10/04/2012 05:28 EDT | Updated 12/04/2012 05:12 EST

Facebook Has a Billion Users, but Numbers Aren't Everything


Facebook just announced that it now has one billion active users -- an astounding number. On the other hand, you (or your organization) may have but 1,000 or 10,000 -- hardly a dent, and at best, a rounding error.

Whether your number hovers at 100 or a billion, this singular measure of "success" is of little value, and at best misleading. Here are two reasons why:

  1. How many of those users are actually active? How often does each person actually sign in, let alone "engage"? Facebook uses statistics called Monthly Active Users and Daily Active Users: but what does "Active" really mean? "Activity level" is a useful statistic only if it is defined, and transparent.
  2. What are those who do log in actually doing? They are posting the inane details of their lives, reading the inane details of others' lives, and playing games like Farmville and Mafia Wars. So-called "F-Commerce" has turned out to be a dud -- no one seems to be setting up stores and when they do, no one is buying. Engagement level by activity is a far better statistic. Sales and profitability are also not bad numbers to track.

McDonald's also once celebrated billions served. Eventually they also figured out that people cared more about taste, healthiness, clean restaurants, and speed. They also determined that an emotional brand connection was more powerful than just numbers. (They no longer advertise Ronald McDonald, the Hamburglar, and their French Fries, preferring instead to talk about the feeling of having a quality coffee at their McCafe's.)

The most important statistic is whether the effort being spent is driving the results your organization requires.

  • If your goal is greater awareness, then track the increase in number of likes, shares and friends.
  • If your goal is increased number of leads, then track newsletter sign-ups and white paper downloads.
  • If your goal is increased sales, then yes, track sales, and do it by source.

Is a billion users a significant milestone? Absolutely. Does it matter? Not in the least.