The relative sizes of the social media platforms

Like most other modern human beings (and I’m including you in this), I’m naturally bad at prioritising my life. There are all sorts of psychological processes that — while nicely suited to living in the early hominid moment — aren’t much use when it comes to mid- and long-term planning in the modern world. Wikipedia maintains a handy-dandy list of the resulting cognitive biases that’s worth perusing from time to time.

Obviously these cognitive biases affect my work; but nowhere more than when it comes to thinking about the relative size and importance of the various social media platforms. In my experience, people who work in emerging areas of the market suffer from neophilia: a tendency to prioritise the new over the familiar and stable — we’re sensitive to change. And this means that we tend to talk a lot about things like Vine, or Jelly – asking ourselves questions like “what does this mean for our business?” before growing bored and moving on to the next new thing.

This doesn’t make us bad people; but it does mean that — once in a while we should relax, step back, and take a look at the whole market.

Platform size vs news-worthiness

A few months ago (and prior to Twitter’s IPO), I published a version of this chart over on SMG London’s blog, titled ‘The one chart about Twitter that you’ll never see‘. In the accompanying post, I noted that:

Twitter enjoys a happy coincidence; politicians, business people, athletes, performers and celebrities are living out a greater proportion of their lives publicly on Twitter; and those tweets are tidily packaged to be picked up and quoted by any journalist. Likewise, Twitter is an excellent source of the vox populi; the immediacy and convenience of the service means the first material that a newsroom under pressure to report a story can put out will often be “Twitter reactions.”

Twitter’s inherent newsworthiness means that it is more often mentioned by the news media than any other social platform; and this can create for the outside observer a misleading impression of its scale, leading to side-by-side financial comparisons with Facebook that are neither warranted nor useful.

Thinking about that chart today for a new presentation, I decided to use last month’s comScore data for a new viz. Taking a look only at the social platforms in the Top 100 Properties list (not that many, when it comes down to it), I plotted average monthly visits by average length of visit. I’ve kept Google in there partly in recognition of their Google Plus platform, and partly for scale, and the same for Tencent. The size of each bubble reflects the mean Daily Active Users (DAUs); a measure both of reach and that old web metric, “stickiness.”

Not everyone’s checking into LinkedIn every day, so their mean DAUs are around 10% of their MAUs; and Twitter’s in more or less the same place with 13%. But Facebook and VK see their MAUs return on average ten days each month, while Google & Tencent are stickier still (DAUs are around 40% of MAUs.)

Social Media Audience

For most of the world (China and Russia excluded), Facebook should be seen as having the same role in our marketing communications planning as Google. Together, Facebook and Google are the twin engines that drive discovery for the average web user. Everything else is fresh and interesting, but sometimes we have to prioritise.


  1. David Parkinson says

    Great article – only thing we have found is to be very careful about VK – it has a very high use of live streaming and file sharing of illegal films, skewing its figures substantially.

  2. says

    Agreed. is an odd fish, and bears watching carefully. I tend to think of it as the Russian MySpace 1.0, not the Russian Facebook. From what I know (which is not that much; it's really not my beat) LiveJournal may be the interesting property to watch for Russia.

  3. says

    Interesting Mat, although I'm not sure you can entirely compare Twitter and Facebook by time or visits (although I get the reasons why you've done it) quite simply because the usage is quite different. Facebook is very much a destination, where there is a clear draw for spending time IN the platform. Twitter, conversely, is merely the conduit for short messages and interactions – inherently shorter tasks and thanks to the dominance of mobile apps, something you don't need to spend time IN to use (i.e. notification for messages or @replies).

  4. Gino De Blasio says

    Interesting stuff, although I think the comparison of time spent to usage isn't what should be seen as important, but moreover, which platform is seen as getting greater engagement or developing long lasting bonds from consumer to consumer or brand to consumer. What's going to provide me with the best engagement to my customer base, if I were a business and so on.

  5. says

    I think you're falling foul of another cognitive bias, Gino. For entirely understandable reasons, you're looking at this from the perspective of the brand, rather than the user. Whatever we might like to think, consumers' primary use of social media platforms is not to "engage with brands." So, if we're going to take advantage of them, I'd argue that we need to understand that they're advertising platforms.

    If that's the case (and I'm pretty sure that the investors and commercial teams behind the platforms on my list would agree that I'm right), then attention metrics are very important indeed.

  6. Gino De Blasio says

    I'm sorry, Mat., but I fear you've made the common mistake of dory bias, reading what you want and forming a conclusion which was never actually said. I never said that the primary use of SM is to engage with a brand, moreover it was intonating that a trend I would like to see is this level of engagement in comparison to platform.

  7. Gino De Blasio says

    And finally, attention metrics are highly useful sources, but once again, I never spoke against them, I was talking engagement, and my point whilst presented ham fisted was simple, I would like to see different metrics, whilst yours are highly useful.

  8. says

    Touché re: theory bias, Gino. Hard for me to refute that; but I suspect equally hard for you. Perhaps we can ignore that one?

    I've had another version of this conversation elsewhere: — I feel that if I'm going to address this properly, I'll need to do a bit more data analysis. It's always a bit hard to do this over a representative set of businesses… do you have any ideas about which set of brands would be worth looking at? Which vertical(s)?

  9. says

    I stand by the last para, Paul. Facebook is only partly a destination site; it fulfils a huge role as a discovery platform – driving traffic to news sites and blogs. In fact, I suspect we'll see FB begin to surpass Google as the news sites' primary source of traffic.


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