Social media is experiencing exponential growth in the U.S. and worldwide and this growth is expected to continue in 2012. Social networking sites now reach 82% of the world’s online population and account for about 20% of time spent online according to comScore. In the U.S. 98% of the online population uses social media. As mass social networks such as Facebook and Twitter are nearing saturation points in the U.S. it is leading to new user behavior and new social platforms that are focused on particular topics and market segments.
Social media user behavior seems to be changing as saturation points near. People are becoming less engaged in creating content and instead are increasingly sharing existing content according to a recent report from GlobalWebIndex. The report notes that a huge exception is the growing propensity for consumers to post images and video to their social media profiles. Consumers are also increasingly using mobile devices to access social networking sites. comScore notes that in 2011 80% of consumers used their smartphones to check posts by people they knew, and 70% posted a status.
The lifecycle of social media often follows a path of from niche market to mass market. Facebook went from targeting college students to allowing the general market to sign-up. MySpace has gone full circle by launching as a social network focused on the music niche, morphing into mass market site, and now returning to its music roots under the stewardship of Justin Timberlake. LinkedIn is a scaled example of a social network that launched with a focus on a niche audience, business professionals, and retains that focus today.
As mass social media platforms mature it is expected that new entrants will emerge and focus on particular topics and market segments. While Google’s G+ is focused on the mass market, consumers appear to be picking their favorite platform and spending their social media time there. Consumers also appear to be seeking out specialized social communities. Niche audiences of highly active participants will continue to emerge as consumers seek more tailored experiences and advertisers look for specific audiences.
New niche social media sites to keep an eye on in 2012 include: Chime.in, an interest network, where people share, connect with others, and build communities around their favorite topics; Pinterest, an online pin board to organize, share and follow collections of shared items and interests; and Jock Talk, a social media publishing platform that provides professional athletes and fans a single location to post conversations, videos and photos, and enable richer engagement.
Smartphones will also play a large in how consumers use social media in 2012. While Facebook and Twitter are forces in mobile social networking there a few emerging companies worth noting. These include: Path and Milk with its first app, Oink. Several additional specialized mobile networks that will ride on top of Facebook are expected to appear this year.
Social media will be fun to watch and socialize about in 2012!