Facebook has been making the headlines recently under the guise that it is losing users, and that “Facebook Fatigue” is setting in. Indeed, this is a trend that GlobalWebIndex has noticed in our previous waves of research since 2009, particularly among the original “core demographic” of Facebook users, those early adopters of Facebook who are now in their late 20s and early 30s.
Our most recent wave of research from Q4 2012, however, proves that this trend is reversing in a big way. At a global level (the 31 GWI markets), the number of monthly active users on Facebook grew 33% between Q2 2012 and Q4 2012 to reach a total of 693.5 million with 368 million of these accessing via mobile. GWI data from Q4 also shows just over 1 billion Facebook account holders globally, falling in line with Facebook's own estimated monthly user figures. One of the things that we found most interesting is the fact that they chose not to report the number of accounts vs. the number of active users, making it difficult for us to compare our figures. Add to this the fact that they've been prodded by the SEC in the past to revise their definition of active users, and this leads us to believe that our figures in-line with Facebook's estimated user figures.
Mobile Drives Growth in Social
The main question this raises is simply why now? We believe that the answer lies in the exponentially growing importance of mobile. The number of internet users globally accessing via their mobile phones has risen 57% from Q1 2011 to Q4 2012 to 800 million according to GWI research. In some markets, particularly those in the APAC and MEA regions, the mobile phone has actually become the first or only point of internet access for many people.
Furthermore, the increasing integration of social platforms within mobile operating systems has made it far easier to share, connect, and engage. The integration of Facebook and Twitter into iOS and Windows Phone along with the integration of Google+ into Android has made social networks not only more accessible but more convenient to use. Sharing a photo is now only a single tap away. Most importantly, people take their smartphones with them everywhere while most of the major social platforms have invested heavily to improve their mobile offerings. This has led to a renewal of growth for Facebook around the world.
Most striking is the recurrence of strong growth in markets where saturation had set in. This includes the UK, the US and Australia. Markets that had previously driven growth (while still growing), such as the Philippines, Indonesia, Brazil, etc., are now further down the growth ladder.
Facebook’s investment in mobile, their integration throughout the web via Facebook single sign-on or “like” buttons, and the sheer size of its user base has allowed it to avoid the fate of the social platforms that went before it where mass market penetration is followed by the onset of slow and then increasingly rapid decline, a trend witnessed by Friendster, MySpace and Orkut and more recently by local networks like Copains D’Avant, MeinvZ and now Hyves.
Evolution: Facebook as an Ecosystem
There is a mobile revolution going on at Facebook as it moves from social network to messaging and feed technology, all of which links devices, people, platforms and apps more closely together. This is shown very clearly in our data in terms of the growth in activities for which people use Facebook.
On the business side of the coin, the mobile shift is a well-documented challenge for Facebook since Facebook usage that is integrated into devices is more difficult to monetise via display advertising and more challenging for brands to build a large-scale presence.
This trend also shows why we need to stop thinking in terms of “social networks”; social is increasingly the glue that links sites, services and content, as shown with Google+ and Twitter. This is the future of social, and we will spend less time on the network, and more time channelling our internet experience through these ecosystem.