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The Rise of Social Media: How the world became connected

Now this looks like a job for me, so everybody, just follow me...

Over half of the planet's population now uses social media
Over half of the planet's population now uses social media

When his catchy number ‘Without Me’ was released back in 2002, Mr Marshall Bruce Mathers III (A.K.A, Eminem) probably didn’t think that in only a couple of years the rest of the world would be calling for followers at the top of their lungs too.

Twenty years later, the reach, impact and overall influence of social media are almost inescapable.

In the decade in which we sit, colossal portions of our lives are lived online. True, the pandemic and the restrictions that accompanied it have played a part in increasing the amount that we live through the internet. Yet even so, much of global society had already long been on course for the level of ‘web world’ that now dominates our daily existence.

A tool for both work and play, the net is an incredible resource that in modern society we would now almost doubtlessly be lost without. Yet over the last 20 years particularly, it has become the vehicle for such a gargantuan proportion of our social activity that for many it is now seen as integral to their interaction with others.

Social media in all of its forms has indisputably changed the world. In the positive, it has connected people personally and professionally, given friends and loved ones another avenue of long-distance contact, and brought people from all corners of the planet together in discussion of interests, advancement of causes and debate over views.

In the negative, it has provided a platform for those who would callously abuse, belittle, intimidate, bully and hurt others to do so from behind the shield of anonymity, and verbally attack anyone, at any time, from any place.

Though it has brought both good and bad to global society, what cannot be denied is that social media is now a cog without which the machine of the modern world would struggle to function.

Here, we take a look at its fascinating growth, the birth and rise of some of the most popular platforms, and the mind-blowing grip social media as a whole currently has on over half of the planet’s population.

Ah, when all we needed was MySpace and MSN, eh? Alas, they would come to be only a drop in the ocean...

The History Bit: Development of Social-Media Platforms

Though the complex history of social media and its genesis goes back quite a bit further, SixDegrees, launched in 1997, is often regarded as the first real online social networking site.

The development of social media began with simple platforms such as GeoCities – one of the earliest social networking services – which was launched in 1994, followed by Classmates.com in 1995, and then SixDegrees two years later.

Unlike instant-messaging services that did not feature personal profiles and the like, SixDegrees was the first online site that was created for ‘real people’, using their real names and including friends lists and school affiliations. Little did its makers know that social media would one day come to drive the lives of the planet...

Fast-forward to 2015 (and following the launch and growth of some pretty big names in the social media sphere) research showed that the people of the world spent 22 per cent of their online time on social networks, their popularity having skyrocketed due to the widespread love affair with the smartphone.

In 2021, 4.33 billion people worldwide were using social media. That’s a lot. A very lot indeed...

Some of the most popular social media sites of today (and when we say ‘popular’, we mean those with more than a whopping 100 million registered users) include TikTok, WeChat, Instagram, QZone, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Weibo, Twitter and, of course, the big daddy of them all, Facebook. Depending on interpretation, other platforms that are referred to as social media services include YouTube, Quora, Snapchat, Pinterest, and WhatsApp.

Over Half the World Connected...

To repeat, there are 4.33 billion active social media users worldwide. In context, the world’s population is currently sat at around 7.9 billion, and you don’t have to be much of maths whizz to figure out that that means more than half the people on God’s green Earth are social media users. According to DataReportal, there were 409 million new users on social media in the month of October 2021 alone.

The pandemic has certainly played its part in a recent boost in social media users. Between October 2019 and October 2020, social network usage reportedly grew by a whopping 21.3%.

Holding Ourselves to Account...

As of last year, the average 18 to 34-year-old was running 8.4 profiles on social media. In India, that average was 11.5.

Such numbers make you wonder how we find the time to actually socialise. However, multi-social media use is quite easily explained through the fact that many platforms that can technically be described as ‘social media’ are specialised services used by many users for one specific purpose – Instagram for photos, LinkedIn for work, YouTube for videos, etc.

Even so, where do we find the time to run our online selves?

Getting Down to Business...

Reportedly, 81 per cent of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have social media accounts, with companies allocating an average of 14 to 20 per cent of their marketing budget to social media.

At the last check, 71 per cent of SMEs were marketing their wares or services via social media, and of this number, 52 per cent were creating a marketing post at least once a day.

There’s no denying that these days it’s a big part of what keeps the money machine turning...

The platforms to end all platforms (and we don’t mean heels)...

Facebook

The indisputable Goliath of the whole bunch, with roughly 2.91 billion monthly active users as of the third quarter of 2021, Facebook is the biggest social network worldwide.

As a business, Meta Platforms Inc owns Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger. As such, during the first quarter of 2021, 3.45 billion people were reportedly visiting at least one of its core products.

A name now almost synonymous with internet use, Facebook is the third most visited website in the world with an estimated 3.65 billion monthly visits, only being outranked by YouTube at 3.99 billion and Google at a colossal 17.37 billion.

Despite having come into the world way back in the murky days of the early noughties, Facebook is still one of the most downloaded apps on the planet. Indeed, by the close of 2020, only TikTok had trumped Facebook in terms of the number of total downloads that year.

On average, users spend 34 minutes on Facebook every day. This may not sound like that much, but that’s 238 minutes a week (just shy of four hours) and 12,376 minutes a year (over eight-and-a-half full days).

Twitter

With 199 million monetisable daily active users, Twitter continues to pack a punch in the social media pantheon.

Interestingly, according to recent stats, people aged between 35 and 49 make up the largest demographic of Twitter users – 28.4 per cent of the total usage population. However, they are followed hot on their heels by the 25 to 34s, who comprise 26.6 per cent of the network’s user base.

On average, a rather sizeable 500 million tweets are shared per day. This works out at 6,000 tweets per second, 350,000 tweets per minute, and a whopping 200 billion tweets every year.

While the average Twitter user has just over 700 followers, it is of course possible to garner quite a few more than this, and all the easier if you’re one of them there famous types. Christiano Ronaldo is packing an impressive 92.1 million, and Justin Bieber is doing even better at 114.4 million.

But alas, both are falling short in comparison to Barack Obama, who is leading the pack with a mighty 130.3 million followers.

Ah, to be popular...

Instagram

This photo-driven behemoth of a platform is flying high these days, at last count boasting a total of 1.074 billion active monthly users.

Instagram crossed the 1 billion line back in 2018, and as part of the Meta empire, is a mighty cog in a seemingly unstoppable machine.

Interestingly, 88 per cent of Instagram users are in fact outside the US, though the country does still boast 140 million account holders.

The sixth most visited website in the world, there are more than 200 million business accounts on Instagram, and over 500 million accounts use Instagram Stories every single day.

They say a picture paints a thousand words, and in turns out a lot of people agree...

LinkedIn

Built to help people forge professional connections, LinkedIn now has more than 756 million users in over 200 countries.

Naturally, the majority of users are employed professionals, or graduates seeking work, and with this in mind it’s no great surprise that the 25s to 34s make up the biggest user demographic, representing a chunky 60.1 per cent of those with personal accounts. Currently there are over 57 million companies listed on LinkedIn along with around 15 million job openings.

A big sell with this platform is that it allows the publication of long-form content, as well as images, short text and videos, and this is undoubtedly responsible for a big part of its continued popularity in the business world.

TikTok

With an impressive 850 million downloads in 2020, the triumphant video-focused TikTok became that year’s most popular social media platform.

Having picked up the pace in terms of users in 2019 (in fact crossing the 1 billion line that year), TikTok’s popularity became meteoric as the Covid pandemic progressed, proving a huge lockdown hit. Initially targeting users aged 18 and under, TikTok has now become popular with adults and at least 9 in 10 users open the app on a daily basis.

Today, TikTok is available in 155 countries and can be accessed in 75 languages. Although it’s still quite a new kid on the block in terms of the social media scene, TikTok has spent the last couple of years proving it is a force to be reckoned with, banking $1 billion in 2020 alone.

As it stands today, the company is worth over $50 billion. Yikes.

What are your views on social media? Is it a beneficial tool, or a vehicle for abuse? Does it improve our lives or is its use now out of control? Email me at daniel.morris@mnamedia.co.uk

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