The astonishing growth of all things digital continues to gather pace around the world, as We Are Social's new Social, Digital & Mobile Worldwide report on the key social, digital and mobile stats from around the world demonstrates.
It should come as little surprise that much of this growth is being fuelled by connected mobile devices, but this year's data do reveal some interesting trends and anomalies, especially in relation to Japan and Korea.
You'll find the complete story in this SlideShare deck, but we've pulled out some of the highlights below.
Adding up all the users in individual countries around the world, there appear to be around 2.5 billion global internet users today - roughly 35% of the world's population:
While this represents around 150 million more users than this time last year, these numbers may still be conservative. Reliable, recent data for some countries remains patchy, but the International Communications Union estimates that there are probably closer to 3 billion global internet users, with most of the difference made up by mobile-only connections.
Users are still not distributed evenly either, with some parts of the world still struggling to reach double-digit internet penetration. In particular, Africa, Central and Southern Asia all report relatively low numbers, although it's worth highlighting that mobile internet users may contribute a significant - yet uncounted - increase in these areas.
With reference to the continued growth in internet penetration, it seems clear that mobile connections will account for the vast majority of new sign-ups in the coming months. As the chart below highlights, the distribution of mobile penetration matches much more closely to the distribution of the world's population, meaning most people around the world now have a realistic opportunity to access the internet:
The cost of mobile data clearly remains a barrier in much of the remaining world, but as costs continue to fall, and as the benefits continue to increase, it's likely we'll see more and more people in the developing world putting increased importance on reliable internet access.
Social channels continued to show strong growth over the past 12 months, with top social networks adding more than 135 million new users in the course of 2013.
This number is slightly misrepresentative of actual growth though, as we've decided to focus solely on monthly active user figures to report social media usage in this year's report. As a result, some numbers may appear lower than they did this time last year (when we used total registered user numbers for some platforms), while the actual growth in active usage may appear smaller than it really was.
Due to the different usage contexts, associated behaviours and opportunities for brands, we've also chosen to treat chat apps such as WhatsApp and WeChat separately to social networks in this year's report.
However, these platforms continue to capture significant interest from users and marketers alike, a trend reflected in their huge active user bases:
It also appears that social media is now an engrained part of the lives of people across different demographic groups. This increased ubiquity may result in some changes to the specific demographic bases of individual platforms, but even if people's habits are changing, it appears that people are moving from one social platform to another, rather than deserting social media in its entirety.
Despite this increasing ubiquity, though, social media penetration remains unevenly distributed around the world:
As might be expected, mobile is playing an increasingly important part in the social media landscape. Facebook reports that almost three quarters of its 1.2 billion monthly active users around the world access the platform through mobile, while on any given day, almost half of its users are mobile only.
The importance of mobile is mirrored across other platforms too, with Twitter increasingly a mobile-dominated platform, and platforms like WhatsApp, WeChat and Instagram depending entirely on a mobile ecosystem.
Given the above, most marketers have now accepted that mobile devices are people's most important devices, but the opportunities they offer continue to evolve at a staggering pace.
Connected mobile devices have already outpaced more traditional means of internet access such as laptops and PCs, while smartphone sales now outnumber those of feature phones around the world too.
The number of mobile subscriptions jumped by 173 million in 2013, and the number of active mobile subscriptions around the world now equates to roughly 93% of the world's population.
Penetration rates are more healthy all over the world too, with two-thirds of Africa's population now mobile powered. Meanwhile, many regions - including those in the developing world - have penetration levels far in excess of 100%:
Mobile broadband access has exploded around the world in recent months too, and 1.5 billion people now have access to relatively fast internet from their mobile devices:
A Regional View
While the picture in many Western countries has converged, there are a number of areas around the world that maintain their idiosyncrasies. In particular, China and Eastern Europe continue to prefer local social networks, while Africa, Central and South Asia are considerably under-represented when it comes to internet penetration:
The world's most populous region saw another strong year of growth across all things digital in 2013.
China's social media giants continue to post strong growth, whether it's active users on Qzone, or the incredible growth of Weixin (WeChat).
However, both Japan and South Korea have seen some fragmentation of the social media landscape, with chat apps like LINE and Kakaotalk continuing to gain momentum. Neither company releases monthly active user numbers though, so it's hard to know exactly how these platforms compare to the more traditional networks like Facebook and Twitter.
Interestingly, however, 'claimed' usage of social media in both countries differs dramatically from the picture painted by Facebook's monthly active user numbers, suggesting that Northeast Asia's netizens may be harnessing a wider variety of platforms.
Facebook continues to lead Twitter in both countries though, and appears to maintain its top spot almost everywhere.
China and countries in Eastern Europe host the few exceptions to Facebook's global dominance, with Qzone and VKontakte claiming the top spots in a handful of nations.
However, with more than 1 billion monthly active users, it's safe to say that Facebook will continue to play a central role in the social media landscape in 2014 too.
The Local Picture
We've gone into an extra level of detail in this year's report too, offering insights into the local digital ecosystem across 24 of the world's biggest economies:
Alongside offering the key digital indicators, we've also collated some key behavioural indicators, including time spent on the internet and on social media, as well as the prevalence of important activities on connected mobile devices.
You'll find all the facts and figures for each country in the complete 180+ page report on SlideShare, but here are the infographics for China as an illustrative example:
Sources for all the above data are listed in the full report. We'd particularly like to thank the lovely folks at GlobalWebIndex for allowing us to use the data in their premium Active Usage: Social Platforms data pack in this report - you can get more info on this by clicking here.