Over the past seven months, there has been an average monthly fall of 2.6% interactions, which occur when users click on a weblink or advert while using the Facebook app. This marks a stark contrast from Facebook’s own figures, which report a slow but steady rise in monthly active users across Europe.
User statistics have traditionally been an indication of the company’s health. Last July, there was a significant drop in European users, which fuelled speculation over the company’s future growth. This massively impacted Facebook’s market value, which dropped by more than £95 billion in a single day.
In October, chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook’s audience in North America was now “pretty close to saturation” and that future growth would come from developing countries. Company executives have since emphasised figures which measure how many people are using all its services, including its rapidly expanding platforms Instagram and WhatsApp.
However, Mixpanel’s figures measure the monthly number of users who open web pages or services in Facebook’s built-in browser. This provides an indication of how much the app itself is being used. The decline in such interactions suggests that Facebook users are either spending less time on the app or are using it in a much more passive manner.
Matti Littunen, a social media analyst at Enders Analysis, said he was not certain whether the figures represented a real decline in usage, which he would expect to see in Facebook’s own daily active usage figures and in its figures for ad views, which have risen across all Facebook’s apps. He said that Mixpanel’s data could instead suggest changes in advertising tactics.
However, he pointed out that if usage did begin to fall advertising prices would begin to increase as companies compete for a smaller number of chances to reach Facebook users, resulting in some moving their ad spending to other platforms. Littunen said: “Facebook has reached a very high level of user saturation in the core markets like the US and the UK, meaning that they have little margin for error before engagement drops from the peak.
“If Facebook usage were to drop by a third, Instagram would have to double in size to make up for it. No messaging app has supported a multi-billion dollar advertising business so far, so WhatsApp and Messenger would not be able to make up for a major shortfall.”
In addition, in May, the advertising research firm eMarketer said that US users had spent an average of three minutes less on Facebook in 2018 than they did in 2017.
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“On top of that, Facebook has continued to lose younger users, who are spreading their time and attention across other social platforms and digital activities,” eMarketer said.
Another report from Mixpanel revealed that following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, actions such as shares, likes and posts had dropped by almost 20% since April 2018.
This may be attributed to a deliberate choice by Mr Zuckerberg in 2018 to reform Facebook’s news feed algorithms in order to prevent users from being sucked into spending too much time on clickbait and viral videos.
“I expect the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement will go down,” he said.
In response, Facebook said that it did not have enough information to assess Mixpanel’s figures but stressed its own figures showing monthly and daily active users rising.