Facebook has overtaken MySpace as the top global social network with 132 million unique visitors for a staggering 153 percent growth rate, according to comScore. MySpace is second at 113 million visitors (3 percent growth year-over-year), and Hi5 grew its global audience 100 percent to land at 56 million unique visitors.
A new report from the online tracking company shows global usage of social networking sites growing 25 percent since June 2007. The U.S., however, saw the phenomenon cool off somewhat to 9 percent growth year-over-year.
Sprechen Sie Social Network?
Think of social networking’s worldwide growth as a variation of performance artist Laurie Anderson’s song, “Language is a Virus.” Language/translation efforts by the likes of Facebook, Hi5, Friendster, Orkut and Bebo have helped the contagion of social networking spread worldwide, with comScore reporting growth rates of 66 percent in the Middle East/Africa, 35 percent in Europe, 33 percent in Latin America and 23 percent in Asia.
“I think the scalability of some of these U.S. brands into international markets has been a big factor,” Andrew Lipman, comScore senior analyst told TechNewsWorld. “Specifically, if you look at Facebook and Hi5, what they’re doing in terms of foreign language interface translation and their emphasis on cultural relevance in each of the markets they’re expanding to has helped them grow pretty dramatically across all global regions.”
“Translation opens the door, and all the other things follow,” Mike Trigg, vice president of marketing for Hi5, told TechNewsWorld. Those can include more users contributing to the site and special content deals with local providers, such as a music awards promotion deal Hi5 landed in Asia.
Language services and content have been key in launching Facebook to the top of the international rankings, Zia Daniell Wigder, senior analyst at JupiterResearch, told TechNewsWorld.
“They didn’t offer translations until this year. Facebook was behind the curve, not as localized as MySpace or Hi5,” Wigder said. “They were doing very well in the English-speaking world but not until providing localized content could they tap into that growth.”
Finding the Translation
At five-year-old Hi5, users aren’t just uploading party photos or blogging about blind dates; they’re also serving as Internet versions of United Nations interpreters, helping the Web site stay relevant in different languages and cultures.
“It’s crowdsourcing as it applies to translation,” Trigg said. “We have a member translation tool that allows users to translate different words — it helps with colloquialisms and slang and different spellings of words, and those get captured and flagged by users, and then the community votes on the accuracy.”
Trigg credits the application with helping Hi5 experience 80 percent global growth in the first six months of the year as it expanded to 27 languages. The San Francisco-based social network may still be living in the shadow of Facebook and MySpace in its home country, but Trigg says Hi5 is No. 1 in Mexico and is very strong in Central/South America, Western Europe and Southeast Asia.
Meanwhile, Back in the US
The comScore findings for the North American market may force Facebook to ask itself a “status update” question: what are you doing now … to kick-start growth for the Web site that’s published in CEO/Founder Mark Zuckerberg’s mother tongue?
“Even though many are U.S.-based in terms of overall usage, the U.S. market is a pretty mature market,” comScore’s Lipman said. “It’s not going to sustain the level of growth it’s seen over the past few years. But it’s definitely an audience to grow if you emphasize these global regions.”
comScore’s findings may not include the full effect of Facebook’s recent redesign efforts, but its clear that slowing overall social network growth in the U.S., along with some challenges for perennial leader MySpace, offer opportunities for smaller U.S. players like Hi5 — which hopes to expand to 65 languages by year’s end — to add audiences and mindshare.
“You’ve seen this happen before in the social networking category,” Trigg said. “Friendster came along and took on MySpace and now we’re seeing Facebook take on Friendster and MySpace. We can take away from the larger players and address what we feel is an underserved market in the U.S., which is people with a cultural affinity with their family and friends all over the world.”