Social network growth finally going sluggish

Ronny Kerr · March 18, 2011 · Short URL:

eMarketer reports on US Web usage of social networking sites and breaks down by year, age

Social networks just ain’t growing like they used to. I guess a social gaming-induced boom can only happen once.
Around 147.8 million US Web users will check a social network at least monthly this year, up 34.8 million from 2009, according to a new report from eMarketer. By 2013, eMarketer expects that 164.2 million people will use social networking, up 16.4 million from this year--and a far less significant increase. Beyond 2013, this figure will likely taper off even more dramatically.
It’s only natural, of course, that as social networking becomes more mainstream we won’t anymore be seeing the huge surges in traffic and user registrations that we saw in the past couple years.
“With fewer new users signing up, social network users will be more sophisticated and discerning about the people and brands they want to engage with,” said Debra Aho Williamson, eMarketer principal analyst and author of the new report, “US Social Network Usage: 2011 Demographic and Behavioral Trends.”
On the other hand, it’s not completely out of the question (if not guaranteed) that we’ll still see those 150+ million users shifting between different social sites. It wasn’t that long ago that Friendster, Myspace and others were seen as stars of the social networking world. And, these days, social networks of every variety exist.

There’s Path, which encourages users to connect with the people that matter most by limiting everyone to 50 close family and friends. There are all the location networks, like Foursquare and Gowalla. There are the microblogging communities, like Twitter and Tumblr. And so on and so on.

The most intriguing thing about eMarketer’s report is actually this table on age groups using social networking sites:

It has always been apparent and made sense that younger users quickly adopted to social sites. But once you hit around 90 percent penetration, it’s hard to grow very quickly. Meanwhile, older users still have a lot of room to grow. No one can really answer this for certain, but will people aged 18-24 now still use social networking sites when they hit 45? 55? 65?

I assume most people would agree with me that the answer is “yes,” as long as the tools still exist. The younger generations have grown up with social media, understand it, and for the most part can’t really see a world without it. There has always been a Facebook and there will always be one.

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