Facebook is a global empire with a population equal to roughly 10 percent of the world's population, every man, woman, and child included. But as Facebook becomes even more dominant on a worldwide scale, interest from the North American market is dropping. Some figures even show a user loss in the U.S., Canada, and other select regions around the globe for May 2011.
Facebook's Napoleonic Expansion
You know how, every once in a while, some crazy (or "quirky") person gets the idea to take over the world? A few have even gotten close, with examples ranging from Atilla the Hun to Alexander the Great to Napoleon Buonaparte to Adolf Hitler. But not a single one of these conquerors got the loyalty and reach of Facebook. Seriously, just look at the map:
Yes, the blue is Facebook, and yes, basically the entire planet – except for China, Russia, Brazil, and a few smaller countries – are raising the Facebook flag as Facebook nears 700 million accounts. That means that 88 percent of the countries being evaluated choose Facebook as their favorite social network. Facebook has overcome numerous barriers, including censorship concerns in both Syria and Iran, to spread into developing countries.
(If it makes you Twitterites feel any better, the world's favorite micro-blogging site is also the second most popular social network, with Twitter showing as the second in command in North America, most of Western Europe, and Australia. LinkedIn is showing as the third most popular in North America, the UK, and Australia. In the end, however, they're just the court jester's in Facebook's reign – for better or worse.)
The North American Decline
There's been a very specific trend in the expansion of Facebook: Only about half of any given country's population will ever really go for Facebook. Once the saturation reaches roughly half, the numbers slow dramatically, even nearing a halt at times. Continued growth is about equal to the growth in the region's population.
Beyond that, as some users turn over their accounts (blame addiction, privacy, boredom, breakups, or anything else you want) about the same number pick up the Facebook banner. We've been in that situation in the U.S., Canada, and the UK for quite some time.
For the first time in over a year, however, we've seen something different: an actual drop in the user count. We already knew that interest and growth were tapering, but May's figures showed nearly a six million user loss in the U.S. alone. Canada saw a 1.52 million user drop, while the UK posted a loss of about 100,000.
It should be noted that these aren't Facebook's official numbers, and that representatives from Facebook have even criticized the methodology of the report we're quoting. The study pulls information from Facebook's advertising tool, compiling the declared data to come up with an estimated number of active users. A Facebook representative stated that the advertising tool "isn't designed to be a source for tracking the overall growth of Facebook" and affirmed that North America continued to see growth.
But what about other, less biased evaluations? The reality is that the feedback varies widely, dependent on the exact methodology, internal issues with tracking, and other factors. The majority seem to be in agreement, though, that North America either saw very slow gains or a notable loss, giving us a reasonable spread to work with. The conclusion is simple: North America is not a growing market for Facebook.
What the Numbers Mean
This doesn't mean Facebook is dying in the U.S. Even with privacy and other concerns, users are choosing Facebook well before they choose any other service.
What this does mean, though, is that we're really, really saturated in the countries where Facebook was first introduced. The continued growth for the company will have to be in developing countries such as Mexico, where May saw a more than 20 million new users signing up.