Last week there was a bit of a stir caused in no small part by the following tweet from Rupert Murdoch:
“Look out Facebook! Hours spent participating per member dropping seriously. First really bad sign as seen by crappy MySpace years ago.”
So is this the beginning of the end for Facebook? Or is this just a bit of negativity from the man that acquired MySpace in 2005 for $580m, but sold it for $35m six years later, having done very little to evolve the network, or react to the growing popularity of Facebook?
My vote goes to option two, and a bit of sour grapes from Mr Murdoch. However there has been the odd suggestion that Facebook is starting to fall in popularity, based mainly on engagement figures, but this seems far from being a major concern for the all powerful social network.
The story goes that younger internet users are being lured away by mobile sharing apps such as Snapchat, WhatsApp, or Instagram, which has 100 million monthly users and was of course acquired by Facebook last year.
This angle is supported by the wider feeling that niche social networks are gaining in popularity and some users are beginning to move away from the big networks. However, this needs to be put into perspective.
In the US Facebook has 142 million unique visitors a month, down more than 10 million in a year, according to Nielsen. But the company’s figures also show the Facebook app had 99 million unique users from Android and Apple smartphones in March, a rise of 37 million on a year ago.
Measuring users and movement between platforms on Facebook is difficult, as smartphone users are switching their Facebook time to apps.
In October 2012, Mark Zuckerberg announced that the site had reached 1 billion monthly active users, and according to eMarketer, Facebook will make $6.6bn this year, up from $5.1bn in 2012.
Facebook’s move from desktop to mobile has been ongoing for sometime and; after Google, Facebook is now the second-biggest mobile advertising publisher.
Put simply; they get mobile. This is far from a business in decline.
Having said that, it does seem Facebook numbers are starting to plateau, but that’s to be expected with 1 billion users worldwide. The company is very aware of this as it did not detail how many US-only users it has when it reported its last set of financial results, as it has done previously.
It did confirm that overall traffic in the US and Canada grew in the last year, from 183 million to 195 million users a month. But even Facebook’s own numbers are not 100% solid as it admits that 7.2% of its monthly active members, about 78 million, may actually be duplicate accounts, or spammers, or pages set up for pets. Really? Pets!
Murdoch’s point that time spent on Facebook is falling is difficult to confirm. The average time people spend on Facebook’s website, as opposed to its app, has fallen from just over seven hours a month last year to six hours 44 minutes this March, according to Nielsen. Time spent using the app in the US was six hours 50 minutes in March, but there are no numbers for a year ago to compare that with.
So should Facebook worry? Well, the social network now accounts for 23% of the time people spend on apps. So it’s doing okay.
The next-biggest apps are Instagram and Google Maps, far behind at 3% each. And of course Facebook owns Instagram. In the UK overall, monthly users are up from 33m in January to 34m in March.
The figures show a slowdown of the meteoric rise that Facebook has enjoyed to date, but it’s still growing, still adapting and still hugely influential. The stories of this being the beginning of the end are very far from the truth in my opinion.
Yes, niche and vertical social networks are gaining in popularity and will continue to do so, but Facebook has continued to evolve its offering as proven by its focus on mobile and a raft of new user features, some of which have worked and some haven’t.
Facebook does not rest on its laurels the way that MySpace did, and with rumours of a new hashtag feature coming, it’s also quick to learn from the success of its peers / competitors.
I don’t think Mr Zuckerberg will be too concerned about Mr Murdoch’s attack.