There's absolutely no doubt that social networks continue to play an increasingly important part in many people's lives. EMarketer predicts there will be a massive 1.43 billion social network users in 2012, representing a 19.2 percent increase over 2011 figures.
At some point we're bound to reach a social media saturation point, but it doesn't look like that point will arrive any time soon.
Social media usage varies from place to place and from one demographic to the next. A Pew Internet survey found that 65 percent of Internet users in the U.S. used social networking sites, up from 61 percent the previous year. Sixty-one percent of adults under 30 reported that they used a social networking site at least once on a typical day while daily usage among Internet users aged between 50-64 rose sharply, from 20 percent in 2010 to 32 percent last year.
“The graying of social networking sites continues, but the oldest users are still far less likely to be making regular use of these tools,” said Senior Research Specialist and report co-author Mary Madden. “While seniors are testing the waters, many Baby Boomers are beginning to make a trip to the social media pool part of their daily routine.”
Alongside personal usage, more businesses are taking advantage of the benefits social media sites can offer.
A joint study by global management consulting firm Booz & Company and Buddy Media found that 96 percent of companies surveyed would be increasing their investments in social media. Advertising and promotions, PR, and customer services were listed as the main uses or benefits but other uses such as market research and recruitment were reported. (Also see "The 5 Ws of Social Media Marketing: Industry Survey & Insights [Study]" for more social media marketing trends from Social Media Examiner.)
Facebook: "The Social Network"
The inexorable rise of social media might be an indisputable fact but it can be easier to track social media trends than predict them. It's not that long ago, after all, that MySpace was not only the most popular social networking site worldwide but also, according to Hitwise, the single most visited site in the U.S., even beating the behemoth that is Google into second place.
These days it is Facebook that, as the 2010 movie title suggests, is the social network. The site overtook MySpace on Alexa's listings in 2008 and hasn't looked back since.
Facebook boasts more than 845 million active users and a 2011 comScore report revealed there were only seven countries worldwide in which Facebook did not rule the roost. That figure tumbled to six in December however, when Facebook overtook Orkut as the leading social networking destination in the vast and still emerging Brazilian market.
“Despite the cultural affinity for social media, Facebook adoption had traditionally lagged in the market,” said Alex Banks, comScore managing director for Brazil “That has all changed in the past year, during which the site has tripled in audience size as engagement has grown sevenfold to assume the leadership position in the market.”
At least part of the secret of Facebook's success is the fact that it manages to present itself as both a global and local service. Users know that it has a true global presence, potentially linking them to other users all over the world. At the same time, localized language settings and content allow the site to be seen as a number of interlinked local communities.
One rather large gap in Facebook's global domination comes in the shape of China. The site is officially banned in China but local sites are massive within the market.
An eMarketer report lists TencentQZone at the front of the pack in China, while TencentWeibo, SinaWeibo, and Renren also have significant market shares. With the Internet itself not expected to reach a majority of China's vast population until 2015, Qzone may even be able to overhaul Facebook's active user figures without having to expand very much outside Chinese borders.
Elsewhere, Russia is dominated by Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki, sites that are also quickly expanding into other Eastern European countries.
Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, and Poland were the other countries listed by comScore as the territories where Facebook doesn’t command the greatest market share but even in its own back yard, Facebook shouldn't rest on its laurels.
While still lagging behind considerably in terms of total users, Twitter's U.S. growth is predicted to be four times greater than Facebook's over the next couple of years. We've yet to really see how Google+ will fare and niche sites like the business-oriented LinkedIn continue to grow within their own remits. Plus, Pinterest is growing fast.
Right now Facebook is sitting pretty. Social media trends can change with alarming rapidity however and, as the spectacular decline of MySpace demonstrated, none of the major players can afford to take anything for granted.
Editor's note: This column originally was published on April 13, 2012, and comes in at No. 7 on our countdown of the 10 most popular Search Engine Watch columns of 2012. As the clock ticks down to 2013, we're celebrating the Best of 2012 by revisiting our most popular columns, as determined by our readers. Enjoy and keep checking back!