State of Social Q4 2016: Facebook Aims For the TV

The largest social network in the world – and to some people, the entire Internet – released its Q4 2016 and year end earnings. How is Facebook faring as the current king of the hill?

User Growth

Facebook’s overall growth remained above 4% quarter-over-quarter in Q4, which is no small feat given its massive size and dominance. Facebook now sports 1.86 billion monthly active users:

Facebook’s growth engine was powered by APAC and EU regions this quarter. Interestingly, the Middle East and African markets’ growth fell the most:

Mobile Users

Facebook continues to be a mobile-first platform; almost 94% of Facebook’s monthly active users use a smartphone or other mobile device to access the service at least part of the time, shown by the orange bars:

At 94%, it’s fair to generalize that Facebook is the mobile Internet for a fair number of people. It’s equally fair to generalize that marketers who have a strong Facebook strategy also have a solid mobile strategy.

What’s stunning is the growth of the next number: 1.15 billion mobile users who only use a mobile device to access the service, shown by the red bars below. Just a few years ago, we were discussing how Facebook had a billion users, and now Facebook has more than a billion mobile-only users:

Consider the marketing implications of a billion mobile-ONLY users for a moment. Facebook is the premier mobile marketing platform for any industry, any sector, from government to healthcare to consumer goods. If you don’t have a mobile retargeting strategy, develop a Facebook retargeting strategy and by default, you have a mobile retargeting strategy.


Where Facebook truly shone in Q4 was revenue:

On a quarter-over-quarter basis, this was an incredibly strong quarter for Facebook:

What’s behind such incredible revenue growth? Two factors; first, retailers always spend enormous sums on digital marketing in Q4 to make for a strong retail holiday season. The second factor, however, was the US presidential election, in which campaigns spent exorbitant sums of money on the race.

What does this mean for you?

Facebook must be part of every communications strategy, no matter how small, because Facebook is where all the people are. Your customers are on Facebook, no matter what business you’re in. Ignore claims that a group or demographic has abandoned Facebook. Whether or not they think it’s “cool”, Facebook is the Internet’s front page for a significant portion of the planet. No matter your company or industry, at least some percentage of your audience is on Facebook – and probably on a mobile device.

What should you do on Facebook?

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made this bold statement in the earnings call:

We’re looking for ways to grow the ecosystem of video content on Facebook. We want people to think of Facebook as a place for interesting and relevant video content from professional creators as well as their friends. Last year we started to invest in more original video content to help seed the ecosystem, and we’re planning to do more in 2017.

Not only is Facebook the largest communications medium on the planet, but CEO Zuckerberg has aimed his sights on the lucrative television market. Doubtlessly encouraged by the power of content studios like Netflix, Amazon, and others, Facebook will be throwing its hat into the ring.

As marketers and communicators, we should consider whether long-form video storytelling has a place in our efforts. If it does, we may want to trial our distribution efforts on the largest social network on the planet.

Facebook isn’t shying away from its AI ambitions, either. Said Zuckerberg:

And if you post on Facebook looking for a place to eat or suggestions for where to go, we can now use AI to understand the text of your post and understand what you’re asking and surface recommendations from the comments.

It is a very small leap to understand that Facebook is likely also fueling its ad placement systems with the same AI, using comments and content contextually to provide more advertising relevance. This is good news for marketers with a robust Facebook advertising strategy, and very bad news for anyone who is a wallflower at the Facebook ball. This sort of AI will mean Facebook ads will continue to improve in quality, making them a necessary part of any marketing campaign, B2B or B2C. If your prospects and customers have any discussions about your industry on Facebook, including in private groups, Facebook is developing the ability to target them with greater clarity and impact.

Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology


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