U.K. Falls Out of Love with Facebook. Or Does It?

Figures from Czech-based social media analytics firm Socialbakers suggest Facebook FB -2.74%lost at least 600,000 and perhaps as many as 946,000 U.K. users in December. At first sight, this number is large enough to imply some sort of crisis, that perhaps the social network has tipped into decline in its sixth-largest national market.

There has been speculation that the fall was the result of changes in privacy settings, users switching off for the holiday season or simply getting bored with Facebook. However, TechCrunch takes a fairly measured view of what the figures might actually mean.

It looks at Facebook’s response which says, broadly, that the data extracted by Socialbakers comes from a tool which tracks the reach of the social network’s ads. This is not intended to provide an accurate measure of user engagement. It is a tool which Socialbakers also says does not count all users, missing out some of those who log-on at work or on a cellphone. There is also a lag, which means the December numbers are actually from November.

Anyway, the 600,000 fall in users might not be the most interesting statistic, according to Socialbakers which shows Facebook’s penetration in the U.K. representing 53% of the country’s population and 62% of all its Internet users. That could be close to saturation point.

[Jan Rezab, the founder and CEO of Socialbakers] notes that, in fact, 62 percent may be the upper limit at the moment. “About 15% of people in UK are under 13 years old [and] therefore ‘not allowed’ on Facebook; 16.5% of people in UK are older than 65 and typically not on Facebook (only 4% of 65+ year olds out of the 33M are on Facebook in UK).”
The UK is the sixth-largest market for Facebook worldwide, with 32.8 million users, growing by over 2.1 million over the last six months. In that context, even if 600,000 were an accurate number, it’s still a very small count if you consider that there are regular fluctuations. “I would give it a week or two to reshuffle again,” Rezab said. “Holiday traffic is likely to account for bigger growth.”

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