Yesterday, a comScore Report was released detailing usage stats that highlight the continued rise in the importance of social networking on the web. In this post, I'd like to use data from 900+ social networking sites on Amzini to dive further into the distribution and drivers of the continued surge in social media growth.

First, a few highlights from the comScore report:

  • Social networking accounts for 1 of every 6 minutes spent online
  • As Facebook reaches market capacity (reaching 157.2 million visitors and 73% of the total U.S. Internet population each month), its growth has not been limited. Facebook has increased average U.S. visitor engagement from 4.6 hours to 6.3 hours per month over the past year
  • As MySpace declines, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Tumblr have grown at impressive rates

comScore Graph of Time Spent Online

These usage statistics provide powerful figures that suggests social networking is here to stay. However, it is important to note that it's growth has not been uniformly distributed.

The social networking industry is currently evolving in a similar pattern to our population, with a growing division between a small elite class and a growing middle class. The industry's growth has been driven by the top 10 networks, which make up nearly 80% of the website traffic in the industry. In the last 3 months, these 'elite' networks have successfully expanded to new markets and have experienced an impressive 11.7% increase in unique visitors (Compete.com).

The bottom 50% of networks have also experienced high growth, with a 48.1% increase in unique visitors over the same period of time. Niche social networks continue to apply social networking to more specific target audiences, and their focused approach has enabled more opportunities for success on a smaller scale. However, even with this growth these smaller networks still only account for 1.5% of overall site traffic.

The other networks that are competing with the 'elite' networks have actually lost 1.9% of their visitors over this time frame. The industry leaders are creating separation, and their scale leaves less room for large-scale competitors. The 'upper-middle' class is shrinking and their members are either surging or fading back to the competitive 'middle class'.

As the social networking industry continues to grow, the social landscape's composition will likely include a small number of 'super networks' and an increasingly diverse and competitive number of niche social networks.