The World Social Media Map

Facebook appears to have cemented its position as the world’s favorite social network.  It announced recently it’s reached 900 million “active users” – more than one in eight of the Earth’s population. And there are few signs it’s slowing down. Last year, its growth tripled in the huge Brazilian market, and it’s finally overtaken Google’s rival Orkut there.

The latest figures by Comscore show it’s the largest social network in all but seven countries around the world. As more of the world gets online, they’re also catching the social media bug. Last October, 55 per cent of online users visited the site to chat, “like” pages and make friends. It’s estimated that three out of four minutes spent social networking are on Facebook.

It’s hard to underestimate the importance of Mark Zuckerberg’s brainchild. If it was a country, it would be the third most populous in the world. It’s managed to edge out local rivals, such as the Netherlands’ Hyves and Japan’s Mixi since 2010. And the company is continuing to expand aggressively in emerging markets, as more people get computers and  internet connections.

But the world social media map isn’t quite as homogenous as these figures might suggest. The seven exceptions  include China and Russia, which both have huge – and growing –  online populations. And the map doesn’t show the importance of the networks in second or third place in each country.

The social media population is predicted to grow this year, and it’s interesting to consider where that growth will be. Emarketer predicts 1.43 billion people will use online networking sites by the end of 2012. They are forecasting massive growth in emerging markets such as India and Indonesia.

One network that’s growing rapidly is Twitter. It’s already a close runner-up to Facebook  in many countries. As Facebook’s growth slows in the United States this year, the micro-blogging site is expected to grow four times as fast. It already has more than 500 million users worldwide, and is adding support for more languages. Its number of Arabic-speaking users multiplied by 22 times last year – even before it added full support for right-to-left languages last month.

And previously “local” social networks are starting to make an impact outside their home countries. The Russian market is dominated by Odnoklassniki and Vkontakte, which also provides an easy platform for (sometimes illegal) music and video sharing. Now they are both expanding into Eastern Europe and beyond. Vkontake now attracts 45 per cent of its market from outside Russia, while the figure for Odnoklassniki is 41 per cent.

Facebook has failed to dominate many key Asian markets. It’s in close competition with Twitter for first place in Japan. But the figures don’t take into account the fact that a large proportion of Mixi users access it from their smartphones, which could  push it ahead.

South Koreans have been addicted to Cyworld since 1999. Despite a quick exit from the American market, it shows no signs of losing its lustre on its home turf. It’s believed to reach around 99.9 per cent of Koreans in their 20s and 30s. It was also one of the first networks to successfully make money through the sale of virtual goods.

One huge gap in Facebook’s world map is China, where it is still banned, along with Twitter. Even if Zuckerberg manages to overturn this ban, his company would face an uphill struggle against the wildly popular Qzone, which has already secured a huge following. One of the most active online communities, Qzone users can update blogs, keep diaries and listen to music.

Of course, people use social networks for different purposes. Google+ provides one way of managing this, by separating people into “circles” of friends, family and work acquaintances. But niche social networks are gaining ground.

Success stories include LinkedIn, which provides a platform for business networking. It even has an estimated 2 million members in China, despite having no official presence there. This might be a tiny fraction of the population, but it includes many wealthy, influential users.

With the recent popularity of sites such as Instagram and Pinterest, there could be signs the market is becoming more fragmented. More people are juggling several sites, or using different accounts for work and socializing. The demographics of users are also changing, with more older people joining them in developed countries.  It will certainly be interesting to watch the shifting dynamics of the social media map over the next few years.

Christian Arno is the founder of professional translation services provider Lingo24. Launched in 2001, Lingo24 now has over 160 employees spanning four continents and clients in over 60 countries. In the past twelve months, they have translated more than 55 million words for businesses in every industry sector, including MTV and World Bank.