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This chapter is from the book

Coming into Adulthood

In January 2010, Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook had signed on its 400 millionth user. Consider that in September 2009, Zuckerberg announced the 300 millionth user, and not too long before that, in July 2009, he announced via the Facebook Blog that the network had surpassed its 250 millionth user since the site launched in February 2004. In only approximately 2 months, the social network had signed up an additional 50 million users. To put that number into even more perspective, consider that in April 2009, Zuckerberg had announced that Facebook had passed the 200 millionth user mark. The growth from 200 to 250 million users took Facebook approximately 90 days. The growth from 250 to 300 million users took roughly 60 days. That is a growth rate of approximately 833,000 users every day. To put that into even more perspective, that translates to approximately 35,000 users an hour or 578 every minute. Some estimates place the growth rate at approximately 750,000 new users per day.

Each time Facebook hit another growth milestone, it did it in record timing compared to previous accomplishments. Think Facebook is going away any time soon? Consider the following chronological growth patterns:

  • February 2004: Facebook launches
  • December 2004: Facebook reaches 1 million active users.
  • December 2005: Facebook reaches 5.5 million active users.
  • December 2006: Facebook reaches 12 million active users.
  • April 2007: Facebook reaches 20 million active users.
  • October 2007: Facebook reaches 50 million active users.
  • August 2008: Facebook reaches 100 million active users.
  • January 2009: Facebook reaches 150 million active users.
  • February 2009: Facebook reaches 175 million active users.
  • April 2009: Facebook reaches 200 million active users.
  • July 2009: Facebook reaches 250 million active users.
  • September 2009: Facebook reaches 300 million active users.

From 2008 to June 2009, Facebook grew 157 percent, gaining an estimated 208 million visitors. As of June 2009, Facebook was receiving approximately 340 million unique visitors per month making it the fourth largest website in the world. The only websites with more monthly traffic are Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo. During the month of June 2009, it is estimated that Facebook grew by 24 million unique visitors as compared to May 2009. This type of traffic, and growing importance within the fabric of the interwebs, has led Facebook, according to paidContent.org, to pass Google as the top traffic driver to large sites.

To comprehend such astronomical numbers, let's look at Facebook at the 200 million active user mark. When Facebook hit the 200 million active users milestone, it produced a video about the race to 200 million people and provided these comparisons:

  • It took 20,000 years for the world population to get to 200 million.
  • It would take 46.5 years for 200 million babies to be born in the United States.
  • If Facebook were a country, it would be the world's fifth most populous country, bigger than Brazil, Russia, and Japan.

Therefore, add in another 200 million users, at a current growth of 25 million new users per month or so, and it's not hard to realize why so much attention is being paid to Facebook. Will Facebook be the first social network to hit 1 billion active users? If their growth rate stabilizes and stays consistent at approximately 830,000 per day, Facebook is on pace to sign 1 billion active users by the start of 2012.

When you hear such large numbers of users flocking to any service, it always begs the question: Are they actually using the service or are they just signing up for an account that remains dormant?

For Facebook, its users are actively participating in the conversations and are spending a lot of their time doing so. Brian Solis (briansolis.com), a thought leader, prolific blogger, speaker, and author, dug up these stats:

  • More than 5 billion minutes are spent on Facebook each day (worldwide).
  • 30 million users update their statuses at least once each day.
  • 8 million users "fan" Fan Pages each day.
  • 120 million users log into their Facebook account each day.
  • 1 billion photos are uploaded to Facebook each month.
  • 10 million videos are uploaded to Facebook each month.
  • 1 billion social objects are shared each week.
  • 2.5 million events are created each week.
  • 45 million active user groups exist on Facebook.
  • 30 million users currently access Facebook through their mobile devices.

So why is everyone running to join Facebook? Facebook seemed to come of age at a time when simple and functional design wins out. Over the years, Facebook has continued to maintain a clean, organized user interface despite adding tons of new features. Facebook is similar to Google in that way. Besides being a superior search engine compared to Yahoo, MSN, and others, Google wins over users because it is simple and easy to use, yet is a powerful engine. Facebook represents the same for the social networking space.

Facebook provides an easy-to-understand interface, thus making it appeal to all ages. For the less tech savvy, it is manageable without a lot of help. Those that are tech savvy can take full advantage of the multitude of settings, options, and flexibility of the platform to share and engage.

It should come as no surprise that the largest growth age range for Facebook is between 35–55. This flies in the face of what many people believe is the stereotype user of a social network such as Facebook. But, it is no longer for only college students. That's so 2005. Facebook is now for your parents and your grandparents. It is for your colleagues and your supervisors. It's for individuals, celebrities, brands, products, services, musicians, and anyone else that finds it useful to fish where the fish are whether it's for friends, ex-lovers, business opportunities, fans, or constituents. Facebook is now mainstream and poised to continue its rapid growth rate.

To highlight Facebook's injection into mainstream, in January 2009, during the inauguration of the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama, CNN Live and Facebook teamed up to provide real-time updates from Facebook's users in line with the live coverage by CNN. The result was a live video stream window side-by-side with a Facebook integration that displayed status updates, as shown in Figure 1.5, from all Facebook users regarding the Inauguration. It is estimated that 8,500 status updates per minute were captured during the Inauguration. After the massive success of this integration, Facebook would again make a similar partnership, but this time with the NBA. During the NBA All-Star game, Facebook provided a real-time stream of status updates about the 2009 NBA All-Star game. Facebook followed this up with a live stream integration during the 2009 Grammy's.

Figure 1.5

Figure 1.5 During President Obama's Inauguration speech, Facebook logged 8,500 status updates per minute. (Screenshot by David Orban.)

Such partnerships have proven successful for Facebook as it serves as a proving ground to those that are resistant to using the service. Certainly, there were probably viewers of CNN Live, the Grammy's, and the NBA All-Star game who are skeptical about the service or continued to think it was only for high school and college students. But having the integration in place with a network such as CNN, which is arguably the top news network, during one of the most important chapters of our nation's history to date, served as a milestone for the social network.

Facebook isn't only growing its user base at a blistering pace: It continues to build out its organization and gain market power. To accommodate this growth, during 2009, Facebook opened its new headquarters located in Palo Alto. During 2010, Facebook is poised to grow its internal team by adding a new office in Austin, Texas with an initial group of 300 team members. That is in addition to other smaller, satellite offices all over the country. No longer is Facebook working out of multiple rented office spaces, coffee shops, and bookstores.

With the rapid growth and popularity that Facebook continues to experience, there have been several estimated valuations of the company. Probably the best stat to look at is from a May 2009 investment from Digital Sky Technologies to the tune of $200 million. The investment deal between Digital Sky Technologies and Facebook was for preferred stock at a $10 billion valuation. With this intensive growth has also come fame and fortune for its founder, Mark Zuckerberg.

Zuckerberg is the youngest person to ever be named to the Forbes 400 list. In 2008, Forbes estimated Zuckerberg's net worth at approximately $1.5 billion, making him the 321st richest person in the United States.

Although Facebook has faced competition from other social networks such as Twitter, FriendFeed, MySpace, Flickr, and other smaller services, it seems as though it can't be stopped. In August 2009, Facebook acquired FriendFeed for, roughly, $50 million. This purchase came after approximately one year of FriendFeed continuing to grow its user base and implementing new features that left Facebook users begging for. As these new features were released, interestingly enough, they would appear on the Facebook platform not long after.

This is one of the marks of Facebook so far. When other services implement features that its platform currently does not support, usually, not too long afterward, we see the same services appear in Facebook. Most notably was the integration in February 2009, before its acquisition of FriendFeed, of the Likes feature that had become so popular among FriendFeed users. In September 2009, Facebook finally responded to demands from the users to implement a status-tagging feature to ping (alert) other users or Pages when they've been mentioned in a status update. Again, similar to the Likes feature from FriendFeed, this alert feature is a combination of @ replies in Twitter coupled with the tagging feature in Facebook Photos and Videos.

I opened my Facebook account after I graduated from college, though only by a couple months; I was not part of the initial surge of people who rushed to the service. Though it is interesting to see the fast growth of the 35+ group of users, I have spoken with many people who have told me stories about multiple generations of their families being on Facebook. I don't foresee my grandparents jumping on the service any time soon but think it would be interesting to receive a comment from them to a status or link I posted.

I know what you're thinking right now. First, you probably didn't realize that Facebook was that large. Don't worry—you're not alone. Almost every person I talk to doesn't believe me. But, now that you know, how can you jump in and get involved (or more involved)? Can you take the available features and turn Facebook into a successful tool for communicating with your prospects and customers? What about privacy?

All these questions and plenty more will be answered in the upcoming chapters. Along the way I explain the features and their basic functions, and then highlight how you can begin using them for your business. For those of you who like case studies and stories of success, don't worry, I have you covered. If you walk about after finishing this book and think "Oh, that was interesting" and never do anything with the information, then I failed to do my job. If, instead, you take this book, scribble throughout it, call a team meeting, grab a blank whiteboard, and start strategizing about how you're going to integrate Facebook (and other social networks) into the fold of your business, fantastic.

The most important thing is for you to keep an open mind as you flip the pages of this book. Understand the social networks, especially ones such as Facebook, are the new way to communicate and market your brand. You can either choose to embrace it or watch your competition pass you as they figure it out. For the nonbelievers who are reading this book, this is your call-to-action. Enough is enough. It's time to accept that social networks aren't going anywhere. For those of you who are already deeply engaged in social networks such as Facebook, I hope that I can shed light on some ideas and features that you haven't previously considered using.

Let's start this journey by going over some of the basics....

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