Facebook has lost an estimated 15 million users in the U.S. during the last two years, according to a report from Edison Research. The firm’s “The Infinite Dial 2019,” surveyed 1,500 U.S. citizens age 12-years and older and found that Facebook usage overall has dropped from 67 percent to 61 percent in two year’s time, with the 12 to 34-years age segment down from 82 million in 2017 to 65 million this year.
Twitter usage is also on a downward slope, going from 23 percent to 19 percent between 2017 and 2019. The report found, overall, social media use has stagnated since 2016, with the number of respondents claiming to be on social remaining around 77 to 80 percent for the past three years. But social media marketing experts said they’re not seeing any impact from declining social media use.
People aren’t leaving social, just shifting platforms. While the report showed Facebook users numbers were dropping, Facebook-owned Instagram is experiencing a steady rise. Instagram’s audience reach is still much smaller than Facebook’s, but Edison’s survey found Instagram usage has climbed from 34 percent in 2017 to 39 percent.
Steve Weiss, CEO of digital marketing agency MuteSix, said he doesn’t believe Facebook users are leaving, but instead the current user base is simply aging.
“While the younger demographics may be shifting to Instagram and Snapchat, Facebook is also seeing increased gains from the 55+ segment. In other words, users aren’t exactly leaving, they are simply shifting,” said Weiss. According to Edison’s report, the 55+ age segment of respondents were the only group whose Facebook usage had increase since 2017.
Yuval Ben-Itzhak, CEO of social media marketing platform Socialbakers, said his company doesn’t have any data indicating a drop in Facebook user numbers.
“In Q4, Facebook reported an increase,” said Ben-Itzhak, “As for Twitter, they have stopped reporting on users which could mean users did not grow.”
Ben Heiser, a content strategist for the Drum Agency, agrees with Weiss in terms of Facebook versus Instagram user numbers.
“Everyone likes to take shots at Facebook usage being down as the end of social media as we know it, but social media is more of a media channel now than ever before. Facebook has global saturation at this point and active users are just switching over to Instagram, which Facebook owns,” said Heiser.
“Here’s the thing – surveys are always skewing perception towards something. One survey cites the 15 million loss in young Facebook users as their rallying cry to jump to audio. However, if you look at the actual numbers, not survey results, Facebook reported that there were 1.52 billion daily active users in Q4, an increase of nine-percent year-over-year.”
Facebook advertising still delivering. Weiss said his ad agency is not seeing an impact from any drops in usage. He believes the Facebook’s Stories ad product, which the company rolled out in the News Feed last year, will drive more advertising on the platform.
“With Facebook’s continued investment in analytics across all its platforms, we also expect to see advanced engagement metrics for Stories, which will ultimately boost bottom-line revenue for Facebook,” said Weiss.
He is confident Instagram advertising revenue will continue to climb, also spurred by Story ads.
“As a matter of fact, advertising revenues on Instagram’s Stories are projected to increase as early studies demonstrate brands can expect to see higher ad recall and click-through rates than from previous ads that were posted on the Instagram feed,” said Weiss.
And then there’s WhatsApp. Edison Research’s survey did not include historical usage data on WhatsApp, the encrypted messaging app owned by platform, but did show 23 percent of the survey participants age 12 to 34 years old were using it this year.
“While Facebook doesn’t report on individual app growth regularly, you can easily infer that the growth is happening on WhatsApp and Instagram, which cater and are heavily used by a younger target,” said Heiser.
Facebook has been making subtle moves to get more people on WhatsApp — announcing in January that it plans to integrate its WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger platforms, making it possible for users to communicate between the three apps. Facebook also said it is planning to roll-out WhatsApp ads this year.
Why you should care. While the Edison Research may show declining user numbers, a loss of 15 million users on Facebook may not amount to much for a platform that has 1.5 billion daily active users. And recent reports show advertisers are ahead of the curve with Instagram, with lifts in incremental ad spending from loyal advertisers driving ad spend growth on the platform — money that is still going into Facebook’s pocket.
As Heiser noted, Facebook’s most recent earnings report isn’t showing any major impact from a drop in usage with ad revenue climbing to $16.6 billion during the fourth quarter of 2018. In fact, the company reported the average price of an ad decreased 2 percent, while ad impressions were up 34 percent. Twitter also saw increased ad revenue during the last quarter of 2018, up 23 percent year-over-year.
Overall, marketers shouldn’t make any knee-jerk reactions when it comes to their social media strategy based on one survey, marketers say.
“If you’re planning to use media, you shouldn’t be a fan of one or the other. The focus should be where your audience is most engaged: is it podcast? Instagram? Facebook? If so, that’s where you need to be,” said Heiser.