The simple answer is, No. But it’s not as simple as that. Facebook announced last week that they have reached 750 million worldwide users, with 157 million users in the U.S. (roughly 20% of their total).
The U.S. number is the metric that’s being discussed since there has been a flattening of users over the past several months. The growth rate has in fact peaked in the U.S., but that’s to be expected. Since there are roughly 240 million internet users domestically, the penetration of Facebook (of almost 2/3 of the U.S. internet universe) represents almost full saturation.
The big growth of Facebook has been abroad. The jump from 500 million users worldwide a year ago to 750 million users today has been fueled almost exclusively abroad, so the U.S. percentage of total Facebook users has fallen from about 30% last year to 20% today. Again that’s a function of the saturation of the U.S. market, and the growth abroad. That will continue.
The underlying question is not whether Facebook has “peaked”, but rather are its users still engaged. As with any new phenomena, many new users jumped in as they joined Facebook and found their close (and distant) friends. Then they connected, shared photos, posted updates, etc. There is an initial psychological rush to adding lots of friends. The younger end of the user spectrum, many of whom have 1000+ friends, clearly communicate to wide audiences of other teens and 20’s who share similar mega-friend profiles. This was and will always be a large part of the strength of Facebook. But the reality on a personal level is that “bigger is not better”. There are only so many high school, college, personal and/or business friends one has. And “friend pruning” is now a common tactic. (Simple answer to the obvious question: No, the “ex-friend” does not get a notice that they’ve been defriended).
On a business level Facebook continues to have power in develop connections between a business and its customers. Additionally Facebook advertising represents real opportunities to connect with a user about a product or service that has some appeal.
But Facebook is smart enough to recognize the need for further evolution and is introducing a video calling feature which allows for video chatting. It’s an easy setup, other users simply have to enable the feature and be logged in.
Facebook is now too big to go away, and it won’t. But in the U.S. at least, it may be peaking. It’ll be interesting to see whether the very recent launch of Google+ (a subject for a future Monitor) will impact Facebook.
In social media, as in life, nothing stays the same.