The rise of social media shows no sign of slowing. In fact eMarketer predicts that there will be a massive 1.43 billion social network users this year, which represents a 19.2% increase over 2011′s figure. To put things in perspective, that’s a fifth of the world’s total population. There are signs that some developed nations might be approaching their saturation points, but with Internet penetration rates still on the rise in vast emerging markets such as India and South America, there’s still plenty of scope for growth.
Social Media on the Move
The growth of social media usage in developing nations has also had a knock-on effect on the way consumers actually use these sites. A recent report by the International Telecommunications Union found a “huge divide” between broadband penetration rates in developed and developing countries. With fast broadband connections reaching around 26% of the population in developed countries (and with Finland being the first of several countries to declare high speed Internet access a fundamental right) but then dropping to just 4.8% in the developing world, there’s certainly a large discrepancy.
In vastly populated countries such as Brazil, India, and China, fixed broadband coverage is often costly, patchy, and unreliable. As a result, many users rely on mobile devices to connect to the Net. There are huge groups of Internet users in general and social media users in particular who don’t use static connections at all.
And this trend isn’t limited entirely to developing nations. A ComScore report found that 72 million Americans used social media on the move in 2011, which represented an increase of 37% over the previous year. Universal McCann’s 2012 Wave6 social media study, meanwhile, found that regular Internet users worldwide owned an average of four devices that could be used to access the Internet. These included PCs and laptops, smartphones and other mobile devices, game consoles, and Internet-connected televisions.
Desktop PCs and laptops/netbooks remain the preferred method for accessing both the Web and social media sites, but mobile usage is catching up quickly. With smartphones and tablets offering a higher quality mobile Internet experience to more and more people while their penetration rates continue to rise, it’s no surprise that the rate of mobile usage is expected to rise still higher within the next couple of years.
Fewer New Profiles But More Activity
Universal McCann’s Wave survey has quizzed a total of 41,738 respondents from 62 countries, which makes it one of the more thorough social media studies undertaken on an annual basis. Having run for the past six years, the study shows not only a constant growth in social media usage, but also an evolution in the way people use and think about social media platforms.
While there is an increasing number of social media platforms available, the survey reveals that active Internet users (defined by Wave as those who access the Net at least three or four times a week) are no longer creating new profiles. This suggests that users are tending to stick to the platforms they are familiar with and that brand new Internet users are of massive importance to any social media sites with plans for expansion.
Current users are, however, spending more time than ever before on their existing profiles. In fact, the survey suggests 16-24 year olds are now spending as much time on social media sites as they are watching television and far more time than they do listening to the radio or reading magazines and newspapers.
The number of social contacts maintained also continues to grow. This refers to people the users regularly keep in contact with, rather than just names on a list of friends.
Facebook remains the single most widely used social media platform worldwide, but other sites can be equally or even more important within their own markets. China, where the site is officially banned, represents an obvious gap in Facebook’s worldwide dominance. An eMarketer report lists Tencent QZone as the market leader in China, while Tencent Weibo, Sina Weibo, and Renren also have significant market share.
The growth of microblogging sites, such as Twitter, also varies greatly by location. The Wave6 survey reported that only 22.1% of active Internet users in the USA had used such a site in the previous six months. This was up 3.3% from 2011 but way down on the leap of more than 10% that occurred between 2010 and 2011.
The U.K., meanwhile, experienced a huge growth from 19.3% to 62.9% of active users between 2011 and 2012. Only China has a higher rate of microblogging usage, with a whopping 71.5% of active Internet users having used such a site. Chinese microbloggers are described as a highly vocal and active community. They are more likely to be highly educated and well paid, and they view microblogging as a tool for self expression (49% in China vs. 32% globally) and sharing experiences.