No navel-gazing here

News And Views

News & Views

  • 23 August 2016
  • Hugh Burrows

The Social Network Maturity Cycle: is Early Adoption the New Majority?

A couple of years ago, we were told that Vine was the fastest-growing social platform in the world. Then it was Instagram; now it’s Snapchat.

To put this in the context of absolute numbers, US web marketing agency Webpage FX recently created a rather natty infographic illustrating the monthly active users gained by Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, four years after launch.

The scores on the doors are:

Twitter – 30 million users after four years (2010)

Facebook – 140 million users after four years (2008; despite having dropped the .edu registration requirement and opened to all users in 2006)

Instagram – 180 million users after four years (2014)

Snapchat – 200 million users after four years (2015).

Whilst Facebook is still the grand-daddy of the social networks, its newer brethren have demonstrated an increasingly rapid growth rate, perhaps signifying that Everett Rogers’ innovation growth curve (1962, below) has now been ‘front-ended’ and that swift adoption and therefore commercial momentum is the norm.


It’s certainly true that brands are now truly at home on Instagram and have been trialling Snapchat in increasingly large numbers. These two platforms seem to have been particularly adopted in the automotive (Mercedes, Audi), FMCG (TRESemmé, Dollar Shave Club), apparel (Nike, Adidas) and food / beverage (Pepsi, McDonalds) sectors.

But what of the other newer social networks? The defiantly anti-commercial ‘hipster Facebook’, Ello, does not seem to have released any user figures – and may be condemned by its obvious lack of a revenue-generating business model. Nor can I find any information on user stats or advertiser uptake for Peach, a sort of image-based Twitter-Facebook hybrid.

So what are the lessons for those thinking of launching a social network and hoping for fast growth and monetisation?

There are certainly some commonalities between Instagram and Snapchat…

Make it mobile-first: in Europe and North America, well over 50% of social access is via smartphone and the number of active mobile social users has risen by 17% year-on-year (source: Global Web Index).

Keep it simple: whilst Instagram and Snapchat have rocketed, Vine (and perhaps to a lesser extent, Pinterest) have plateaued, suggesting that setting the creative bar higher for users ultimately limits the pool of people prepared to devote time to creating or curating content.

Deliver unique features / benefits: both Instagram and Snapchat launched on the basis of uniqueness – photo editing and ‘disappearing content’ respectively.

Play to the trend for shortform: images, short video and messaging-based apps such as WhatsApp, WeChat and Facebook Messenger are the fastest-growing channels.