Home Social Networking: Taking Off or Taking a Dive?

Social Networking: Taking Off or Taking a Dive?

Recently, there have been a few conflicting reports about the current popularity of social networks here in the U.S. On one hand, you have reports that point toward the growth of social networks and their continuing crossover into mainstream use. On the other hand, recently released stats on visitor data show that these networks are maturing and plateauing. So, what’s really going on here?

Social Networks Taking a Dive?

Today on GigaOm, Om Malik reports on some of the new numbers coming in for social networks here in the U.S., specifically new comScore data which shows that the two biggest networks – MySpace and Facebook – are beginning to plateau in their growth.

Image courtesy of GigaOm

Additionally, he points to an eMarketer article where they’ve lowered their 2008 advertising estimates from $1.6 billion to $1.43 billion. By looking at these numbers, Malik concludes that social networking is in for “tough times going forward.” But is that really the case?

Social Networking Taking Off?

On the flip side, a completely different, and more positive, report on social networking was also released today. The report is called “The Consumer Internet Barometer” and is produced by The Conference Board, a global business research and membership organization, and TNS, a world leader in market insight and information who surveys 10,000 households across the country and tracks who’s doing what on the Internet.

Interestingly, their report doesn’t mention a decline or plateau at all. Instead, it concludes that what was once only a niche activity is now a growing trend that has more people joining every day. According to the report, one out of every four people visit social networking sites, and half of those that do, do so on a daily basis. The trend is so prevalent, says Lynn Franco, Director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center, that it’s going to extend beyond just personal use. “The next growth wave will be expanding and incorporating these networks into our business lives,” she claims.

While this report doesn’t look at traffic stats and advertising projections, it is looking at market penetration, and in doing so, paints a much rosier picture than the worrisome plateau in the chart above.

What It All Means

Perhaps social networking is reaching a saturation point as it matures, but that’s not to say that it’s all doom-and-gloom. Many people are still joining social networks, and, with each new generation, social networking will become even more of a part of life than it was for the generation prior. Whether MySpace and Facebook will always be the hot properties that they are today is yet to be seen, but the rise of new sites like Twitter, for example, shows that there’s still potential for new social networks to rise up and gain mainstream appeal.

If anything, the sheer number of users on these networks today prove that social networking has earned its place in today’s mix of new media. Don Ryan, Vice President, Technology and Media, TNS, agrees, saying, “as social networking becomes a staple in people’s media experience, brands will place it alongside print, TV and search as a main advertising vehicle.” Hmmm..maybe a saturation point isn’t really such a bad thing after all?

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