93% of the world is not on Facebook

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The Social Network

The Social Network

Facebook will today announce that it has reached 500 million users. This number is incredible, and perhaps even more impressive is the rate at which the social network is growing. Just five months ago they had 400 million users. The site’s user base has grown by 25% in less than half a year. Incredible stuff.

The problem is that huge numbers like this can stop us from examining them in more detail and acknowledging what they don’t tell us as much as what they do. It is true that Facebook usage is growing at an incredible rate and large numbers of people use the social network. But let’s not get carried away by this. In some countries, Facebook is not the most popular social network - in the Netherlands it is Hyves, in Brazil Orkut and in Russia Vkontakte. In other countries social networks are not yet the main way that people interact online - they use message boards, forums, blogs and other social media tools. And, of course, in other countries still they use of social networks is very low.

There are many comparisons made about the user base of Facebook - from how big Facebook would be as a country to how many people are joining each day. But a statistic that isn’t often cited is this:

  • 93% of the world’s population is not on Facebook*

This is, of course, a slightly unhelpful statistic - it considers the whole world population whereas it might be more interesting to understand what percentage of the online population, or perhaps the population who use social media are users of Facebook. It also belies the fact that in some countries Facebook usage is very high indeed. But it is no more unhelpful than many of the statistics and comparisons being made. It does, however, shine the light on the fact that, whatever we might think and however impressive these numbers are, Facebook is not an all-encompassing social media tool. It does not reach everybody and it is not right for us to use.

Brands thinking of their social media strategy can all too easily think that Facebook is the answer. And all too often it isn’t. Everybody isn’t on Facebook and Facebook isn’t the right place for all brands to play. In fact there are often many other more suitable places. Big numbers are impressive, but they shouldn’t blind us from a sensible, business aims-led approach to using social media.

* The 93% figure uses data on the current world population from the US Census Bureau - this will no doubt have inaccuracies, but it’s more about illustrating a point than mathematical accuracy this time around!

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18 Comments

  1. Guillaume:

    Hey Matt,

    Great articles, just would like to add a few things:

    1. You are talking about the world population but why not taking the online world population? Would be more relevant to me. I think it should be something between 1.75 billion -2 billion people. In this case Facebook already has 25% of it, and if you think it is not available in China, this is even more impressive.

    2. Facebook is going to put a lot more resources in Asia and Europe (think they just opened their first office in Asia in India I think), so expect a lot more growth there in the next 12 months.

    3. Yes, they have some strong competitors, but they are ‘just’ local competitors and will probably never grow outside their domestic market.

    4. You quote Orkut, but FB already overtook them in India and will probably do the same in Brazil over the next 12 months.

    Look forward to reading your response.

  2. Corporate photographer London:

    Do we know the numbers for Twitter and what the percentage of growth in numbers over the last year in Facebook vs Twitter members? Grant

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  5. joegarlick:

    Just a quick comment about Hyves in NL (I am an expat living here) it is no longer the most popular - it is more popular than FB amongst teenagers - but for all other categories FB is the preferred network.

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  7. Matt Rhodes:

    Hi Guillaume,

    Thanks for your comments. A few thoughts back:

    You are, of course, right that the whole world population is not the best figure to use if you are looking to give an accurate analysis of Facebook penetration globally. As I hope we point out, that is not what we are doing - indeed the 93% figure is just to make a point about how statistics can be less useful than you might like!

    I think Facebook growth in markets is interesting - in fact you see a great mix of user-led and Facebook-led growth and I think we will all be closely watching India.

    I agree that some of the ‘competitors’ (if you see them as such) are local (or in most cases ‘regional’) and that is a really important point to keep in mind. In some regions, other social networks are significantly more used than Facebook - I suspect this will continue. It is partly a language issue (Facebook has grown out of its English-language origins) but also a cultural thing (you make a good point about China!)

    Finally - I don’t have detailed growth data on Orkut and Facebook in Brazil but I do know that Google’s social network is very strong there. I look forward to watching Facebook over the next year challenging their strong position.

    Matt

  8. Social networking agency:

    Superb Article!
    Facebook is becoming a profitable tool for people to make money with. Many online marketers are looking to Facebook notes to drive traffic to their websites. Facebook is one of the most popular social networking websites in the world.
    Thanks for sharing.

  9. jean catani:

    let’s not be too naive; my friend has 5 avatars in FB, another friend has just three non-real-persons as friends in FB what she uses for various purposes
    500 million? well…..

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  14. Martin Médus:

    Well I’m pretty sure Facebook users are all in Europe and in the USA.

  15. Daniel M. Clark:

    There is a fairly popular message board in a particular industry that I work in that boasts over 60,000 members - but what they never say is that that includes all the spam accounts that have signed up over the course of nearly ten years plus the fact that many members have more than one login (I know someone who has ten and dozens more that have at least two).

    Facebook having “500 million” users doesn’t impress me. What *might* impress me is them coming clean on how many of them are unique users and how often those users actually, I don’t know, USE the service. I’ve got an account. I login maybe… *maybe*… twice a week. And that’s only when someone sends me a message that I need to respond to. I’m worthless to Facebook. I wonder how many other people are as well.

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