Last Updated on by Karl
Social networking platforms are locked in a never-ending game of musical chairs.
Every year, the whims of a fickle public, the introduction of new players, and shifting global trends trigger a shuffle in social media’s most important leaderboard.
Aside from these shifts just being “generally quite interesting” to industry watchers, they’re also super useful for savvy digital marketers.
Knowing how deeply each of these platforms reaches into the global online community is critical to your company’s social media marketing strategy. As is understanding other nuances relating to the platform’s growth.
Choosing which social network your brand is going to focus its marketing efforts on is a very important decision, and one that shouldn’t be taken purely on a hunch.
Sure, a particular social media platform may “feel right” for your brand, but we recommend that you take a bunch of other variables into consideration before making the leap. Amongst these, “relative popularity” and “growth” are two of the most important factors.
So, to help your brand with this crucial decision, Dreamgrow maintains this post: An up-to-date view on the movers, shakers, newcomers, and immovable monoliths that make up the social media landscape.
Let’s jump in.
The Top 15 Social Media Sites and Apps by Active Users
The metric we use to determine a social network’s size is “number of active users” – the total amount of unique users currently registered on the platform. It’s a metric that’s used throughout the tech industry as a key indicator of popularity, engagement, and growth.
Below is a graph depicting the top 15 social networking sites and apps as calculated by industry-leading provider of business data, Statista.
A Closer Look at the Top 15 Social Networks
1. Facebook – 2.74 Billion Active Users
Facebook is the undisputed heavyweight champion of social media platforms.
While it can’t take credit for getting everything started, that honor goes to SixDegrees (RIP), Facebook is the social media juggernaut that not only showed the world what the internet can be, but also fundamentally changed the way humans interact with each other.
It took Facebook only ten months to reach a million subscribers and only eight years to reach a billion. As of February 2021, Facebook boasts 2.74 billion active users – a number that grows with roughly 500,000 new users every day, or six new users every second.
Despite its immense popularity, Facebook isn’t the most visited website in the world. Somewhat surprisingly, its 25.5 billion monthly visits are bested by YouTube’s 34.6 billion and totally eclipsed by Google’s 92.5 billion.
In comparison to other social media platforms, Facebook is the most popular amongst users aged between 12 and 34 years, although their US-based share of this demographic is most definitely shrinking.
The Infinite Dial reports that the 58% of survey respondents in this age group who identified Facebook as their favorite social network in 2015 has shrunk to 32% in 2020. The biggest culprit – Instagram. The photo and video-sharing social network saw its share of this demographic go from 15% to 27% in the same time period.
Here are some other interesting facts about Facebook usage:
- India is the country with the most active Facebook users (290 million), the US is second (190 million), and Indonesia third (140 million).
- In the US, 73% of all Facebook users log in on a daily basis. 93% use Facebook weekly, and 98% log in at least once a month.
- Despite continued criticism of Facebook’s role in spreading disinformation, 36% of US citizens say they regularly use the platform as a source of news.
- The average American user spends up to 38 minutes per day on Facebook.
2. YouTube – 2.291 Billion Active Users
The second-most popular social media platform on our list, YouTube comes in at a super-impressive 2.29 billion registered users.
However, since ANYONE can enjoy YouTube content, regardless of whether or not they’re a registered user, this figure may not be the most accurate representation of the platform’s true popularity.
Launched in 2005, the video-sharing platform was initially intended to be a dating service, with the founders reportedly publishing ads on Craigslist to entice women into posting videos of themselves talking about their ideal partners.
The (rather understandable) lack of response resulted in the site being opened up for videos of any kind – a decision that would ultimately make Steve Chen, Chad Hurley, and Jawed Karim multi-millionaires.
The company overcame numerous technical and legal obstacles on its way to becoming not only the world’s leading video-sharing platform but also the target of a $1.65 billion acquisition by Google. All of this by November 2006 – only 16 months after its official launch.
YouTube is also one of a tiny selection of social media platforms that reaches very young age groups. A 2020 study conducted by Pew Research revealed the following about the viewing habits of US children under the age of 11.
- 80% of parents say their children watch YouTube videos.
- Only 19% of parents say that their children don’t watch YouTube videos.
- More than half of parents said their children watched Youtube at least once a day.
Despite its popularity amongst a younger audience, YouTube also boasts some remarkable stats for reaching the adult demographic. Almost three-quarters (74%) of all adults in the US use YouTube. Facebook comes in second at 68% and Instagram is third with 40%.
When it comes to national demographics, more than 30% of all YouTube’s traffic originates from only three countries. At 16.4%, the United States contributes the biggest percentage. India is second with 9.2% and Japan grabs the bronze with 4.8%.
3. WhatsApp – 2.0 Billion Active Users
Founded in 2009 by two former Yahoo! employees, WhatsApp’s original goal wasn’t to be an instant messaging (IM) app, but rather to simply show “statuses” next to the names of each entry in a user’s address book.
“At some point it sort of became instant messaging,” Alex Fishman, a friend of founder, Jan Koum, told Forbes.
This accidental evolution led to the app dominating the free IM market and would also end up making the founders immensely wealthy – the latter thanks to Facebook’s $16 billion acquisition in 2014.
WhatsApp is one of only three social networking platforms with a user base of over 2 billion – a milestone they reached in 2020. The app’s recent growth rate has been astonishing, with the last billion users hopping on in only four years!
Because WhatsApp has resisted integrating traditional advertising into their revenue model, the platform doesn’t offer the width of marketing options that many other social networks do. But that doesn’t mean that the app doesn’t offer enormous marketing value for businesses who use it as a communications tool.
4. Facebook Messenger – 1.3 Billion Active Users
It says a lot about the power of Facebook that a service WITHIN their main platform reached the number four spot on this prestigious list.
It also says a lot about WhatsApp that they were able to dramatically outperform Messenger despite the latter being embedded into the world’s most popular social network.
Messenger’s initial incarnation was “Facebook Chat” – a simple IM feature that was launched into the Facebook environment in 2008. Noting Chat’s potential as a standalone app with its own unique commercial ecosystem, Facebook overhauled the service and rebranded it as “Facebook Messenger” two years later.
Unlike WhatsApp, Messenger’s proprietors had no issue with introducing monetization features into the app’s core functionality. As a result, Messenger offers businesses an unparalleled level of contact with their customers and prospects.
There are more ways to interact with your leads on Messenger than you can shake a stick at. From automated chatbots that field incoming queries and promote products, to advertisements displayed in the user’s inbox, Messenger is a B2C marketer’s dream.
Facebook gleefully reports that over 40 million active businesses use Messenger to interact with their potential customers and that over 20 billion messages are sent between businesses and regular users every month.
Interestingly, while Messenger still lags behind WhatsApp in terms of total number of global active users, Messenger is comfortably the more popular choice amongst users in the United States.
Statista’s most recent figures on US IM engagement reported that 12.1% of US mobile owners were using WhatsApp, compared to Messenger’s 56.8%.
Age-wise, there’s one group that towers above the rest when it comes to Facebook Messenger adoption in the United States:
- 13 – 17-year olds account for 1.7% of the app’s usage.
- 18 – 24-year olds account for 14.7%.
- 25 – 34-year olds represent 27.3% of Messenger’s US user base.
- 35 – 44-year olds come in second with 21%.
- 45 – 51 year olds account for 14.7% of the country’s Messenger’s user base.
5. Instagram – 1.221 Billion Active Users
The world’s most popular photo-sharing app comes in at number 5 with a total of 1.22 billion global active users.
Founded by former Google employee, Kevin Systrom, in 2009, Instagram is the product of an incredibly diligent analysis of the social media landscape at the time.
An early round of seed funding allowed Systrom to pivot the app, which initially focused on attracting whiskey and bourbon aficionados, into something broader. Something with industry-defining image manipulation tech and a far more immersive social experience than any other image-sharing service at the time.
The result was an absolute beast of a social network. By April 2012, the month Facebook acquired it for $1 billion, Instagram had grown its user base to 35 million. Three months later, it stood at 80 million users. By June 2016, it reached the landmark 500 million figure.
One of Instagram’s most enduring contributions to the world of digital marketing was the creation of “influencers”. For better or worse, certain users’ popularity gave their profiles an “aspirational” slant, which soon resulted in the birth of a whole new marketing channel that empowered regular folk to monetize their fame.
Demographically, Instagram appeals primarily to users under the age of 35, with 71% of the app’s user base falling into this category.
It’s also an immensely popular platform for B2C marketing, with more than 70% of US businesses actively using it as a marketing channel. Instagram offers incredible engagement rates in comparison to Facebook, its biggest competitor. Despite offering relatively similar functionality and engagement mechanisms, Instagram posts see, on average, a 23% higher engagement rate than images published on Facebook.
At 140 million users each, the US and India represent the platform’s two biggest national demographics. Brazil (99 million) is ranked second and Indonesia (88 million) third, while Russia (56 million) misses out on a podium finish.
6. Weixin/WeChat – 1.213 Billion Active Users
With an incredibly wide range of functions that allow users to do everything from sending text messages and conducting video calls to processing digital payments and playing video games, it’s no surprise that WeChat has such a high position on our list.
It’s also a testament to WeChat’s immense usefulness that the app achieved this level of popularity despite actively sharing users’ private information with the Chinese government as part of the latter’s mass surveillance and censorship efforts.
Regardless of this unfortunate collaboration, WeChat has blasted its way into virtually every aspect of Chinese life – a notion underscored by the fact that the app’s adoption by older age groups is extremely impressive.
In 2018 an astonishing 98.5% of Chinese mobile users between the ages of 50 and 80 are registered WeChat users. While 60% of WeChat users over the age of 60 use more than half of their mobile data on the app.
For social media marketers in the US considering WeChat as a possible marketing channel, it’s useful to know that 23% of America’s mobile internet users between the ages of 18 and 24 are registered on the app.
7. TikTok – 689 Million Active Users
There are overnight success stories and then there is TikTok. The video-sharing platform burst onto the international scene in 2017 and quickly started racking up adoption figures that made competitors weep onto their keyboards.
Two years after its emergence onto the social media landscape, TikTok was in the top five of the world’s most downloaded apps. A year later, it was number one. And not by a small margin, either. The fledgling social network outperformed its nearest rival, WhatsApp, by a staggering 250 million downloads.
Have a look at the table below for some more context. The difference between WhatsApp and the third-placed Facebook is only 60 million downloads!
TikTok still has a ways to go to catch up with its competitors in terms of the breadth of its demographic reach. In the United States, 47% of the platform’s user base is between the ages of 10 and 29.
8. QQ – 617 Million Active Users
Another property owned by the Chinese conglomerate Tencent (the other is WeChat), QQ has been around forever (in internet years).
Launched under the name OICQ in 1999 as a downloadable instant messaging service, the platform quickly became China’s most popular digital contact platform and played a pivotal role in “killing” email in the world’s most populous country.
QQ’s early rise to dominance as a business communication platform was helped by the software’s exceptional handling of file transfers. This created a network effect where companies simply HAD to be on QQ because, well, all their partners, vendors, and clients were already using it.
Being first to market with such a useful platform, especially in a territory that actively blocks so many external cloud-based apps, helped build the foundation for QQ’s enormous success.
Despite its ubiquity in China, QQ hasn’t managed to make its mark on the rest of the world. International versions of the platform weren’t integrated with many valuable QQ products, rendering it mostly valueless outside its home territory.
9. Douyin – 600 Million Active Users
To keep it simple, Douyin is TikTok for a Chinese audience. The two platforms have the same parent company and the same core functionality but are most definitely two different apps, marketed to two different demographics.
In China, Douyin has become one of the most popular marketing channels for luxury brands. Many have struggled to create meaningful engagement with the platform’s young user base, but there have been some success stories.
Unlike TikTok, Douyin has embraced user-monetization and provided content creators with more concrete mechanisms to generate revenue stream from their videos – mainly by integrating with popular Chinese e-commerce platforms like Taobao.
10. Sina Weibo – 511 Million Active Users
Sina Weibo is a Chinese property that started out as a micro-blogging site and has evolved into the country’s third-largest social network.
Unlike the other Chinese platforms on this list, Weibo’s focus is very much on the creation, delivery, and consumption of user-generated content. It’s an information center that’s been adopted by businesses, journalists, influencers, and regular folk alike.
Companies, especially, have taken to Weibo as a marketing platform, with several international brands even succeeding in tapping into the massive Chinese market. The most successful of these has been Tourism Australia who won Weibo’s “most promising and popular outbound destination award” at a Chinese influencer summit in 2019.
Sadly, as can be expected, the information that’s distributed on Weibo is subject to strict government scrutiny and censorship. But this hasn’t stopped continued efforts by foreign companies wanting to market themselves to a third of China’s population.
11. Telegram – 500 Million Active Users
Users left the Facebook-owned chat app in droves – the majority of them trading it for Telegram, a hyper-secure IM and social networking app favored by blockchain enthusiasts and cryptocurrency traders.
The Guardian reports (via data obtained from App Annie) that between January 1 and January 12 of 2021, WhatsApp had fallen from the 8th most downloaded app in the UK to the lowly position of 23rd.
During roughly the same period of time (January 1 – January 21), Telegram gained approximately 25 million new users. That’s a 5% increase in their user base in just three weeks! It also became the world’s most downloaded app for both Android and iPhone users during a month that WhatsApp would rather forget.
From the graph above, it’s very clear that Telegram’s adoption saw a massive boost between March 2018 and January 2021. During these three years, the app saw its monthly active users grow by a staggering 150% – going from 200 million to 500 million users in only 34 months.
According to data published by Hootsuite, Android Telegram users spend more time on the app than those using Facebook Messenger. The social media specialists report that the average user spends 2.9 hours per month on Telegram, vs Messenger’s 2.7.
12. Snapchat – 498 Million Active Users
Few people would have guessed that an app rejecting the notion of “once it’s on the internet, it’s forever” would thrive the way Snapchat has.
The photo and video-sharing platform became famous for only displaying users’ posts for a limited time before it’s deleted. Forever. This infused each Snapchat interaction with an immediacy that resonated with a younger generation of mobile internet users.
It also helped that the app broke the mold when it came to augmented reality filters and lenses – features that instilled Snapchat interactions with a creative irreverence missing from other social networks.
Snapchat has shown some seriously impressive growth in its daily active users (DAU) outside of the United States and Europe.
In the four years between Q4, 2017 and Q4, 2020, the app’s usage in these two regions has maintained a steady rate of growth. DAUs in the rest of the world, however, have skyrocketed in this timeframe, going from 47 million to a whopping 99 million.
As of December 2020, Snapchat DAUs in the “rest of the world” now outnumber their US and European counterparts.
From a demographic perspective, two statistics stand out:
- 59% of all US internet users between the ages of 13 to 24 are on Snapchat.
- Since 2016, Snapchat has been the most popular social network amongst teens and young adults.
13. Kuaishou – 481 Million Active Users
China’s 1.5 billion people absolutely love video-sharing and live streaming. So much, in fact, that we find ourselves talking about the second app of its kind that’s focused exclusively on the Chinese market.
Kuaishou is the territory’s second-biggest video-sharing social network, currently sitting with around 80% of Douyin’s total active users.
Functionally, it offers very similar features to Douyin, but there are key differences in the type of content the two networks create and how it is curated and displayed.
- Kuaishou is the more popular platform for live streaming, serving double the amount of live streams in its local content section than Douyin.
- Kuaishou has a stronger relationship-driven approach to content recommendation. Around half of the content in a user’s feed comes from accounts the user already follows.
- The vast majority (up to 90%) of content displayed on a Douyin user’s feed is from accounts that have gained popularity amongst other users.
Chinese social media experts, Walk the Chat, believe that Kuaishou’s stronger community focus is the main reason why it boasts e-commerce conversions that are 5 – 10 times higher than Douyin’s.
14. Pinterest – 442 Million Active Users
As little as a year ago, Pinterest wouldn’t have made it onto our list of the 15 most popular social networking sites and apps. The image-sharing platform saw a record growth year in 2020, gaining more than 100 million new monthly active users between January and December.
Important information for brands looking to promote themselves on Pinterest is that the social media platform is only now starting to make its mark outside of the United States.
As of January 2021, the vast majority (roughly 23%) of the social media platform’s users all find themselves in the US. The next closest territory is Germany which accounts for a mere 3.9%. France is third with 2.7%
Having made this point, it’s important to note that the incredible growth Pinterest experienced in 2020 was largely due to increased international adoption.
Speaking to shareholders in their Q4 earnings report, the company announced that it saw an astonishing 46% increase in international monthly active users (MAU). During the same period, the network saw a more modest domestic increase of 11% new MAU.
Demographically, Pinterest has largely been dominated by female users. Currently, the gender split is sitting at approximately 60/40 percent. This gap is narrowing, however, with the platform reporting a 50% increase in male users in 2020.
15. Reddit – 430 Million Active Users
Fittingly, the “front page of the internet” manages to remain on our list despite some strong opposition and numerous shakeups in the leaderboard.
Reddit is a haven for the niche-obsessed. No matter what your interests are and where your passions lie, you’re virtually guaranteed to find a like-minded community ready to embrace, educate, and make fun of you.
Founded in 2005, Reddit is one of the oldest social networks featured on our list, a fact that’s evidenced by its uncanny similarity to old-school discussion forums. This clearly hasn’t damaged the platform's ability to continually attract new users, though, as Reddit has consistently maintained a year-on-year MAU growth of 30%.
Reddit thrives in the US, where 25% of the country’s adults actively use the platform to read and share information. Reddit.com is currently ranked as the country’s 8th most popular website and boasts an average visit duration of 20.06 minutes – comfortably longer than Amazon, Wikipedia, Yahoo, Twitter, and eBay.
50.8% of Reddit’s desktop traffic originates from America, with the UK (7.85%) and Canada (7.76%) taking up the next two spots. Australia (4.34%) misses out on the podium.
Currently, Reddit has just over 2.2 million subreddits. These are largely independent communities that exist with minimal moderation and interference from the platform itself. This autonomy has played a big part in Reddit’s success. Users are able to form thriving communities around some pretty obscure topics – something that breeds fierce loyalty to a platform.
There you go. The 15 most popular social networking sites and apps. Hands up if you never thought we’d get to the end of this gigantic list.
In all seriousness, knowing as much as possible about a platform before you start promoting your brand on it is absolutely critical to social media marketing success.
Different functions and features make certain platforms more appropriate for one brand than another. At the same time, different legacies and cultures also attract specific audience demographics.
Build solid insight into all of these variables and your next social media campaign is far more likely to show the returns your business deserves.