It seems a week doesn’t go by without hearing news of another rising-star social media start-up that quickly garners millions of new users.
Consider Instagram, the photo-sharing program with its own social site. It launched in 2010 and Facebook bought it last week for a reported $1 billion. Or Pinterest, which also launched two years ago and was deemed the fastest growing social site ever to break through the 10 million unique visitor mark (which happened earlier this year).
With so many sites already out there, it may be confusing as to what are the best ones to use for personal or business purposes. As well, it may be debatable who’s on the top of the most popular list, depending on what ranking source you use.
For our list of the most popular sites, we’ve referred to statistics from Experian’s Hitwise, which measures market share on the Internet by sourcing data directly from ISP networks, Alexa, a web metrics sites, and statistics gathered by Google ad planner.
Facebook is still the undisputed king of social media sites. Founded in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg and some friends of his, it currently has more than 950 million users, making it the most widely used social media site. The ability to fully customize an account, add photos and videos, tag friends, send messages, and form custom groups accounts for the popularity of the site. Facebook combines the functions of all other media sites and streamlines them for easy access and use.
It also has been extremely popular for business branding and outreach, although its new Timeline feature may limit certain marketing efforts. The site can also be used on mobile devices, making social connectivity faster and more convenient, although some complain its mobile app is limited.
YouTube is primarily focused on video sharing, and anybody with an account (a Google account for that matter), can upload and view videos posted almost anywhere in the world (some countries like China and Turkey have banned the service). Founded in 2005 by three former PayPal employees, Google bought it for $1.65 billion in 2006.
YouTube is free to use, and in addition to posting videos on the site, they can also be embedded on individual Web sites. Anything from TV shows, commercials, movie trailers and product reviews to comedy skits and how-to videos can be found on YouTube. However, unless verified as a user with a good track record, videos are limited to 15 minutes in length.
More than 800 million unique users access the site each month.
Twitter, unlike the previous two, focuses on microblogging, with users limited to posting messages with a maximum character count of 140.
Jack Dorsey founded the extremely popular site in 2006. As of today, Twitter has more than 170 million users, with tweets averaging more than 300 million everyday. One feature of Twitter is that it enables users to follow other users. Hence, many celebrities and athletes have used Twitter to reach out to their fans.
Businesses and brands utilize Twitter in a variety of ways: as a public relations channel, sending out Tweets on press releases, offers and other announcements; to communicate regularly with customers and conduct surveys; as well as a customer support channel.
Yahoo! Answers is surprisingly No. 4 on this list, but with 130 million registered users, and offering a niche that focuses mainly on asking questions and giving answers on specific subjects, it fills an empty rung on the social media ladder.
There are basic profile pages, where you can list your interests as well as your Yahoo Answer contacts and friends. Users can choose whether to be updated on questions or answers posted. Points and levels show how involved a user is in asking or answering questions, with more points gained for the latter.
One drawback to this site is the fact that the answers to queries are not filtered and monitored; hence the quality can be sketchy.
LinkedIn at 96 million unique users per month makes it No. 5 on the list. Primarily used for professional networking, users connect with others based a certain level of relationship. Reid Hoffman and founders of PayPal launched the site in May 2003.
Job, personal and business opportunities can be found through direct connections, and second- and third-degree connections, which are those connected to your contacts. Individuals and businesses can set up profiles, and users can join groups, which are usually related to a profession and are used for discussions about career or business related issues, as well as for employment purposes.
The rest of the best
Tumblr is sort of a combination of Twitter and Pinterest in that it is image based, but with text also part of the equation. It’s simple to use, and those with a Spotify account can now share music. The site has more than 45 million unique visitors per month.
Pinterest is the newbie on the block that has generated a storm of interest, quickly surpassing older and newer social media sites. It focuses on sharing photos between users and its layout is similar to a Pinboard, where users can re-post (or re-pin) images from other users, and like images as well. Images can be posted in categorized collections, such as Architecture, Favorite Places and Sports, and link to the original source.
Founded in 2010 by Ben Silbermann, the vast majority of users are women. Users are “invited” to join, or one can petition to join, but the invite may or may not come. Time magazine listed it as one of the 50 best Web sites of 2011.
As of April 12, the site has 31 million unique users per month. Businesses and brands that are utilizing Pinterest range from Sony Music and Whole Foods to the Wall Street Journal, posting charts, celebrity photos, fashion shots and more.
MySpace was initially at the top of the food chain (from 2003-2008), but its decline in popularity was due to stiff competition and the complicated layout of the site.
It’s popular with musicians and it has reorganized its layout a bit in the past several years.
Google+ started out like Pinterest as an invite-only social networking site, but due to demand in September 2011 it opened to everyone over age 18. In January of this year, those young as 13 in the U.S. and a couple of other countries could register for the site.
While it’s been difficult to track the number of users, Hitwise ranks Google+ with .53 % web traffic market share, and it’s been reported that by the end of this year, it will have more than 400 million registered users.
The social media site uses Circles to organize people into groups such as family, friends, business or whatever circle you want to create. Images, text, video and the like can be posted, and you can link your Blogger (another Google product) profile to it, or vice versa.
An American programmer who wanted to stay in touch with his friends and keep them updated on what he was up to started LiveJournal in 1999. The company moved to Russia in 2009, which was bought by the Russian company, SUP Media, in 2007. It has since grown to about 17 million users who keep online diaries or blogs, with a “friends lists” that contributes to its social aspect. It is heavily used for political commentary.