China and US Battle for Social Media Dominance   / Credit: Global social media network image via Shutterstock

Economic output is not the only arena where the United States and China are competing for world dominance. They’re also dueling to be top dog in social networking. And in this battle China has the numbers, research company eMarketer reports.

China is already the clear leader in the number of social network users and will outdistance the U.S. by more than 2-to-1 in 2014. There were an estimated 256 million social network users in China last year, compared with 147 million in the U.S.; by 2014 that gap will have widened to 414 million Chinese social networkers versus 170 million in the U.S.

But the numbers of users elsewhere prove that social networking is a worldwide phenomenon. EMarketer predicts  there will be nearly 1.5 billion users by the end of the year. As of last December, 1.2 billion people around the world used social networking sites at least once per month, by eMarketer's estimate. That represented 23.1 percent growth since 2010. Double-digit growth will continue through 2014, though the rate of change will decrease as the market matures.

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According to eMarketer, the region with the most social network users is Asia-Pacific, where 615 million Internet visitors will log on to social sites by the end of this year.

Gross user numbers alone don't tell the whole story. China and the U.S. are the top two countries in terms of overall number of users, but the rankings of key social networking countries change when examined in terms of penetration rates instead of growth rates.

In 2012, the U.S. will have the greatest share of social network users as a percentage of the total population (49.9 percent), followed by Canada (49.3 percent), South Korea (46.6 percent), Australia (44.4 percent) and Russia (41.9 percent). In terms of percentage of Internet users, however, Brazil and Indonesia will come out on top this year, with 87.6 percent and 87.5 percent of the Web users in those two countries, respectively,  using social networking sites.

Reach BusinessNewsDaily senior writer Ned Smith at nsmith@techmedianetwork.com. Follow him on Twitter @nedbsmith.