Social media use soared by 20 per cent around the world in 2012, according to Emarketer, as millions more users got online. At the same time, the global social media map appears to be becoming more homogenous. Facebook has cemented its dominant position, and is now the first choice in all but 10 countries. Much of this growth is driven by Asian countries, where it has succeeded in edging out local competitors.
At the beginning of 2013, the trend appears to be fewer big players on a global scale. This map, by Italian blogger Vincenzo Cosenza, shows Facebook was the leading network in 127 countries (based on data from Alexa). In the past year, it has overtaken Mixi in Japan, Zing in Vietnam, and other competitors in Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, and Latvia. The gaps on the map include China, where it is banned under censorship laws, and North Korea, where all internet use is tightly restricted.
Looking back to 2009, there were 17 social networks that were the first choice in at least one country. But the latest figures from December 2012 show there were only five. Facebook might be reaching saturation point in North America and Europe, but its big marketing push is paying off in Asia. In fact, the continent is now Facebook's largest market, with 278 million users, compared to 251 million in Europe and 243 million in North America.
This growth appears set to continue, as Mark Zuckerberg focuses on emerging online markets, such as India, Indonesia, and Brazil. India is now the third biggest market for Facebook, with 57 million users, according to analytics firm SocialBakers. But this is still only a small proportion of the population, and they predict that the vast Asian country could be the world's most populous "Facebook nation" by 2015. The network has recently added support for seven Indian languages, helping drive up growth.
Indonesia is currently in fourth place in terms of Facebook user numbers. Yet internet penetration in this vast country is still only around 20 per cent, and research by Veritrans and DailySocial suggest the number of users could triple in the next two years. After a slow start, the network is finally gaining ground in South Korea, where the popularity of online gaming could give it an edge over Cyworld.
However, there are still several key markets where Facebook has failed to gain a significant foothold. One of these is Russia, where the local favorites are VKontakte and Odnoklassniki. Although Vkontakte looks very similar to Facebook, it is better adapted to the Russian language, and its music and video sharing platforms have made it hugely popular with young people. The site boasts more than 100 million users, compared to just 7 million for Facebook in the country. However, the second favorite, Odnoklassniki, (which translates roughly as "classmates") appears to be struggling to hold its own in a rapidly changing world.
Even in countries where Facebook has overtaken local competitiors, many users still maintain multiple profiles. For example, ComScore figures show that Facebook growth is outstripping Google's Orkut in Brazil, but the latter has still managed to gain users. With Google+ and Twitter also popular among Brazilian social networkers, there could be room for several large networks.
The map only gives an incomplete picture of worldwide trends, failing to take into account second and third places. Twitter is in a strong second place in most countries, and is still ahead of both Facebook and Mixi in Japan. Major events such as the London Olympics and the US presidential election have helped secure its position as a global news source, while it is continuing to translate and adapt its site for new languages and markets.
LinkedIn is also the runner-up in any countries, including Canada, Australia, and India, according to Google Trends for Websites. Badoo has also made worldwide growth a priority in 2012. According to ComScore, it grew by 60 per cent last year, and is second place in many European countries.
The growth of niche networks was a key trend in 2012, and it will be interesting to see if this continues. The huge rise of Instagram and Pinterest shows that the market has not yet reached saturation point. And LinkedIn is not the only business-orientated network that has a strong following. A similar one, Xing, is showing strong growth in Northern Europe, while many professionals are turning to more industry-specific sites.
Social networking is set to continue its rapid growth in 2013, especially in Asia-Pacific, the Middle East and Africa (according to Emarketer). Although Facebook is clearly the frontrunner, it shouldn't take this position for granted.