Which Social Networks Should You Care About in 2014?

Digital Marketing

It’s hard to believe that Face­book will be ten years old this Feb­ru­ary and yet social media still seems new to many of us. Brands are strug­gling as much as they ever have done to under­stand what to do with it, and which net­works actu­al­ly have any real val­ue. I noticed a num­ber of social chal­lenges that brands faced in 2013 but prob­a­bly the two most com­mon ques­tions I got asked were:

  1. Which social net­works should I focus on?
  2. How much of my time and resources should I allo­cate to each one?

The answers to these ques­tions are not as com­pli­cat­ed as peo­ple often think, but nei­ther is there cor­rect answer to either of them. Many peo­ple have writ­ten blog posts sug­gest­ing that they have the answer — but rather than add my own opin­ions to that long list, I thought I’d just look at the data to see where the world seems to have been spend­ing it’s time over the last 12 years. (Info­graph­ic cre­at­ed in Adobe Pho­to­shop obvi­ous­ly!)…


Social Networks 2014


The fig­ures…

I’ve pur­pose­ly focused here on the total num­ber of user pro­files for each net­work*. I did this pure­ly for the sake of com­par­i­son (rather than dai­ly / month­ly active users), so before any­one bursts a blood ves­sel and calls me out in the com­ments, let’s save the messy debate around active v inac­tive fans for anoth­er time. All I want to do here is look at which social net­works peo­ple have cho­sen to join over the last decade or so.


The fig­ures them­selves high­light a cou­ple of inter­est­ing points that social media exec­u­tives often miss:

  • There are almost as many social pro­files just among these 21 net­works, as there are peo­ple in the world!
  • Many busi­ness peo­ple for­get that Chi­na has 3 of the world’s largest and most pow­er­ful social net­works. (Sina Wei­bo for exam­ple has the same mar­ket pen­e­tra­tion in Chi­na that Twit­ter does in the US).
  • Some of the Mid­dle East­ern brands I spoke to last year told me that YouTube was far more valu­able to their brand than either Twit­ter and Face­book, and they built their social strate­gies accord­ing­ly.
  • Many Span­ish brands have cho­sen to focus their efforts on the local net­work Tuen­ti instead of Face­book.
  • The old­est social net­work on the list Friend­ster, has a sur­pris­ing­ly large and active fan base (admit­ted­ly now with a dif­fer­ent pur­pose than it was cre­at­ed for).
  • Bebo is still going and plan­ning to be prop­er­ly re-launched again by orig­i­nal co-founder Michael Birch.
  • Google+ (the net­work we all like to poke fun at), has become the place for com­ment­ing on YouTube.
  • Mar­ket ana­lysts sug­gest­ed in 2013 that Pin­ter­est (not even 4 years old), had dou­ble the click-through-rate of Twit­ter and drove 2x the aver­age order val­ue of Face­book, even though it only has 5% of the user base.
  • Russ­ian net­work VK is big­ger than Insta­gram glob­al­ly with a mas­sive 228m reg­is­tered users.
  • SnapChat (hack­ing issues aside), 2013 saw more pho­tos dis­trib­uted on SnapChat (up to 400m each day) than there was on Face­book.
  • But… old-timer Orkut (the for­got­ten Brazil­ian net­work owned by Google) is still “big­ger” than the trendy new kid on the block SnapChat.


All of this is very inter­est­ing, but just because these appear to be the world’s largest net­works, still doesn’t mean you should be pay­ing atten­tion to them…”


In truth, noone should be telling you where to spend your time, bud­get and resources oth­er than your fans. Just because a great arti­cle on Mash­able might sug­gest that Pin­ter­est is smash­ing all sales records for brand X, doesn’t mean it will do the same for you. Insta­gram and Twit­ter have recent­ly shown impres­sive returns for brands exper­i­ment­ing with adver­tis­ing, but it’s quite pos­si­ble that their audi­ences behave com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent­ly than yours. It is for this rea­son that the social team at Adobe always encour­ages brands to focus only on their own audi­ences — and to become obsessed with under­stand­ing what they are inter­est­ed in, and how they behave.


I like to sim­pli­fy this kind of audi­ence analy­sis (and con­ve­nient­ly avoid­ing huge spread­sheets), by sug­gest­ing that brands should first look at just five key areas. I call them the “Five W’s”…

  1. Who is talk­ing about you?
  2. What are they say­ing?
  3. When did these con­ver­sa­tions take place?
  4. Where did these con­ver­sa­tions hap­pen?
  5. Why did they hap­pen?

It is the 4th (and pos­si­bly most impor­tant), “W” that I chose to focus on for this graph­ic. I’ve done this because I spent a lot of time in 2013 high­light­ing impor­tant con­ver­sa­tions to brands that they weren’t aware of — on net­works that they weren’t mon­i­tor­ing close­ly enough. It is for this rea­son that I encour­age every brand to exam­ine their fan base, and look at EVERY men­tion of their brand on a reg­u­lar basis, in order to under­stand which net­works mat­ter most to them. This kind of audi­ence analy­sis helps brands to make bet­ter busi­ness deci­sions by reveal­ing valu­able insights such as; Which coun­tries and lan­guages are the most rel­e­vant? What are the com­mon top­ics among each dif­fer­ent audi­ence seg­ment? What trends are devel­op­ing? Which con­ver­sa­tions drove the high­est engage­ment and which men­tions deliv­ered the most sales? (I wrote more about this in Adobe’s “Like-Cycle” white paper) ear­li­er last year.


It is only when you can see what per­cent­age of these con­ver­sa­tions are hap­pen­ing on each net­work, that you can allo­cate your time, resources and adver­tis­ing bud­gets effec­tive­ly”.


An example of social platform analysis from Adobe Social

An exam­ple of social plat­form analy­sis from a dash­board with­in Adobe Social


Final­ly ~ Peo­ple Share Emo­tions Not Facts

My final point is sim­ply a friend­ly word of cau­tion… Social net­works are the one place where peo­ple share the things they are most pas­sion­ate about. Whether is is shar­ing an excit­ing piece of con­tent or respond­ing to some­thing provoca­tive, emo­tions dri­ve behav­iour online. Seek­ing to con­nect with their audi­ence, I often see social mar­keters mak­ing deci­sions about con­tent or con­ver­sa­tion strate­gies, based around emo­tion rather than facts.

Emo­tions dri­ve social media, but they shouldn’t dri­ve your strat­e­gy”.

What mar­keters need to be mind­ful of is that their emo­tions don’t cloud any deci­sions they make around their social strate­gies, or how they think they should reach their fans. By that I mean that a strat­e­gy (in any area of busi­ness not just social media), should nev­er be based upon per­son­al opin­ion, bias or emo­tion. Suc­cess­ful strate­gies should be built upon inter­pret­ing accu­rate insight from your audi­ence — and not from any assump­tions or “gut feel­ings”. Only when you have that data at your dis­pos­al and you are able to under­stand it, should you go about cre­at­ing rel­e­vant and excit­ing con­tent for each social net­work. And the brands with the best under­stand­ing, will always have the most pas­sion­ate and engaged audi­ences.


* (I per­son­al­ly believe that email was social a long time before any of these. I also think of Skype, XBox Live, Playsta­tion Net­work or pow­er­ful mes­sag­ing app’s such as Japan’s Line as “social net­works”, but I’ve left them off here. Again thats a feisty dis­cus­sion for a dif­fer­ent time…)

** There are many social lis­ten­ing tools on the mar­ket which claim to help you track the val­ue of social rela­tion­ships (we obvi­ous­ly believe that Adobe Social is the best!). What is impor­tant for you, is to know which net­works your fans and cus­tomers care about — not just which social net­works you think are impor­tant.

Digital Marketing

Posted on 01-03-2014


  • By Jeremy Waite - 3:52 PM on January 3, 2014   Reply

    Apolo­gies to any­one read­ing this post! I am usu­al­ly an advo­cate of 500 word blog posts (a la Chris Bro­gan or Seth Godin), but this one just need­ed to address to many things!

    Feel free to drop you throughts in these com­ments or con­tin­ue the con­ver­sa­tion with me on Twit­ter @JeremyWaite or with the team @AdobeSocial.

    Thanks for read­ing. Have a great 2014.

  • By Jeremy Waite - 11:56 AM on January 6, 2014   Reply

    UPDATE: I had to draw the line on this graph­ic some­where oth­er­wise it would have become a bit of a beast, but in ret­ro­spect I would have liked to include includ­ed Japan’s social net­work site Mixi on it. As of May 2008, Mixi had over 21.6 mil­lion users. [Wikipedia]

  • By Jeremy Waite - 9:16 AM on January 15, 2014   Reply

    Google+ num­bers released at the end of last year claimed 540m (active) users. There was also an error on the ini­tial graph­ic stat­ing that G+ was found­ed in 2010 where­as it was actu­al­ly 2011. (Thanks to Francesco D’Alessio for the heads up). The chart has been updat­ed accord­ing­ly and it now paints G+ in an even more favourable light.

    No longer just a net­work to help pump up your SEO, it is har­vest­ing some pow­er­ful data from it’s users that should “improve your Google expe­ri­ence”. Since Google claim that up to 50% of users are logged in with their Google account at any one time, it makes Google+ a pret­ty attrac­tive place to be — espe­cial­ly if you are an e‑commerce site look­ing for as few clicks-to-bas­ket as pos­si­ble.

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