Reports of Facebook’s demise are greatly exaggerated.
Data published on Tuesday by Experian Hitwise prompted a flurry of headlines exclaiming “Facebook usage falls to three-year low” and “Facebook traffic is falling in the UK“. We know there are lies, damned lies and web statistics, but still – falling usage was not directly what the source data showed.
What Hitwise has published is data that shows a decrease in market share. Market share stats are only as authoritative as the data is comprehensive – ie how many sites are defined as and included as part of that market? In this case, Hitwise has included Gumtree (arguably ecommerce, not a social network?) and Moneysavingexpert (really? Does anything with a chatboard count as a social network now?) in its top 10 social networks.
Facebook is the only site in that list that shows a fall in its market share from June to July, and one of three, along with Myspace and moneysavingexpert, that shows a year-on-year fall in share. Again, fall in market share is not the same as a fall in users, and as Hitwise hasn’t given absolute user numbers it seems to imply their data isn’t comprehensive enough to estimate those.
Importantly, as one example of why market share data is unreliable, it could appear to show a fall in share on one site just because other sites in that category experienced untypical traffic surges.
Has any fall in use been picked up anywhere else? June reports based on data from Facebook’s own advertising tool seemed to conflict with data from alternative third-party sources. But we’ve asked comScore to pull data this year for Facebook in the UK, which showed unique monthly visitor numbers, average time spent and number of pages per visitor all up between February and June.
UK Unique visitors and average minutes per visitor rose every month bar a slight fall from March to April. Visitors rose from 30.027 million in February to 30.714 million in June and minutes from 364.7 per month per visitor in February to 406 minutes in June.
Pages per visitor increased from an average 515 per month per visitor in February to 711 in June. Across mobile devices, unique visitors to facebook.com, boosted by visits that come through email notifications about new messages and friends, reached 9,899,979 in the UK (though this number will be inflated by people using more than one mobile device) while unique visitor numbers to the official Facebook app across multiple platforms reached 2,354,284.
comScore also notes that the fastest-growing Facebook user group in the UK is now males aged 45-54, reflecting how saturated Facebook’s traditional core audience may be.
It is entirely possible that Facebook’s growth, its adoption by new users particularly in established markets, is slowing – but there is not enough data to reach any firm conclusions about that. Given its rapid growth on mobile, and the launch on Tuesday of Facebook Messenger in the US, it might be wise not to bet against Facebook just yet.
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