As Facebook Prepares to Announce 500 Million Users, a Look Back at Its Traffic Growth

The last time Facebook announced its total worldwide traffic, it said it had 400 million monthly active users. That was February, three months after it said it had reached 350 million. Now, five months later, the company is planning to announce that has gained 100 million new users to reach the half a billion mark.

These traffic announcements may happen irregularly, but we’ve been tracking them all the way back to the company’s founding. As you can see from the graph below, growth has been consistently up and to the right. So is it straight on to 1 billion in the next few years?

That’s possible, especially if the company’s focus on low-penetration countries like Russia, South Korea and Japan work out (it is banned in a fourth, China). It is localizing apps and services for those places, and encouraging third-party developers to do the same.

Meanwhile, as we’ve covered, Facebook’s core markets are starting to look more mature.

Using Facebook’s advertising tool, we’ve been tracking country and demographic data, and we’ve observed rises and dips within countries and regions even as the worldwide traffic total has grown. In places where Facebook grew first — the US, and some European countries, especially — we’ve observed more weak months as the service has penetrated more of the total population. The fact that so many people are on Facebook means that there aren’t many more people left who can join.

Other issues may also play into this, too, like holiday months, Facebook redesigns and heavy media coverage of controversial issues like privacy. For example, the US, which has the largest Facebook population in the world, had a decrease in growth during June, according to our Inside Facebook Gold report. It’s not clear why the US slowed down. One reason is likely its high 41.4% penetration rate — we haven’t seen many countries grow beyond this mark. Another reason could be the company’s May privacy issues, or perhaps summer vacation, given the drops we saw coming from 20-something demographics.

Overall, though, we have yet to see any consistent flattening or declines. Countries with high penetration rates still seem to grow, overall, and privacy issues, redesign concerns, and other brand issues have faded into the background.

So, whether from new countries or old, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently said that he thinks the company can reach a billion users. He shared more about that, during a recent talk at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival.

“We know that a country has tipped when local-to-local connections outnumber local to foreign,” he said, as The Financial Times reported. “It is a long-term thing we are probably not going to win in six months, not in a year… things look promising in three to five years out.”

He also explained that while there was “no chance” Facebook would reach 1 billion MAU this year, but “it is almost a guarantee that it will happen,” according to The Guardian. He explained: “If we succeed [in innovating and remaining relevant] there is a good chance of bringing this to a billion people… it will be interesting to see how it plays out.”