Reports of Facebook decline in U.K. are misleading

The Guardian U.K. newspaper reported recently that Facebook accounts declined by 600K users in December.  They also noted significant analogous declines in the United States and Canada.

Writers wondered if Facebook was in precipitous decline, or if users were experiencing “social media fatigue.”  Curiously, the Facebook stock prices remained as healthy and stable as it had ever been through December.  So why was there dissonance between stock price and Facebook’s imminent demise?

As it turns out, the decline in Facebook users may be a good thing for the network.

Beyond one month….

The source that the Guardian used to find the December data was Social Bakers.  Their data show that 10 of the top 50 Facebook-integrated countries saw a decline in overall users in December.  So, Facebook’s decline was more widespread than just in the U.K.

But Social Bakers offers visitors an opportunity to look at more than just one month of data.  And that short term data actually tells a different story.

In the past six months, overall Facebook users have increased in all but one of the top 50 Facebook-integrated countries.  The United States has grown by 11.8 million users, Canada has grown by more than 1 million users, and the U.K. has grown by 2.36 million users.

Rumors…. rather, rumours of Facebook’s decline in the U.K. have been significantly overstated.  Facebook has grown users in the last six months in 96% of their top markets.

Why is December attrition good?

The Social Bakers data appears to show a seasonal increase in Facebook use around the holidays that declined in December and January.  Because of the precipitous attrition, it’s probably a fair assumption that these aren’t users that are interested in connecting with friends so much as connecting with brands.  That would be great news for businesses and probably for Facebook as a data point indirectly supporting their advertising product.  That’s one hypothesis.

There’s also a possibility that Facebook did a fake account purge during this time-frame and purged out a bunch of fake users.  That’s another hypothesis.

No matter how you look at the big picture data, it’s very hard to argue that Facebook is in decline in the U.K. or elsewhere (maybe Venezuela, the one top 50 country that has seen a decline in the last six months).  With the integration of Graph Search, there’s a lot of reason to be optimistic about Facebook’s future (December notwithstanding).

What do you think?  Is there anything to a December decline when the short-term increase is so positive?  What do you make of the prospects for Facebook’s future in the U.K. and elsewhere?

Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty

Writer and chief of miscellany at
I'm the guy that wrote the article you just read. Sorry for the typos.
  • Kittie at Indigo Girl

    Hmmm one to watch – some anecdotal evidence also shows a slight decline, but one months numbers are never a trend. Being from the UK – I’m on the case Jim 😉

    • jimdougherty

      Beautiful, Kittie! Keep me in the loop. I’m sure you remember when there was an infographic showing that Pinterest was primarily used by men in the U.K. – I don’t know why it is so difficult to get British data straight! :)