2022 has been a year of significant change on social, with notable highlights including impactful algorithm updates on Instagram, Elon Musk’s abortive attempt to buy Twitter, and the breakthrough success of new social app BeReal.

Social media is clearly evolving fast – but are the big platforms still growing, in terms of their user base? We’ve scoured all the latest social media usage data to discover which is the fastest growing social network heading into 2023.

Before we begin, a short disclaimer: social network usage figures are published in lots of different formats, by various sources including both external analysts and the social platforms themselves. With this in mind, please take the figures published here as a ballpark guide, rather than gospel. The figures for 2022 used in this article were initially compiled for a report published by Statista. The figures for 2020 are taken from one of our previous articles on social network growth rates.

Keep reading beyond the table for our analysis of what these figures mean for the future of the social networks and social media marketing.

 

Platform

(All numbers in Millions)

2020

2022

Gains

% Change

Facebook

2,449

2,910

 +461

 +18.82%

YouTube

2,000

2,562

+562

 +28.1%

WhatsApp*

 1,600

2,000

 +400

 +25%

Douyin / TikTok

800

1,600

+800

+100%

Instagram

1,000

1,478

+478

+47.8%

Weixin / Wechat

1,151

1,263

+112

+9.73%

Facebook Messenger*

1,300

988

-312

-24%

QQ

731

574

-157

-21.48%

Kuaishou

-

573

-

-

Sina Weibo

497

573

+76

+15.29%

Snapchat**

382

557

+175

 +45.81%

Telegram

-

550

-

-

Pinterest

322

444

+122

+37.89%

Twitter

340

436

+96

+28.24%

Reddit

430

430

N.C.

 N.C.

 

Strong growth for TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest and Twitter

 

Among leading social platforms, the networks with the highest growth rates between 2020 and 2022 were TikTok/Douyin, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest and Twitter.

TikTok and Douyin (two versions of the same platform, for rest-of-world and Chinese audiences respectively) saw a doubling of their user base, which means their cumulative growth rate was 100%. The network’s growth is especially impressive given that in 2021, TikTok was temporarily banned in the United States by the Trump administration. The platform’s continuing rise has led the Financial Times to herald the dawn of a more multipolar internet, which mirrors comments we made earlier this year in our roundup of social media trends for 2022.

Instagram also grew massively from 2020 to 2022, adding 478 million users and thereby achieving a growth rate of 47.8%. The network’s combination of high usership with effective marketing and advertising options have made Instagram a key platform of focus for many marketers.

Snapchat has combined healthy growth in its user base with improving commercial performance. As of Q3 2022, The network has secured increases in revenue every financial quarter but one since the start of 2021. (The only fall came straight after a dramatic spike to $1.6bn in Q4 2021.)

In 2022, Snapchat moved to shore up its strong position in the young teen social media market, with the launch of a ‘Family Centre’ feature enabling parents to gain oversight of how their kids aged 13-17 are using the platform. With parents on-side, there’s good reason to believe Snapchat can retain its preeminent position among the youngest social media audiences.

In terms of user counts, Twitter and Pinterest have existed in Facebook’s shadow for well over a decade. That situation hasn’t changed between 2020 and 2022, as although both Twitter (+28.24%) and Pinterest (+37.89%) have higher active user growth rates than Facebook, the platforms still operate at fundamentally different scales. Facebook’s global user base of 2.9bn dwarves that of Pinterest (444mn) and that of Twitter (436mn). Incidentally, we were interested to note that Pinterest’s user base is now larger than Twitter’s.

 

 


No change in the top 3 social networks

 

Despite the impressive audience growth rates of platforms like TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat, the top three social networks in terms of user count remain Facebook, YouTube and WhatsApp.

This is testament to the “network effects” that have helped drive the overall success of social networks as a medium. The more users a social platform – or any type of network – gains, the greater the potential for exponential growth driven by advertisers, other third parties and end users who want to use the same platforms as their peers.

If a platform’s user base has grown significantly in recent years, there’s a good chance it will keep growing thanks to network effects.

With all that said, growth in users doesn’t tell the whole story about the top 3 social networks’ performance. Facebook, in particular, has had mixed fortunes in 2022. An internal report leaked in 2021 showed that the “time spent” metric for U.S. teenagers on Facebook was down 16% year-on-year, which may indicate that younger users are choosing to spend more of their time on other platforms. Facebook’s user base has resumed growth after showing a historic, first-ever decline in the three months to December 2021. However, there’s still a sense that the network’s dominance is on the wane.

YouTube and WhatsApp have continued to exhibit impressive growth. Although their status as social media platforms remains somewhat contentious, both of these heavyweight digital platforms have beefed up their social features in recent years. Launched globally in July 2021, YouTube Shorts has provided creators with a new, short-form, made-for-smartphone format that shares much in common with TikTok posts and Instagram Reels. Meanwhile, WhatsApp has been Beta-testing a new ‘Communities’ feature that can be used to bring multiple WhatsApp groups together under the same umbrella.

 

 


The new social network to watch: BeReal



In August 2022, a new social app, BeReal, reached 10 million daily active users (DAUs) – up from just 10,000 a little over a year ago. This would give the app an annual growth rate of about 1,000,000,000%!

Of course, this order of growth rate can only be achieved in the early stages of a social network – but we think BeReal warrants your attention nonetheless. At the time of writing, it has a higher rate of weekly downloads than any other app on the App Store.

Perhaps the key to BeReal’s burgeoning success is just how different its offering is to potential rivals Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok.

It’s a photo-sharing app built around a simple idea: every day, at a different time, every BeReal user is prompted to share a photo, taken with their smartphone’s front and rear cameras at the same time, within a two-minute time limit. This creates an unedited post that the user’s friends (or other people, if the user chooses) can see and react to with comments and emojis. A user’s posts can be archived as ‘Memories’.

What’s fascinating about BeReal is that it avoids some of the perceived pitfalls of leading social platforms. It sends users just one notification per day, at the start of the two-minute countdown to upload a photo. Posts on the app can’t be edited – a stark contrast with Instagram and Snapchat, which have both been accused of setting unrealistic beauty standards through their use of filters.

BeReal doesn’t currently have enough users to make it onto our social networks growth ranking – but strictly speaking, it’s one of the fastest-growing social apps that warrants your attention in 2022 and 2023.

Of course, BeReal is not the only up-and-coming social platform aiming to establish a big global user base. Live-audio-based social platform Clubhouse is another one-to-watch, having clocked up over 28 million downloads since its launch in 2020.

 

Why a changed social media landscape can mean more freedom for marketers

 

We would argue that the most striking trend to emerge from our research into the fastest growing social networks in 2022/23 is that most of the established platforms are still growing. In fact, some ‘challenger’ platforms – especially Instagram and TikTok – are growing at such a rate that they’ve edged closer to the market leader, despite Facebook’s continued growth.

The upshot of this widely distributed growth is that there’s now a wider selection of social networks that possess the audience numbers and mature advertising offering needed to be viable marketing platforms.

Once upon a time, most businesses would do all of their social media marketing on Facebook, and perhaps one or two other platforms. That picture has gradually changed since the mid-2010s, and there are now many social platforms that could be fruitful ground for marketers. These include (but are not limited to) Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube, WhatsApp, Twitter and Reddit. And this is before we’ve taken into account promising new platforms such as BeReal and Clubhouse.

So, instead of marketing on the biggest few social platforms, marketers now face the challenge of deciding which social networks are most relevant for their brands. There are a number of factors that could make a platform more or less well suited to your brand, including:

  • Audience – are your customers using the platform?
  • Advertising options – what paid advertising options are offered by the social network?
  • Format – do the platform’s key content formats and trends align with your brand and its offering? (e.g. Instagram is great for highly visual brands such as florists and fashion brands; Twitter is great for B2B service providers who want to become known for thought leadership.)
  • User intent – what are people’s intentions when using the platform (e.g. product research, staying in touch with friends), and do these align with your offering?

Even if you’re currently happy with the social platforms your brand uses, it can be a useful strategic exercise to assess your brand’s social media marketing options every now and then. Consider all of the factors that could affect each social platform’s suitability for your brand, and then compare the options on their various pros and cons. Are you using the best-matched social networks for your business? And if not, is there potential for you to experiment with another platform?

Many businesses will already have put years of effort and budget into growing their existing social channels, and with this in mind, it’d be risky to abandon a well-established channel in one sudden move. However, it’s healthy to recognise that there are other potentially fruitful social networks out there.

This is a time of evolution in the social media world. Navigating the change will require striking a balance between serving the audience members who want to stick with their old social media habits, and keeping up with other audience members who will move on to new platforms and new ways of using social. There’ll be a lot of work involved, but ultimately, you should now have greater freedom to reformulate your brand’s social media use than at any other time in recent years. Greet the change as an opportunity to find the perfect social media marketing mix for your brand.