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This year, 2.46 billion individuals, or one-third of the global population and 71.0% of internet users, will access social networks at least once a month, up 8.2% from 2016. Mobile phone adoption and expanding mobile coverage will drive that growth.
"For much of the world, social networks are a way to stay connected with friends and family," said Corey McNair, forecasting analyst at eMarketer and author of the new report "Worldwide Social Network Users: eMarketer's Estimates and Forecast for 2016-2021. "In recent years, leading platforms Facebook and Twitter have faced competition from Snapchat and messaging apps like WeChat, which eMarketer does not include in its social network definition, that have adopted overlapping features and services."
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To distance themselves from competitors, Facebook and Twitter have placed an emphasis on developing video content. In addition, Facebook has not shied away from developing features that mirror those of the competition, as when Facebook developed its version of Snapchat's "Stories" feature for its platforms. This shift in focus has been successful in retaining social network users. More than ever, internet users are turning to social networks as part of their daily fill of media content.
However, increased video content hasn't added new social network users, it's just reinforced existing usage. North America and Western Europe—and urban areas with widespread mobile bandwidth to support streaming—will see social network user growth of only 2.9% and 3.4%, respectively.
Most user growth will be driven by the widespread availability of affordable smartphones, accessible Wi-Fi coverage and expanding 3G and 4G networks. Individuals taking advantage of these developments in Asia-Pacific, Latin America and the Middle East and Africa will largely be new internet users who are signing up for social media for the first time. In 2017, 81.8% of social network users worldwide will log on via a mobile phone. By 2021, that share will grow to 86.7%.
eMarketer has significantly raised its estimates for China throughout the forecast based on new data showing social network user growth outperforming expectations, specifically among those 45 and older. We have also raised projections for the number of social network users in India based on new data for the country. Altogether, these changes have generated a significant increase in estimates for the number of social network users worldwide.
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