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Social Media: Facts, Figures & Forecasts

The evolution of social media has been one of the most life-changing developments since the turn of the new millennium. Fuelled by society’s urge to connect with people on a much broader scale than was previously possible, it not only changed lives, but transformed digital marketing.

 

As an award-winning social media agency, at Social Chameleon, we are students of the game and perfectly placed to delve into the history of social media platforms, analyse where we are now, and where we’re heading in the future! 

 

What is Social Media? A Brief Overview

 

Modern social media defines it as being the online platforms that facilitate content creation and distribution, the sharing of opinions, and the nurturing of connections with others.

 

The word “social” perfectly encapsulates this form of communication. It enables people to build online communities, network, and interact with people all over the world to an extent that simply isn’t possible in real life.

 

Social media has also opened up countless opportunities for brands and businesses to approach their digital marketing strategies in a completely different and often more cost-effective way.

 

When was Social Media Invented?

 

It’s easy to think of social media as something that only came into existence when the internet became easily accessible to consumers in the late 1990’s.

 

The reality is that a variety of data-sharing services, digital networks, and online chat rooms launched in the UK and abroad from the 1960s onwards laid the foundations for the social media platforms we know and love today.

 

The Early Days

 

Modern day social media began in 1998 with Six Degrees, which is considered to be the very first online social media platform, and encouraged people to find friends, whether they were signed up to the site or not, connect and communicate with them.

 

At its peak, SixDegrees boasted around three and a half million registered members worldwide, but it failed to stand the test of time and folded just two years later.

 

Social Media in the UK

 

The first social media platform to find success in the UK is probably unknown to most people under 35, but Friends Reunited was a huge success following its launch in the year 2000.

 

The site’s USP was that it allowed people to search for old school or work friends and reconnect with them, and at its peak in 2005, Friends Reunited boasted over 15 million subscribers and was even purchased by ITV.

 

However, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube’’s explosion in popularity in the mid to late noughties generated a level of competition that Friends Reunited just couldn’t match. And while the site did not officially fold until 2016, its sharp decline began long before then.

 

The Networking Networks

 

You may be surprised to learn that LinkedIn, launched in 2002, has become the most enduringly popular social media site in the UK and worldwide, serving as the go-to platform for those interested in business content and online networking.

 

And then there was MySpace. Shortly after its launch in 2003, it became the first social network to really influence popular culture, change the music industry, and launch the careers of bands and solo artists in a way that had never been seen before.

 

And there’s many a millennial who to this day will get all misty-eyed when thinking of their old MySpace page!

 

The Most Prevalent Social Media Platforms in 2024

 

The big three social media platforms of the noughties are still going strong today, but they have since been joined by a new generation of social sites.

 

Here’s a rundown of the biggest players in the social media game, in 2024.

 

Facebook

 

Mark Zuckerberg had no inkling of how he would change the world, when he invented Facebook in 2004. Originally conceived as a way to connect students throughout Harvard University, Zuckerberg thought the platform would cover colleges alone.

 

How wrong he was, as Facebook would end up becoming a household name from Alaska to Australia, making Zuckerberg a billionaire at an age when most of his peers were still living with their parents! 

 

Even at the grand old age of 20, Facebook is the number one social media site in the world, with over three billion active monthly users as of the end of 2023. 

 

Facebook tapped into our collective need to connect, allowing people to share their lives with others, and keep track of people they may not normally socialise with.

 

TikTok

 

Facebook may be the biggest, but the most influential social media platform as of 2024 is undoubtedly TikTok. 

 

TikTok was founded in 2017 by Chinese internet company ByteDance, who had already launched a hugely successful video sharing platform called Douyin in 2016, and wanted to replicate that success worldwide.

 

And replicate it they did, as TikTok has not only amassed over 1.5 billion active monthly users, but it has had a huge cultural and economic impact all over the world.

 

Authenticity is the key to TikTok’s success, particularly among Gen Z, who crave content created by real people expressing themselves in a genuine way.

 

X

 

More than any other social media platform, since its launch in 2006, X has carved out a niche as the go-to site for breaking news, and huge numbers of people swear by it as a way of keeping up with what’s going on in the world. 

 

Also, the fact that X allows the expression of individual opinions concisely in text makes it easier to consume and contribute information, with adding a bonus of being able to read a raft of opinions relating to the tweet you are seeing.

 

It’s also one of the best ways to take a peek into the normally closed world of celebrities.

 

However, X is arguably the most divisive platform, beset by issues such as the polarising nature of owner Elon Musk, a supposed move to the right, and a general perception that it is a much more toxic space these days.

 

Instagram

 

The ying to X’s yang is arguably Instagram, which is a visual platform where users share photos and videos. 

 

Launched in 2010, just two years later Instagram had grown in popularity to such an extent that Mark Zuckerberg paid one billion dollars to buy it, partly because he saw them as a threat to Facebook’s social media dominance.

 

It is hugely popular among 18-34 year olds, who make up over two thirds of Instagram’s audience. Much like TikTok, this Gen Z audience loves the authenticity of the platform, with the added bonus of being able to search content by location, meaning you can check out the coolest places to go and things to buy near where you are.

 

YouTube

 

As YouTube approaches its 20th birthday in 2025, some people still don’t see it as a social media platform, thinking of it more as a place to watch music videos, movie trailers, sports highlights, or simply to disappear down a rabbit hole of your choosing!

 

However, YouTube is very much a social site, as it enables anyone to share video content, accumulate followers, and interact with them through the chat function. YouTube content creators work hard to build a community, with regular videos that often have excellent production values.

 

Furthermore, being able to share videos easily with your friends, along with the inevitable discussions that follow, are at the heart of social media.  

 

Snapchat

 

One of the younger platforms on our list is also one of the most popular among young people, specifically those under 20! Although, with 800 million monthly active users, the platform is a heavy hitter among all demographics.

 

Snapchat’s popularity is largely down to the number of extra features it offers, in addition to its core video sharing platform. These include filters and lenses which allow you to change your appearance or background, increasing the LOLs and the shareability!

 

How Many People Use Social Media?

 

The number of active social media user identities surpassed 5 billion for the very first time at the start of 2024, reaching 5.04 billion.

 

This number should be taken with a Salt Bae-esque pinch of salt, given how many 

fake social media profiles there are, but even accounting for this, it is still an eye-popping number.

 

Here’s a rundown of the approximate number of monthly active users for all the major social media platforms, as of Q4 2023.

 

Facebook – 3.069 billion

 

YouTube – 2.491 billion

 

Instagram – 2 billion

 

TikTok –  1.562 billion

 

Snapchat – 800 million

 

X – 619 million

 

Pinterest – 463 million

 

LinkedIn – 310 million

 

The Impact of Social Media on Society

 

Social media changed the way we all connect and communicate, massively increasing the number of people we can interact with and making it much easier to make new friends all over the world, which has a huge number of mental health benefits.

 

Social media has also allowed anyone to find their voice and speak their truth, whether it be creating fun content, spreading an important message, or simply sharing aspects of their lives.

 

It also changed the way we consume media forever, opening up a world of information at our fingertips and democratising news consumption in particular, by making it accessible to those that wouldn’t normally search it out on more traditional platforms.  

 

Social media has also changed digital marketing for good, allowing brands and businesses to not only reach huge numbers of people, but use social media agencies such as Social Chameleon to curate specific digital campaigns, targeting exactly the right people with the right type of content. 

 

Future Predictions: The Next Phase of Social Media

 

We know where we are, how we got here, but what’s next for social media?

 

Here are our top five hot takes!

 

A Wearable Future

 

Let’s start with the hardware, as it’s easy to see a future where social media is consumed not just through phones, computers or tablets, but with wearable tech such as VR headsets, smart glasses, contact lenses, or even implants.

 

An Altered Reality

 

Speaking of VR, while Mark Zuckerberg’s metaverse may be floundering, virtual reality could be set to play an integral role in social media in the years and decades to come. 

 

Instead of interacting with your friends and connections online, you could just pop on a VR headset and immerse yourselves together in a computer-generated environment.

 

Typing could also become a thing of the past too, as advances in haptic technology and voice recognition software provide an even easier way to communicate.

 

AI 

 

Then there’s the ever-present spectre of AI, which we predict will grow in influence, particularly when it comes to specifically targeting people with the kind of content they want to see.

When it comes to content, in particular, AI is expecting to come on in leaps and bounds in the future, creating posts and articles that will be indistinguishable from real-life writers.

 

Social SEO

 

A change in digital marketing that is certainly here to stay is the rise of search-first social media marketing. What this means is that consumers are increasingly moving away from traditional search engines and using social media platforms such as Instagram and TikTok to find what they seek.

 

This will open up even more marketing opportunities in the coming years. Especially for brands and businesses working with leaders in search first social marketing such as Social Chameleon.

 

Social Commerce

 

Another way that consumers will be able to use social media to help with their retail choices is through Augmented Reality.

 

Snapchat is already also using AR technology to make online shopping more immersive. With a new “Shopping Lens” feature, enabling brands to connect their catalogue through Snapchat. Here users can use the AR lens to “try on” clothes or see how products such as speakers fit in their rooms.

 

And we predict that social media networks will increasingly be using AR in this way.

 

The Consumer is King

 

The one strand that connects all of the future predictions about social media is that the user will be at the heart of it. As we get ready to take the lead in a new era of social media marketing, it is exciting to know what we will be achieving in the future!

 

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