Social Media is forever changing. What started with sites like Friends Reunited simply helping you find your old classmates in the early noughties is now a complex set of ecosystems. Each social network has its own culture and rules. Many now have their own celebrities and sub-cultures too, which are completely unknown by the outside world.
So it’s worth taking a minute every now and then and reviewing what the top social networks are at the moment. If you’re a social media marketer (or a small business trying to do some social media marketing) then you need to know where is right for you. It’s not worth being active on every social network, so take a look at the list below, and see for yourself which social networks make sense for your business.
What are the biggest social networks?
The top three social networks probably won’t surprise you, but after that, there may be some on this list that you haven’t heard of. I for one was surprised that Tumblr continues to do so well and that Reddit’s supposed dominance isn’t quite as strong as I had heard.
The Top Ten Social Networks right now are:
- Facebook – 2.23 Billion Monthly Active Users
- YouTube – 1.9 Billion Monthly Active Users
- Instagram – 1 Billion Monthly Active Users
- Tumblr – 642 Million Monthly Unique Visitors
- TikTok – 500 Million Monthly Active Users
- Twitter – 335 Million Monthly Active Users
- Reddit – 330 Million Monthly Active Users
- Quora – 300 Million Monthly Active Users
- LinkedIn – 294 Million Monthly Active Users
- Pinterest – 250 Million Monthly Active Users
The source of this data is mostly from Buffer however I checked on Quora’s stats on a whim (because I’m a big fan) and was surprised that it was in fact HUGE. Anyway, for people who prefer charts to lists:
Other Social Networks
There is much argument over what actually counts as a social network. Many say it is simply any platform where people get together to discuss things, which feels broadly right. However many people also include messaging apps as social networks (such as WhatsApp) which frankly feels like it’s lowering the bar too far for me. Arranging where you are going for dinner with friends is socialising, not social networking in my book.
Therefore the below list only includes public forums which are mostly used for one-to-many discussions (not one-on-one conversations). And while, yes, you can talk to someone directly on all of the below, that’s not their main function.
Also, no blogging platforms, because monologuing is pretty much the opposite of social networking! And no platforms which are only used in one country or region as the internet knows no geographical boundaries.
This means that I am not including WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, SnapChat, WeChat, QQ, QZone, Sina Weibo, Baidu Tieba, Viber, Line, Telegram, Medium, Blogger, WordPress.com, or a million other ones I’m sure I’ve missed off. This is a good list dagnammit, stop judging me.
Just to be sure, I also checked out the popular gaming streaming service Twitch as I’m always hearing about it, but it’s actually still relatively small with 55 million monthly active users. Similarly, Discord is only at 46 million monthly active users. Spotify comes close with 191 million monthly active users, but luckily as it doesn’t make the cut I don’t have to look too hard into whether or not it counts.
TripAdvisor could possibly be included above (as it has at least 456 million monthly active users), however including a site where you comment on what are essentially ads opens things up too broadly. I mean, is Amazon a social network just because it has comments? Is eBay? I don’t think so. While talking about comments – Disqus has a ridiculous amount of users too, but I’m not really sure a commenting plugin really counts as a social network as it’s just a tool really.
So now that we’ve shown what didn’t make the cut, let’s explore the social networks which did, and see if we can find one which is right for you.
The Top 10 Social Networks
#1 Facebook (2.23 billion monthly active users)
Facebook is the largest social network in the world by quite a long way. It includes posts of all types (videos, images, text) from both individuals and companies, which it blends with advertising to make a feed.
Facebook is a very generalised social network, ostensibly about connecting with friends, but now equally about connecting with companies. As Facebook is so ubiquitous, most companies should have a presence on there. As well as running your company page and posting important updates, you can pay to boost important posts, as well as run good value lead gen, CPA and CPC ads.
#2 YouTube (1.9 billion monthly active users)
YouTube is a video-based social network owned by Google. Anyone has the ability to upload videos, however, the social networking aspect really revolves around the communities which build up around the most popular video creators. This makes commenting and reply videos incredibly important to the site.
With video set to become the dominant form of content consumed on the web, most companies should consider having a YouTube channel. While your channel itself might not be that useful, YouTube makes it incredibly easy to embed videos from their platform onto any page, meaning at worst YouTube is a convenient place to host videos. If you make a good video ad, advertising on YouTube is a great idea for most companies.
#3 Instagram (1 billion monthly active users)
Instagram is visual-based social network (featuring images and videos) owned by Facebook. Users have access to multiple feeds on Instagram, which are curated by category, and this is a key home of ‘influencers’ – social media personalities.
Companies wishing to be successful on Instagram should either:
- post images and videos of very visually appealing products
- have a very strong creative strategy to make the most of the format
- create a relationship with influencers so they promote your company
Each of these requires a different type of work to normal social media marketing, so Instagram is certainly not a good fit for every company. It is however an excellent opportunity for those who make it work. You can also advertise on Instagram in the same way as on Facebook, however as the audience is quite different, ads which work on one often won’t work on the other.
#4 Tumblr (642 million monthly unique visitors)
Tumblr is an oddity in that it is a combination of visual-based social network and blogging platform. Much of the activity on it focuses on reposting interesting things found elsewhere and commenting on it. This reposted content is then often reposted again with the comment (and commented on), making the comments into the content itself.
In terms of organic social media, Tumblr is only for the most creative of companies as it does not allow accounts to post content “that gives no value to readers”. Therefore for most businesses, the only way into Tumblr is via traditional display advertising. As it is so huge, it represents a good opportunity.
#5 TikTok (500 million monthly active users)
TikTok is a relatively new social network that is big in China and growing fast everywhere else. It is a high concept social network where people post 15-second videos to go with a snippet of a song or piece of audio. Videos are then searchable via that song or piece of audio, leading to loads of lip-syncing videos, as well as dramatic re-enactments of scenes from movies.
This form of cataloguing has led to a very odd subculture on TikTok, which is currently a lot more fun than most other social networks. Many songs are bookmarked for specific sorts of videos only (eg soldiers coming home), which is fiercely policed by the users themselves. Expect to hear more about this social network.
TikTok currently doesn’t have any advertising opportunities on it, but is, of course, developing them. If a company wants to get on TikTok then they currently have to do it the way everyone else does – open an account and be interesting.
#6 Twitter (335 million monthly active users)
I always think it is interesting how much Twitter is talked about considering how (comparatively) small it is. At 1/7th the size of Facebook, Twitter talks a good game, and that is probably because it is all about talking. Twitter is a social network based around topics of conversation rather than connections. For people who use it, it is a way to talk about anything all the time. For people who read it, it is a high-speed opinion mill, where you can find out what people, in general, think of any topic (by searching hashtags) pretty quickly.
In terms of social media marketing, it makes sense for most companies to be on Twitter. This is because it is a convenient way to disseminate information to people who are interested, as well as promote whatever you need to promote. While some brands have a fairly intense Twitter strategy which they use to keep people interested in them, for most Twitter can serve as a simple tool to distribute information publicly.
Find out more about Twitter with our Twitter basics guide >
#7 Reddit (330 million monthly active users)
Reddit is in a lot of ways a throwback to a simpler internet – as it is pretty much just a gigantic forum. Anyone who has spent any time on any forum knows the intense sense of community that is formed by this type of communication and Reddit is no different.
Reddit refers to itself as “The Front Page of Internet” however unlike the homepage of most websites, it is a terrible branding opportunity. Reddit allows users to moderate individual subreddits (forum topics). This means the rules imposed within the site vary hugely, so there is no consistency between the content on different pages. For advertisers, this can mean a very risky proposition to blindly place ads on.
However, for authentic Reddit users with useful information to share and a business people don’t object to, it can be the most natural advertising opportunity available. If you are an expert on something, and like Reddit anyway, then being helpful on the platform to other users can reap dividends like no other.
#8 Quora (300 million monthly active users)
Quora is a question and answer based social network, similar to Yahoo! Answers from a few years ago. The major difference is that Quora encourages and rewards knowledgeable users to the point where Quora answers are often featured directly in Google search results.
In terms of marketing – if you are an expert on a subject you should certainly be on Quora answering questions in your field. Make sure to have an accreditation related to your company, don’t spam links in your answers and it can pay serious dividends in terms of SEO, branding, and site traffic. There is also paid for advertising on Quora, but this is still a developing business model and should be tested before you commit to it.
#9 LinkedIn (294 million monthly active users)
Most people talk about LinkedIn with disdain, but it has been quietly improving recently and utilising its huge base of users to become actually useful. LinkedIn is a social network for business contacts. Although it features basically all the same functionality as Facebook, it is more a place to find jobs and talk about work than it is to enjoy yourself.
Like Twitter, most companies should have a presence on LinkedIn simply because it is a useful tool. LinkedIn is a great place to define what your company is about, to post about your business, and to hire people. In terms of advertising, LinkedIn is special because it focuses on job roles so you can narrow in on a specific niche of people in an interesting way. While this isn’t useful for every company, it can be incredibly useful for some.
#10 Pinterest (250 million monthly active users)
Pinterest is another visual social network, but with more of a focus on bookmarking than any other social network. People can ‘pin’ things they find which they organise on ‘boards’ that they create. People can also follow other accounts, as well as repost and comment on what they have pinned.
This makes the whole ethos of Pinterest about being taste-makers and thought-leaders. In a lot of ways, it is very low-key and personal compared to other social networks, as there is very little need to interact with others at all if you don’t want to.
In terms of social media marketing, like Instagram, it works great for companies with visually appealing products. It also, however, has a strong sideline in infographics, so informational companies with good designers can also flourish here. You can advertise directly on Pinterest and promote posts, but this is only really recommended for companies which are already doing well on Pinterest. No amount of money is going to make an ugly ad on there do well.
Social Media’s diversity means there is likely a place for everyone. Almost all businesses should be on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn for functional reasons, and any company with videos should add YouTube to that list. Instagram and Pinterest are great for more visual brands. Reddit and Quora are good places for companies with experts on board. Tumblr and TikTok are for the most creative of companies only!
Whatever type of company you are, there should be a social network that works for you. On the off-chance that none of the above suit you, then don’t worry, there will be a new crop springing up soon enough!
Next: What Should You Post?