Facebook Inc. (FB) and other social media company investors have another thing to cheer about: a potential 8% increase in the number of users that access a social network at least once a month this year.


That’s according to research firm eMarketer, which is out with a new forecast that pegs the number of social media monthly active users (MAUs) at 2.46 billion individuals, or one third of the global population in 2017. Put it another way, it's 71% of worldwide internet users and marks an 8.2% increase from a year ago. "For much of the world, social networks are a way to stay connected with friends and family," said Corey McNair, forecasting analyst at eMarketer  in a report highlighting the new forecast. (See also: Google and Amazon Take a Page From Social Media's Playbook.)

Cheap Phones and Wi-Fi

Driving the growth of new users isn’t a move on the part of the leading social media companies including Facebook, Twitter Inc. (TWTR) and Snap Inc. (SNAP) to embrace video content on their platforms but the increased adoption of mobile phones by people around the globe. eMarketer said in its report that most of the user growth is thanks to the widespread availability of lower cost mobile phones, increased access to Wi-Fi and the expansion of 3G and 4G networks around the world.

Some of the regions taking advantage of these trends and are forecast to be big consumers of social media include the Asia Pacific region, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa. This year eMarketer said 81.8% of social media users will access the platforms via mobile devices. By 2021, that’s expected to increase to 86.7%. In areas where social media has long been a part of consumers' daily lives, growth isn’t expected to be that big, with the research firm predicting social network user growth of 2.9% in the U.S. and 3.4% in Europe in 2017. The researchers noted those growth forecasts underscore the fact that embracing video content isn’t a driver of new users in established markets.

Among the growth markets for the social media companies, the research firm pointed to China as an area that should have a huge uptick in users. eMarketer raised its forecast significantly in that country due to new data that shows growth, particularly with people 45 and older, is outperforming the firm’s expectations. It also upped the number of MAUs logging on at least once a month in India. The new forecast comes at a time when Facebook has hit a record, surpassing 2 billion active monthly users in late June. To hit the next billion, which will be tougher to do, the company is setting its sights outside the U.S. and Europe and in places like China where its been banned since 2009. (See also: Facebook Hits 2B Users: Will China Get It to 3B?)