Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Big Years for Instagram and Pinterest Bust Up the Social Networking Charts

Where the world market for social networks might have seemed boringly static a year ago, much has changed since then.

Specifically, some relatively young sites are making a serious dent, according to research and analysis by Experian Marketing Services.

Pinterest is now the third most-visited social network, Google+ is No. 4, and Instagram is No. 11, in the markets Experian measures — which are North America, Australia, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Singapore and the U.K.

A year ago, Pinterest was No. 188, Google+ was No. 56 and Instagram was No. 609.

If you prefer to see big growth percentages, check these out: As a portion of North American social networking visits, Pinterest grew 5,124 percent and Instagram grew 17,319 percent between July 2011 and July 2012.

Based on the habits of early adopters, Experian research head Bill Tancer predicted that the window is still open for additional niche social networks.

Tancer has been studying growth patterns since following the breakout of YouTube in 2005, and attested that these days the hits are emerging faster than ever.

“The ramp is much quicker,” Tancer said. “You see a bunch of demographic segments adopting at once versus that sequential adoption.”

Interestingly, on the supply side, there actually may have been a decrease in the total number of social networks in the world. As of July 2012, Experian is tracking 6,098 social networking sites, down from 7,397 in July 2011.

So does the quick rise of these competitors mean bad things for the undisputed leaders, Facebook and Twitter?

Tancer said he didn’t think so. “So far, Facebook seems like it will maintain its position as a home base for Internet users, and it’s also become a communications platform. But I see the opportunity for niche networks to grow as people explore more in-depth interests.”

(Not to get all told-you-so-y, but the proliferation of social networks and social networking identities happens to have been my tech prediction for 2011.)

There is also interesting interplay between the networks. Instagram, for instance, gets more than 40 percent of its traffic from Facebook in North America and Brazil, Experian found. But that’s not true in every country; in Singapore, 42 percent of Instagram visits come from Twitter and 22 percent from Facebook.

(And now Instagram has almost finally been acquired by Facebook.)

On another note, Experian only measures mobile Instagram visits from home Wi-Fi networks, so it is probably massively undercounting app usage.

Tancer also had some hypotheses about future growth for newcomers Pinterest and Google+, which have both had perceived slowdowns.

In the case of Pinterest, only 13 percent of U.S. users in the last month were new, which could indicate growth is peaking.

However, Tancer said he recognized a familiar pattern where media attention leads to “trial users,” who register for the site and don’t come back. That’s separate from more organic growth.

“I don’t believe Pinterest has saturated,” Tancer said. “I think we’ll see continued growth. We’ve seen this before with MySpace and others; they reach a plateau and see trial users dropping off, then see growth continuing.”

By the way, Singaporeans seem to be some of the most active pinners on average, spending 23 minutes per session on the site.

Tancer also has a theory about Google+, which is that Google’s secret social weapon is local. Earlier this summer, Google released Google+ Local, which combines place pages, free Zagat ratings and related social activity.

Why does that matter? Because local information is one of the biggest things people search for.

“When you look at search distribution being such a significant channel, local will cause a pretty strong growth pattern for Google+,” Tancer predicted. He promised to pull that data in the coming months.

Please see the disclosure about Facebook in my ethics statement.

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