Much of the discussion surrounding social networks focuses on the all-important MAU (monthly active user). Yet with each network tending to have a different definition for this metric -- some of which can be rather generous in terms of who they include -- it’s often difficult to compare the popularity of networks on a like-for-like basis, or to see how usage is changing.
We employ a consistent and fairly strict definition across all of the world’s biggest platforms. For us, someone has to say that they have actively used or contributed to the service in question within the last month. Crucially, then, they are counted as an active user only if they perceive themselves to be one.
This throws up some pretty striking results -- chief among them that more than 50% of accounts on several networks are lying largely dormant, being used rarely, if ever, by their owners. Interestingly, Facebook has the best ratio here, despite constant claims that its relevance is fading. Reddit is a very close second, with Pinterest and Tumblr performing well too. In contrast, Google+ records one of the lowest figures; this is partly a reflection of Google’s historical policy of encouraging (and at times, requiring) Gmail or YouTube users to create a G+ account to access certain features. Little wonder that it’s considering splitting out its more popular features, then.
It’s a similarly positive story for Facebook when we look at visit frequency. Exactly half of Facebook’s active users say they access the service more than once a day. This drops to about 25 per cent for platforms like YouTube, Google+, Twitter and Instagram, and to 15% or under on Tumblr, LinkedIn and Pinterest. Facebook doesn’t just have the most active users in terms of simple numbers, then, it has the most engaged ones, too.
That Facebook remains so strong despite the (rapid) growth of platforms like Tumblr and Pinterest is a clear indication of the trend towards multi-networking. Once, Facebook was where we carried out most of our social behaviours; now, many activities have migrated elsewhere and Facebook exists in a much more competitive social landscape. Essentially, we’re using it in more passive ways and for fewer things. That’s hardly surprising when we recognize that the average Internet user now has more than 5 social network accounts to his/her name and is actively using about 3 of them each month. This is one of the major reasons why time spent on social networking is continuing to creep upwards -- from 1.61 hours in 2012 to 1.72 hours in 2014.
As is so often the case for digital trends, though, 16-24s are the group to watch. On average, these youngest internet users now have 6.5 social media accounts and actively use about 4 on a monthly basis. They also spend the most time per day on social networking -- racking up a daily average of 2.55 hours last year.
But it’s members of this youngest group who are most likely to say they are using Facebook less than they used to. The 16-24s also score the highest figures for “logging in to see what’s happening with posting/commenting on anything”. Meanwhile, they are the most likely to have embraced the newest platforms like Tumblr, Pinterest and Instagram and the most likely to be using mobile messaging apps like Snapchat and WhatsApp.
Of course, context is crucial here: 16-24s haven’t left Facebook. But it’s much less of a focal point for their networking activities than it was for the generation before them. In short, Facebook is now one of many networks, rather than the network; it’s still the major player but it’s hard to see how it could ever regain the type of dominance it once enjoyed.