As in previous years, this post is written using the best data we could find at the start of 2014, looking at demographics, overall user numbers, and any other interesting snippets we came across which suggest changes to how the major social media sites are being used, and who by.
Our sources* are listed at the end of the post, and we have been selective in some cases to try and highlight the most recent and / or credible information.
Facebook’s growth period has clearly come to an end, with Comscore reporting an end of december 2013 user base of just over 31 million users – 31,456,000 to be precise. This time last year the figure was around 1.5 million higher.
We think this is to be expected given how long Facebook has now been around, although as usual the media stories predicting its demise are in abundance. Facebook is now unarguably “mainstream”, with effectively half the UK population having an account, and the corollary of that is that it’s no longer “cool” for the younger generation – and probably hasn’t been for a couple of years at least.
Brands looking to target very young or fashion conscious individuals will certainly be needing to look elsewhere, although there are still approximately 2.5 million 13-17 year olds using the site. The largest demographic remains the 25-34 year olds, with just under 26% of all users falling into this age bracket. Regardless of what the teens are doing, this remains the single largest concentration of consumers on any social media platform, so businesses writing Facebook off do so very much at their peril.
Twitter is a platform where, this year, we do have some pretty accurate and up to date information. Twitter’s outgoing CEO announced a figure of 15m users in the UK last September. Growth remains steady but not especially fast, as the previous confirmed UK figure was 10m, in May 2012.
Twitter has also told us that almost half of its users worldwide prefer to read, rather than send out tweets themselves:40 per cent of users worldwide simply use Twitter as a “curated news feed of updates that reflect their passions”. This is well worth remembering when it comes to setting goals for a social media presence; a significant proportion of your audience are never going to respond to you, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t absorbing your content.
Also, we know that 80% of Twitter users are active on mobile devices, the majority of these likely to be Smartphone users. Again this has significant implications for effective business use of twitter, for example taking into account the differences in presentation between native Twitter imaging and third party services such as Instagram.
Twitter is also becoming increasingly part of the fabric of everyday life for many. This was perhaps best illustrated towards the end of 2013, when the Twitter Alerts service was launched into the UK, providing direct access to all key public agencies’ critical information updates in one place.
Since the big announcement of passing the 10m UK user mark early in 2013, LinkedIn has been quiet on the subject of UK growth. Data provided by analysis of traffic to the site (note – NOT user numbers, but at least we can see the direction of travel) suggests little change over the period, with page views staying steady at just over 60m per month.
However, there seems to be a change in the way that the site is used. Recent research from Econsultancy suggests that LinkedIn is responsible for 64% of visits to corporate websites from any social media site, streets ahead of Twitter. Of course, this is partly to be expected as LinkedIn is much more of a “big business” environment, but it is interesting evidence of success in connecting big corporates to the social media world; it also reflects the shift in use from LinkedIn as an “online CV repository” to a more function-rich career development tool.
Another significant development this year has been the push towards recruiting from further and higher education. LinkedIn has reduced the minimum age limit for its accounts to 13, and is providing enhanced functionality, including Alumni search, to woo higher education establishments into spending more time on the site. Presumably the hope is that with an early introduction to LinkedIn, young professionals will accept it as the “de facto” place for networking and business knowledge online.
*Sigh*. Still no sign of any kind of confirmed user stats from Google, despite the fact that, given they track pretty much everything we do on the web these days, they must have a pretty clear idea of who’s doing what.
To add insult to injury, Google UK’s head of agency declared that the latest set of stats “would blow your mind” – that was towards the start of last October. Either the stats weren’t as mindblowing as expected or Google have judged that the world just isn’t ready for them yet, because as far as we can tell, we’re still waiting.
One third party study claimed G+ to be the second most active network, but with the blurring of YouTube, Gmail and many other site logins with Google + user IDs, we’re just not convinced that’s nearly as good as it sounds. And if it is, why aren’t Google shouting about it?
Lets hope that 2014 is the year that Google + finally releases some detailed, meaningful figures about exactly who is visiting specifically the Google + site (as distinct from any of the other Google properties sharing the same logins), and what they are doing while they’re there.
Pinterest is very much the platform of the hour, with huge growth and a lot of innovation happening during the past year. The last time we had UK user stats they were tiny, at around 200,000 users – these figures date from late 2011/early 2012. Recent data puts the number at over two million, at july 2013. Still not huge compared to the Big Three, but if your organisation is right for Pinterest then that’s more than made up for by the levels of sharing and direct sales that the site is driving.
Pinterest is introducing many new features, including “Place pins” to encourage “dream trip” planning and “article pins” to create virtual reading lists. It continues to show levels of enagement and sharing that other social sites can only dream of; around 80% of Pins are re-pinned from elsewhere on the site.
Instagram also continues to show good growth, with 150 million global users in late 2013 representing an increase of 15% in just two months, and the introduction of a video option may well threaten the ongoing growth of Twitter-owned Vine. But once again, UK specific figures are nonexistent at this stage, making it difficult for UK businesses to evaluate where, or if, Instagram fits into their online strategy.
Aside from Pinterest and Instagram, the new(ish) platforms being talked about most at the start of 2014 are enhanced messaging apps such as Snapchat and WhatsApp – particularly amongst the youngest demographic (13-20). Both of these continue Instagram’s trend for mobile-only services, ie they were designed and initially released purely for use on smartphones.
Snapchat in particular is a direct response to young people’s concern about digital legacy – putting content onto Twitter, for example, which will be archived for all time and may come back to embarass or otherwise trouble you later in life. Snapchat’s USP is that users can set a time limit for the availability of each post they make; expired posts are deleted from the app’s servers.
User statistics are notoriously hard to come by – much to industry amusement - on a global scale, let alone for the UK. We know that globally the 13-20yr olds are the core audience, and that 70% of users are female. There are also some interesting, if admittedly speculative, calculations around volume of use here.
WhatsApp can be thought of as a text / image version of Skype; it uses a (free) internet connection to send and recieve text, image and video messages which would otherwise be chargeable on a smartphone. Unlike Snapchat, only those in the user’s Contact directory can view profiles, and communication is one-to-one; there is also no “follower” type option which allows strangers to view content not directly intended for them, so really it is a messaging rather than a social media app – just worth a mention as, often, the two apps are mentioned as if they are interchangeable.
*our sources for this post include the following: