Is Facebook Really Dying? Here’s What the Data Says
Is Facebook really dying? According to major news outlets, it is. Well-respected and trusted publications have said its users are “leaving in droves,” and that Facebooks’ American user base has “declined by 15 million since 2017.”
In its Q1 2019 earnings report, however, Facebook stated its global daily active users (DAUs) had increased by 8% year-over-year, to an average of 1.56 billion users logging on every day in March. Its monthly active users (MAUs) had also increased by 8% since Q1 2018, up to 2.38 billion active users each month.
Given these opposing facts, it’s not surprising that many of our clients have been asking us whether they should still be focused on Facebook marketing. Because of the disparity between Facebook’s report and the media’s speculation, we needed to do further research to give our clients an accurate and confident answer.
Of the news articles we read, only two studies were cited. Both were from reputable market research firms and used traditional surveying techniques; however, their combined sample size was just 3,301 Americans.
One study was a national phone survey, which spoke to 1,500 respondents aged 12 and older. The other interviewed 743 teens and 1,058 parents of teenagers aged 13-17 online and by phone.
And that was it.
To us, those numbers aren’t nearly large enough to draw conclusions, so we put our digital intelligence specialists to work to see what’s really going on with Facebook’s user base.
Leveraging a robust mix of tools and hundreds of millions of data points, we analyzed traffic to Facebook.com, changes in mobile app usage, online sentiment, and how Facebook is stacking up against other social networks. We looked exclusively at data for Canada and the USA over the last 18 months.
We wanted to know: Did the Cambridge Analytica scandal really drive millions off of the social network? What impact did the viral #DeleteFacebook hashtag have? Who’s left Facebook? Who’s stayed?
We answer these questions and more in our breakdown below.
What Percentage of Facebook Users are in the U.S. and Canada?
Over the last 18 months, 20% of Facebook’s website traffic was from the United States (79 billion visits), and just over 2% was from Canada (9 billion visits). In that time, overall web traffic to Facebook.com in the U.S. dropped 25% (-22% on desktop, and -28% on mobile). In Canada, total traffic volume decreased by 24% (-23% on desktop, and -25% on mobile).
This rate of decline is higher than Facebook’s total worldwide web traffic decline of 21.33%.
What Age Groups Are Leaving Facebook in the U.S.?
From Q1 2018 to Q1 2019, there was an 18.8 million visit drop in U.S. daily web traffic and a decline of 16.5 million unique visitors (-6%). These figures can be attributed to the decrease in Gen Z users (18-24), which dropped by 7.9% — from 16.9% to just 9% of all users. That drop accounted for a loss of 26.1 million unique visitors, which was slightly offset by the shift to an older audience—the 45+ age range increasing by 11% in this time.
During this period, the average Facebook.com visit also dropped by over a minute, down from 11 minutes and 44 seconds, to 10 minutes and 33 seconds.
How have age demographics shifted for traffic to Facebook.com in Canada?
The trends are similar in Canada, although it had a slightly higher Millennial retention rate than in the U.S.
Like in the U.S., Canadian Facebook.com visitors are trending towards an older demographic, with the 35+ category increasing in unique visitors year-over-year (+10%).
From Q1 2018 to Q1 2019, there was a 2.2 million daily visitor drop (-12.1%), driven largely by a significant drop in the 18-24 demographic, from a 13.59% to a 8.66% share. This drop in Gen Z visitors accounted for a loss of approximately 1.5 million monthly unique visitors.
During the same period, the average Facebook.com visit dropped by 46 seconds, going from 11 minutes and 42 seconds in Q1 2018, to 10 minutes and 56 seconds in Q1 2019.
Did the Cambridge Analytica Scandal Play a Role in Visitor Decline?
The decline in Facebook users had already begun before the data misuse scandal, but there was an immediate dip after the news broke, which recovered slightly before declining again.
Cambridge Analytica: Is the Conversation Dying Down?
The conversation around Cambridge Analytica dropped off significantly after the story broke in March 2018. There hasn’t been a similar peak in conversation volume since the news first shocked the world, although two smaller waves of conversation arose in the following months. The first was around the news that the hacked data profiles were accessed by the Russian government, who were also rumored to be backing Trump’s presidential campaign. The next wave was when the DC Attorney sued Facebook for the scandal.
Ultimately, Facebook overcame this scandal relatively unscathed as these spikes in conversation showed momentary rises followed by steep declines, indicating the overall population isn’t as invested in the scandal as one may have thought.
#DeleteFacebook: The Staying Power of a Hashtag
Social conversations using the hashtag #DeleteFacebook peaked around the same time the Cambridge Analytica scandal made the news. Today, #DeleteFacebook has evolved into an internet meme, with viral videos featuring captions like “Why I’ll never delete Facebook.”
One recent legitimate use of the #DeleteFacebook trend occurred on March 24, 2019 when a doctored video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi quickly spread online. The video was slowed down by 75% to create the illusion that she was slurring and intoxicated. This false narrative was further supported and publicly Tweeted by President Trump.
How are people expressing their feelings about Facebook online?
At this point, the majority of sentiment expressed online about Facebook is neutral. Most of the social conversation consists of unrelated content that links to a Facebook page, Facebook event page, fan page, etc.
Barring those conversations, the sentiment around Facebook skews negative, as more news stories come out about Cambridge Analytica, privacy issues, and the recent Federal Trade Commission (FTC) fines.
How much did Cambridge Analytica influence the drop in Facebook users?
Overall, the Cambridge Analytica scandal and subsequent #DeleteFacebook trend haven’t impacted Facebook much in terms of website traffic and mobile app usage. Social sentiment has also remained largely neutral. This said, as more information emerges around the scandal — including details of the FTC fines — more users are turning to social media to express their discontent, resulting in more negative sentiment than positive.
Facebook is still alive and well
Across all social networks, Facebook is still the web traffic leader, with 79.9 billion visits from the U.S. and Canada alone over the last 18 months. That is more than 5x Twitter’s 15.1 billion visits over the same period.
Facebook’s app has also had a 1.2% usage growth increase over the last year across Canada and the U.S., and Facebook Messenger’s usage shot up by 28.8%.
Average Number of Users, by Platform (Q1 2018 vs Q1 2019)
From Q1 ‘18 to Q1 ‘19 in the United States, Facebook Messenger and TikTok both experienced rapid year-over-year growth, increasing by 28.52% and 362.94% respectively.
While Facebook only saw a 1.1% growth in average daily app users, its user base of 7.5 million is still 1.65x its closest competitor, Instagram, which had 4.5 million users in the same timeframe.
What is particularly noteworthy is that Facebook experienced a demographic shift in this period, with its under-44 category dropping by 7.53%, and its over-45 users increasing by the exact same amount.
Across all social networks, the trends were similar in Canada, where Facebook Messenger and TikTok experienced rapid growth, increasing by 29.03% and 325.14%, respectively. Facebook’s daily active users grew slightly more in Canada in this time, at 1.37%.
Daily Active Users by Social Network
Facebook is still the mobile app leader, with an average of 205.8 million daily active users across the United States and Canada. Combined with Facebook Messenger, Facebook draws in 346 million daily active users across both countries and remained essentially unmoved even after the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Across all platforms, Facebook remains king. The social platform continues to have the highest amount of web traffic and daily active users. Facebook also keeps its users on its platforms longer than any other, with the average user spending 20 minutes on Facebook and/or Messenger every day.
So what’s happening across other social platforms?
Based on our findings, it’s clear Facebook is still the most widely used social network in the U.S. and Canada—and also that its user base is skewing older every year. Facebook is gaining a considerable amount of users in the 35+ category, with growth increasing year-over-year the older users are. Facebook’s Millennial (25-35) user base has remained relatively stable in the U.S., although it’s lost some of its Millennial share in Canada. The steepest generational drop in both countries has been Gen Z (18-24) users. So where are they going?
Active Users, by Age and Social Network (Jan 2018-June 2019)
The majority of social media users are Millennials and Gen Z, falling in the 18-34 bracket, with Snapchat, Instagram, and TikTok being their most used platforms.
Across all social networking apps, usage drops sharply after age 35, with TikTok and Snapchat seeing the steepest declines after age 55. In contrast, Facebook and Facebook Messenger have kept their usage rates stable after the initial drop, with usage rates actually increasing again after 55.
Leading Social Platforms by Generation
Gen Z: TikTok and Snapchat
Millennials: Snapchat and Instagram
Gen X: Facebook, Facebook Messenger, and Twitter
Baby Boomers: Facebook Messenger and Facebook
What does all of this mean for marketers?
Don’t abandon Facebook just yet, but do consider refining your marketing strategy to align with the platforms most popular with your target user base.
Note that while Facebook is losing Gen Z users more rapidly than any other generation, Facebook still has more users in the 18-24 range than in the 35-44 age group and higher.
It’s also important to consider marketability across each platform. For example, while TikTok’s popularity is surging among Gen Z, it’s been difficult for brands to break through organically. Some, like Red Bull, the NBA, and Calvin Klein, have found a way to flex their creative skills in a way that resonates with TikTok users, yet brands are still few and far between amidst TikTok’s sea of creators. With pioneers like GrubHub paving the way for advertisers, however, the platform is likely to attract more business attention in the second half of 2019 as TikTok prepares to release new features for brand partners as well as interest-based targeting. At the moment, TikTok’s ad tools are limited to direct advertisers in certain countries/regions, as well as select agencies in TikTok’s beta program — although that’s expected to change in the near future.
Of all the platforms, Facebook still has the most users, the broadest demographic, and remains a powerful and budget-friendly ad platform for businesses. Still, its effectiveness will vary from business to business.
Whether Facebook makes sense for your business, ultimately, will depend on how your target audience is responding to your day-to-day content, campaigns, and ad strategy.
If you’d like help assessing whether Facebook makes sense for your business, or how best to allocate marketing resources across platforms, please contact us to request a consultation.