Available Data Shows Facebook User Numbers Growing Quickly, or Slowly, or Falling
Did Facebook have fewer monthly active users in the United States at the start of June than it did at the start of May? What about user counts in other early-adopter countries like Canada and the United Kingdom? Is the company continuing to gain as many new users around the world now as it has in recent years?
As we covered yesterday, Facebook appears to have had fewer monthly active users at the start of June than at the start of May in the US and a few other countries — at least according to one data source — even as it has grown bigger than ever worldwide. Although today a person close to the company tells us that the site is “still growing in the US.”
Our data source was Inside Facebook Gold, our tracking service that shows country-by-country monthly active user counts, based exactly on the data that Facebook provides in its advertising tool. It showed Facebook falling from 155.2 million at the beginning of May to 149.4 million at the beginning of June, but growing by 11.8 million monthly actives around the world to reach 687.1 million over the same period.
Because this data can be buggy, delayed, or otherwise unclear, we regularly compare it against what leading third party measurement services show. Here’s the latest data available from Compete, comScore, Google Ad Planner and Quantcast.
A word of warning, though: Each of these other services has its own methodologies, and its own delays and bugs, so it’s important to look for trends that emerge from multiple sources over the months, not just what a given source says on a given month. Facebook, for example, self-reports its data in monthly active users, which isn’t exactly the same measure as the “monthly unique visitor” metric that third parties provide.
As you can see from our past posts, as well as from the data below, each data source does not exactly match with the others (here are the three most recent editions, if you’re interested). Let’s get started.
May stats are not yet available, but looking back to April, the firm shows Facebook falling from 140.7 million monthly unique visitors in March to 137.9 million in the US. In contrast to multiple other sources, Compete has shown Facebook gaining and losing users month-to-month over much of the past year.
It also shows Facebook’s most direct social product rivals, Twitter and MySpace, also losing users in April.
While often more in line with the data in Facebook’s ad tool, comScore’s data tends to diverge a bit in the US and a lot internationally — or at least that’s what we’ve observed in the past (take a look at the top graph in this story for another divergent month: January of 2011).
In May, Facebook grew by 3.16 million monthly unique visitors, according to the firm, to reach 157.2 million in the country. It’s not clear why comScore is showing growth while Facebook itself is showing a loss. Twitter, meanwhile, made back some losses from April, while Myspace lost some of its gains from that month.
ComScore doesn’t have May worldwide numbers available yet, so here’s a look at March and April. Facebook had a slow month, growing by around 5 million worldwide, while MySpace made some unexpected gains, and Twitter fell again after many months of growth.
In striking contrast to all other available stats, Google’s DoubleClick Ad Planner tool shows Facebook with 890 million unique visitors. It’s not clear why. The graph you see below shows Google’s count of Facebook’s daily unique visitors, based on browser cookies. This usage measure appears to have declined slightly from a high at the start of April back to 300 million.
More similar to Compete than the others, the firm shows Facebook with 139 million uniques by the end of April, growing slowly from previous months. Twitter and MySpace, meanwhile, also have a relatively flat trajectory.
As we say in every post we write about Facebook monthly user counts, a wide variety of issues cloud what is happening month to month. On the technical side, these can be philosophical differences in how each company measures usage — some are more reliant on buying data from internet service providers, or on gathering responses from user-installed toolbar trackers, to name two examples. Bugs can pop up for any of these services, including Facebook’s tool.
But as we noted yesterday, there do appear to be some overriding trends here. Canada, the United Kingdom and a few other early adopting countries have alternately shown gains and losses starting in 2010. Up until then, growth had generally been much steadier.
There’s an especially odd mix of data about the US. Most third parties showed Facebook with fewer monthly active users in January and February, but Facebook’s own data didn’t reflect that. Meanwhile, for May, the only third party to report numbers so far is showing growth, in contrast to the loss that Facebook is showing.
For its part, Facebook has not typically commented on traffic numbers, except when it publishes official statistics — the last time was when it hit 500 million monthly active users, months ago. After we published our first post yesterday, Facebook is clarifying to media outlets that data from ad tool isn’t intended for measuring traffic. To be sure. We use it anyway because it seems to be the most specific, and directionally accurate, despite the questions.
From time to time, we see stories about Facebook losing users in some regions. Some of these reports use data extracted from our advertising tool, which provides broad estimates on the reach of Facebook ads and isn’t designed to be a source for tracking the overall growth of Facebook. We are very pleased with our growth and with the way people are engaged with Facebook. More than 50 per cent of our active users log on to Facebook in any given day.