 100 million users, according to Alexa.
VKontakte hits the first place in market share amongst its Russian and Ukrainian social media users and offers many of the same features as Facebook along with access to video and music files. Many Russian firms utilize VKontakte for recruiting, making it a popular choice among college students and recent graduates.
As in most English-speaking countries, Facebook is the predominant social media site for the U.K., with YouTube and Twitter running a close second and third.
Bebo, once a major contender with college students, has fallen to less than 1 percent of the marketplace. The U.K. is second only to the United States in number of current Facebook users, according to WebCertain's Search and Social Report.
Recent figures also compiled by WebCertain Publishing indicate that 2010 marks the first year in which Facebook users outnumbered members of Tuenti, a popular Spanish-language social site.
Facebook broke the crucial 10 million mark, making it the number one social media venue in Spain. Twitter is slowly gaining an audience, but is still mainly used for business purposes rather than personal micro-blogging applications.
As a leading blog site in Europe, Skyrock has long dominated the French, Belgian, and Swiss social media marketplace. It has even been chosen by a number of major political groups in France as a preferred venue for communicating with their constituencies.
However, last year, Alexa statistics indicate that Facebook achieved top-place ranking among French media sites. This growth is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.
Students comprise the majority of social networking users in Germany. As a result, the most popular social media site is StudiVz, which caters specifically to this demographic.
Facebook has faced some serious challenges in breaking into the German market, including governmental legal proceedings aimed at Facebook's privacy policies and use of collected personal data.
Language barriers have created issues for Facebook in the Netherlands, where Dutch-language social networking site Hyves takes first place honors with more than 10 million registered users, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Twitter is gaining ground among Internet users in the Netherlands and has been credited by a number of Dutch newspapers, including De Telegraaf, greatly influencing the 2010 elections in the country.
With more than 133 million users in the U.S., Facebook has achieved market saturation of over 50 percent of all Internet users in the country. YouTube, MySpace, and Twitter round out the top four.
More than 75 percent of U.S. residents have access to the Internet, so these figures are even more impressive when placed into context.
Trends & Future Growth
Around the world the amount of time spent online is increasing exponentially, especially among cell phone users.
A recent study by Strategy Analytics indicates that the number of people using their cell phones to access the Internet has quadrupled in the last four years. A large portion of that increased online time is spent on social networking.
According to data collected by Universal Mccann International Social Media Research, much of the new content available on the Internet is being produced in the Asian region, with the largest community of bloggers in the world located in China and Japan.
Overall, video content is the fastest growing segment of the social media market. While Facebook and Twitter are expected to continue their expansion into world markets, the potential for niche social media venues remains high and the worldwide appetite for social media games and activities is expected to continue unabated in future years.
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