How Many ‘Active Users’ Does Facebook Really Have?

Facebook currently estimates its monthly active users at 845 million people and its daily active users at 483 million. This means that more than half of all active Facebook users access the site daily. They key here is the term ‘active.’

‘Active’ in FB literature means…

When the world’s largest social network talks to advertisers, investors, and now very likely the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), it always mentions the ‘active users’ it has. For investors and advertisers, these are potential viewers of ads and thus potential for income. That’s important.

Anyone with a website knows that if you have active users on your site (visitors who come daily), you can make money selling advertising. The more active users you have, the more money advertisers will pay you for the ad spots you’re selling. This is true whether you’re using something simple like Google’s AdSense or something complex like direct sales via an Internet marketing firm specializing in website advertising. It is also true if you’re a mega-network like Facebook.

They key here, as I said, is the term ‘active.’

Facebook doesn’t include an asterisk when they use the term, so you have to dig down to find out how they are defining it. On its face, ‘active users’ sounds pretty impressive. Especially when the numbers after it are in the six figure range like they are for FB.

On page 44 of Facebook’s recent prospectus for sale of stock to the public (the first step in an initial public offering, or IPO), the company defines an ‘active user’ as not only people who visit or its mobile version (which would be the standard definition of ‘active user’ in most Web marketing circles), but also as anyone who actively engages with the site through one of Facebook’s APIs (application protocol interfaces) through a third party site or tool.

This means that anyone who uses a tool like a built-in ‘like’ button on Firefox or the millions of those buttons embedded directly into websites and blogs, or even just an auto-update tool that meshes a Flickr account with your Facebook Wall… All of those things are counted as ‘active use’ of FB, even though the user would never have been actually visiting and thus not seeing any advertising or other engagements. Hence they are not, really, revenue generating by any stretch.

Why this matters.

Obviously, for most of us, the reaction to this news is ‘And I should care because?’ Truly, for most of us, that’s probably a good response. It probably doesn’t affect us all that much as individuals or small businesses. But it does mean something big if you are either using Facebook to advertise or are intending to buy stock in the company when it goes public – something likely to happen later this year.

It also means that Facebook itself may not be worth as much as people tend to give it credit for. If it has 486 million active daily users, but half of those are just ‘likes’ from websites or logins using the Facebook API on other sites, but not actual visits to then that would mean that in the traditional sense, FB only has about 240 million active users, not 486.

A lot of users, sure, but there’s a big difference between the two numbers. A difference that, to advertisers large and small, means a lot.

So the next time you are bombarded with something explaining to you why you NEED an active Facebook presence and the potential hundreds of millions of FB users you’re missing out on if you aren’t the most diligent social marketer on the planet.. grab the salt shaker. Facebook’s user numbers should include plenty of grains.

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