Which Is The Fastest Growing Social Media Network in 2021?

Social Media Article
20 mins

Every year in January and February, there are a host of new stats released for social media and digital platforms performance. Knowing which platforms are on the up and actively growing as well as which have fallen on harder times can be really important when it comes to informing your digital marketing strategy. It’s not the only metric the smart marketer will be using. Who the audience is and demographic reach are massively important as well, but for most marketers, resources and time are a precious commodity and there just isn’t enough to be everywhere on every platform. All of us want to reach a growing potential audience so overall usage and engagement stats are a great starting point to understand and follow.

The snag is that a lot of the data available online contradicts alternative reports or fills in missing gaps with published ‘facts’ from other sources to try to give a complete picture.  For any of you how have delved into the statistics you will be well aware of what a minefield finding reliable social media stats can be. So many sources, so many different metrics, so many published ‘truths’! Which are you to believe?

Each year one of the areas we look into is Social media platform usage stats. A really great source of well-researched data is We Are Social’s annual Global Digital reports published in association with HootSuite. Unlike a lot of the stats thrown around the internet about social media platform usage, the global digital report cites its sources and makes it clear from where and over what time periods the information has been gathered. So out of interest, a couple of years back, we thought we would analyse and compare the social stats published in 2017 ( see slide 46) vs 2018( see slide 59) to see which social media platforms had the highest rate of growth. The results were quite exciting but it wasn’t as easy as we had hoped it would be and there were some lessons in the process that we want to share with you.

We Are Social’s annual reports are an amazing feat. They definitely shine a torch on an otherwise dark and hard to determine arena of online social media metrics. Small criticisms aside ( more on this in a moment) the reports they produce are epic and you should definitely familiarise yourselves with them if you are looking for some supporting stats to help support your focus and strategy. They have recently published their entire back catalogue at https://datareportal.com/ It’s a fabulous resource for marketers wanting to delve into country by country detail as well as comparing and contrasting different reports over different years. This is one you will want to bookmark and share so do that now.

Here is the comparison table for Social Media Platforms Active monthly users comparing figures published by WeAreSocial in 2020- 2021. We have simply calculated the gains and % change from the data in the two annual reports.

Growth in World’s Most Used Social Media Platforms

Platform 2020 2021 Gains % Change
Facebook 2449 2740 +291  +11.88%
YouTube 2000  2291 +291  +14.55%
WhatsApp  1600 2000 +400  +25% ( sort of!)
Facebook Messenger* 1,300  1300 NA NA
Instagram 1,000  1221 +62 +22.10%
Weixin / Wechat 1,151  1213 +221 +5.38% 
Douyin / TIKTOK** 800  689 -111 -13.87%
QQ 731  617 -114 -15.59% 
Sina Weibo 497  511 +14 +3.01% 
Snapchat 382  498 +116 +30.30% ( sort of!)
Reddit* 430  430 NA NA
Note: All numbers are in Millions        

Data from We Are Social’s Globals Digital Overview reports Jan 2020 and Jan 2021
** These platforms do not publish Monthly Active Users ( MAU) data.
* No updated figures for the last 12 months data may be unreliable
Figures for Twitter and Snapchat use each platform’s latest advertising audience reach 

Data Sources Used.

See 2021 Global Overview Report Slide 93
See 2020 Global Overview Report Slide 95

Why did some of the platforms stay static?

Before you lose your mind and take to Reddit demanding answers, it is worth noting that a few of the platforms above report the same user figures for 2020 and 2021. This isn’t any reflection on those channels. They just haven’t reported any new numbers in 2020, so you can’t really conclude anything from this.

Is Facebook’s User growth slowing?

We have ordered the data by current reported size in decreasing order. It comes as no surprise that Facebook is the largest platform and it continues to dominate in terms of sheer numbers of active monthly users. However, based on these reported figures the overall growth of the platform has slowed significantly from previous years to just 11.88%.

YouTube Strength

YouTube gained just much in terms of users as Facebook has, with a 291Million growth in users. That’s a 14.55% increase on what we saw in 2020.

Snapchat Growth

Snapchat Continues to amaze us, bucking the trend of doom and gloom headlines the platform often seems to attract. They actually had the highest percentage growth in this years roundup gaining just over 30% user growth, putting its rival Instagram % gain somewhat in the shade. There is here one small but important footnote to take on board. As a platform, they don’t publish Monthly Active User Figures ( MAU’s) and so the report references their published Advertising Audience reach. ( the same is also true for Twitter in these reports) Either way, we still think it tells a different story to the one we feel we have been reading. Users are still loving the platform and are flocking to it in increasing numbers.

Instagram Growth?

Instagram growth was strong in the last year, gaining a further 221 million users. That’s a 22.10% increase on 2020’s figures

So the Winner is…

So in conclusion, The fastest growing popular social media network 2020-2021 is…. (drum roll please) ….Snapchat!

But hang on a second…, we have to caveat Snapchat’s apparent meteoric rise to the top and cool its heels a little. If you look at the small print on the 2020 report you will notice that Snapchat didn’t have any new updated user numbers in 2020t, so what you see there is actually 2019’s reported figures. Given that this actually represents 2 years change we would have to take a mean average and halve their annual percentage growth. That would give them just over 15% growth each year.

So the real winner in terms of rate of growth and th sheer number of users added we would have to conclude is WhatsApp. Growing 400 million users in just one year is a staggering rate of expansion and user adoption. Given its popularity and widespread day to day use amongst every age group of users we know, that feels about right in our opinion.

But hang on a second again!.. Yes – you guessed it – WhatsApp didn’t publish updated figures in 2020 either, so to be fair to Snapchat we will have to average out their figures over 2 years as well.

At this point, the drummer has quit and gone home and we don’t have much energy for fanfare. This was only a bit of number fun to be honest! …but Instagram. It’s yours. You are in fact, as far as we can tell the fastest-growing social media network in 2021.

We would also put in an honourable mention for YouTube with an impressive 14.55% user growth. Given that growth represents 291 million additional users, it is proof that video is as popular as ever. Even more so in a year when large portions of the globe were locked in at home. But is YouTube really a social channel? That’s not a debate we want to get into just now. We really don’t have the energy.

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