Social networking has grown from simple chat rooms occupied by only the most tech-savvy computer users to full-scale web services that almost anyone can use. With millions of people joining sites like Twitter and Facebook every year, the social networking boom is in full swing.
Exploring the Social Networking Boom
Social networking has been around in various incarnations for years, including chat rooms and dating sites. As people explored the various ways to communicate in this new medium, sites began to add features such as personal profiles and ways to share things like photographs and video clips. Other sites, such as Classmates.com, incorporated a more focused platform for users - in this case, high school and college graduates were offered a method to keep in touch with those in their graduating classes.
Users enjoyed having their own places online where they could share information and communicate with others without the fuss of setting up a personal website or blog. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, sites like MySpace and Facebook brought social networking to the mainstream, reaching millions of members in a fairly short period of time. While teens and those in their 20s were the first to catch on and embrace social media, today's social networker is more likely to be in her 30s or 40s according to this chart at Pingdom.
According to Amzini.com, there are currently over 900 social networks available to those who are interested in participating. Of those sites, the top three are Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. While growth has been fast and furious, WebProNews predicts that this growth will slow down. With 150 million people currently using social networks, that figure is projected to reach 164.2 million users by 2013, or roughly 67% of those who use the Internet. To put this in perspective, a study by Pew Internet has found that only email and search are more widely used than social networks online.
Growth By Site and Demographic
The Pew study also indicates that women are more active on social networks. The figures between age, gender, race, and income level don't seem to vary a great deal, however. This suggests that those using social networking sites are an even mix of all these factors. Here are some of the numbers for the most popular social networking sites, using statistics from Quantcast.
- MySpace: Launched in 2003, MySpace registered its one millionth user in 2006. In 2011, according to TechCrunch's Crunch Base, the site reached over 125 million users. Statistics indicate the site's most common demographics to be females between the ages of 13 and 17.
- Facebook: Facebook began in February of 2004, and according to its own timeline, achieved the milestone of one million users in December of that same year. In 2011 the site reached over 800 million users. Females outnumber males on the network, and the most popular age range is 18 to 34.
- Twitter: Created and launched in 2006, it took Twitter almost two years to reach a million Tweeters. The site claims over 100 million active users in 2011. Demos skew slightly female, with the most active age range between 18 and 34 years old.
- LinkedIn: LinkedIn opened in 2003, and a year later they had 500,000 members. In March 2011, the site reached 100 million registered users. LinkedIn is one of the rare networks that has more male members than female. The majority of users are 35 to 49 year olds.
Even new social networks can grow by leaps and bounds. For example, according to PCWorld.com, social media site Google Plus grew from 1.7 million to 7.3 million users in a matter of one week - immediately following a major change to the Facebook interface in September of 2011 - with growth rates increasing to up to one million new users per day.
Reasons For Growth
One of the reasons for the exceptional growth in social networking is that businesses have embraced social media as a promotional tool. For example:
- According to the 2011 CMO Survey, even in a slow economy the companies surveyed will increase their marketing budgets aimed at social media from a current 7.1% to 17.5% by 2016.
- Entrepreneur magazine reports that websites using Twitter share buttons receive up to seven times more social media mentions than those who don't.
- The same story points out that of the top 10,000 websites, nearly 54% are using social networking share buttons.
Other reasons for the quick growth of social media include:
- The increase of people using mobile applications
- The overall increase in the number of people using the Internet
More Than Just a Fad
Many people have dismissed social networking as a fad, claiming that it will fade away sooner or later. The statistics and sheer number of people involved in social media contradict these claims, however. As more networks open up and existing networks add new functionality, it is clear that social networking has likely become a permanent facet of online interaction.