Facebook leads the pack, but other social media platforms, especially coming from China, are the ones to watch going forward.
Has it really only been 10 years since Mark Zuckerberg and his college cohorts founded Facebook? It might not have been the first social network, but it has grown to become by far the biggest and most influential.
German online marketing platform bjoerntantau.com recently compiled a list of the world's top 21 social networks, finding they have 5.7 billion user profiles combined. This, from an estimated global population of 7.25 billion. Although many of these will represent inactive and multiple accounts, it still represents a staggering amount of usage. But what state is Facebook in now and which are the most important social networks trailing in its wake?
In October 2012, Facebook had surpassed the magic figure of 1 billion active monthly users. As of June 2014, Facebook had 1.28 billion active monthly users, and more than 1 billion mobile users, reflecting a major sea change in the way we are choosing to engage with social media.
Some commentators have been predicting that Facebook has been reaching saturation point for the past few years, but its market dominance shows no signs of dwindling just yet.
Not far behind is YouTube. Whether you consider it to be a true social media site or not depends on your definition, but it is a place where users can interact and share content and the figures are truly impressive.
The site has 1 billion active monthly users. More than 6 billion hours of video are watched each month, with 100 new hours of video being added every minute. According to Nielsen, YouTube reaches more U.S. adults aged 18 to 34 than any cable television network.
Twitter is often thought to be the second most important "pure" social network, but Google+ has overtaken the micro-blogging site, at least in terms of numbers. The search engine giant's social media flagship has shown remarkable growth over the past couple of years, rising from 435 million registered accounts in 2012 to more than 1 billion at the end of 2013.
Only around 35 percent of those, however (359 million in the last quarter of 2013), are believed to be active, but most social media sites show similar levels of dormancy.
Twitter itself has 271 million active users as of July 2014.
WhatsApp has recently overtaken Twitter in terms of active users. In February, Facebook acquired the instant messaging service for a massive $19 billion. WhatsApp currently has more than 500 million users, sharing 700 million pictures and 100 million videos every day.
Two of the most popular social media sites in the world remain unfamiliar names to many Western Internet users. Tencent's Qzone reports 645 million active monthly users as of the second quarter of 2014. Qzone is a multi-functional social network that allows users to write blogs and other content, share and send pictures, listen to music, and watch videos.
Sina Weibo, a micro-blogging site that sits somewhere between Twitter and Facebook in design, has around 156.5 million users. The rise of these sites is largely due to two factors: China's vast population of more than 1.3 billion and the fact that western sites including Facebook, YouTube, Google+, and Twitter are all officially banned in the country.
There are a number of smaller but still significant social networks either bubbling under or rising rapidly to the surface. Before Facebook took an interest in WhatsApp, it bought the photo and video sharing social network Instagram for a reported $1 billion. The site has 200 million monthly users, with that number constantly on the rise.
The business-oriented LinkedIn, claims to be the world’s largest professional network with more than 313 million members in more than 200 countries and territories.
A study by Paris-based Semiocast in 2013 found Pinterest users reached 70 million by June 2013.
Social media is a truly global phenomenon. Qzone and Weibo are so popular that they're difficult to ignore, but there are also a number of alternative sites that are major players within their own markets but little known outside them.
Some of these include Renren, which is some way behind China's top two but still boasts 51 million monthly users. VK (formerly VKontakte) is hugely popular in Russia and other eastern European territories, and Orkut has been a mainstay in Brazil and India. However, earlier this year its owner Google said it would be shutting Orkut down in September to concentrate on other assets such as YouTube, Blogger, and Google+.
The social network landscape is one that is constantly changing and evolving, as former market leader Myspace could tell you. In 2014 Facebook remains the dominant force, but it will be fascinating to see which players rise and fall in the months and years ahead.
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