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!