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Why Facebook Hasn’t Hit a Billion Users

5 10 2012

Yesterday Facebook announced that it had passed the billion mark. It made news around the globe.  This was part of a media onslaught that also included the unveiling of Facebook’s first agency made commercial.

I have serious reasons to doubt accuracy of the figure.   Earlier this year the company I work for was asked by the Student Loans Company to ascertain what proportion of their target audience were Facebook users   We guessed it would be most but we wanted to provide a robust response.

We took population data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and matched it against age banded user data published by Facebook.  This was not entirely straightforward because the age bands that Facebook uses are not the same bands as the ONS uses.  Undeterred we found the following.

UK Population by age:

  • 20-24 – 4.31 million
  • 15-19 – 3.91 million

To get an 18-24 approximate figure we took the 20-24 figure and added 2/5 of the 15-19 figure. This gives us 5.87 million for the size of the population. Facebook data for this age group said that there were 7.33 million users.  So to answer the question that would mean 125% of the UK population aged 18-24 have a Facebook account.  The only reasonable explanation is that a good proportion of people have more than one Facebook account.  Anecdotally we know this to be true.   There are also a lot of fake accounts – 83 million according to Facebook’s own figures.

The billion user story is great for PR, at a time when Facebook really needs it.  There may be a billion Facebook accounts but I’m confident that they haven’t hit a billion users, yet.

If I’m wrong Mark, feel free to say so in the comments section below.

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Archbishop Pontificates On Social Networks

3 08 2009

Is the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales using his opposition to social networks as a way of building his own profile?  Archbishop Vincent Nichols has argued that MySpace and Facebook are the basis of “transient” friendships and can be a factor in suicide among young people as a result of relationships which have collapsed.  The truth is that young people are vulnerable to relationship issues wherever and however they occur.  

If the Archbishop, who was enthroned just two months ago as successor to the high profile Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor wanted headlines he got them.  He wouldn’t be the first Catholic cleric to capture column inches via Facebook.  Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe of Naples who openly takes a very different stance on social networks opened a Facebook site in November and within a few weeks gained  5,000 ‘friends’.  

A more useful contribution from the cloth came from Giles Fraser, the vicar of Putney who on the BBC Radio Today programme this morning, described social networks as “thin communities” which allow for freedom and social diversity where young people can “keep friendships alive”.  

I think the important issue here is the relevance and importance of the expertise.  When it comes to understanding new technologies and emerging communications channels we simply shouldn’t be turning to religious (or political) leaders for advice.






The Third Wave of Digital Influence

23 02 2009

A fierce debate is playing out as to what skills are best suited to the conditions created by a digital world to which everybody has access.   The era of single message mass marketing is coming to an end. In a presentation to 250 marketing and advertising executives in New York in late 2007,  Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said “for the last hundred years media has been pushed out to people, but now marketers are going to be a part of the conversation and they’re going to do this by using the social graph in the same way our users do.”

I believe that we have now entered a third phase since the inception of digital marketing.  The first phase was a technical one, the second was built around design and creativity and this third phase is characterised by the democratisation of content.   In the nineties when businesses first launched commercial web sites you hade to be a programmer or coder to build a website.  The industry was wholly reliant on technicians.  Specialist agencies sprang up and clients were in their thrall and people had to place their trust entirely in the hands of digital specialists.  Over time coding became more commoditised and new programmes allowed the less technical to do more and more.  The creative and design community started to be able to exert more of an influence.  The look and feel as well as the functionality of a website becomes more important.  In this second phase designers and creatives gained pre-eminence in the field of digital marketing. 

The third wave of digital communications is characterised by user generated content and templated designs that can be adapted and customised  (like the Wordpress template for this blog)  and are now widely available. More importantly much of what we see on screen is originated in a space beyond the control of clients or agencies.  Content comes from lots of different places the skills that are important to the marketing function are not hard technical skills, nor are they predominantly aesthetic but they are the softer management skills of diplomacy and influence. In short these are the skills that PR people have always used in their interactions with traditional media.








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