Citing data from SocialBakers, it was reported that 922,940 users had left the popular social networking service in the past three months.
Goldstuck explained that while the data from Facebook’s ad planning tool does show a dramatic decrease in registered users over the last three months, it doesn’t tell the whole story.
Analysing statistical anomalies
Towards the end of December 2012, Facebook reported that there were 6.49-million registered users in South Africa.
Suddenly, starting on 4 January 2013 there appears to be a dramatic drop in registered users from 6.46-million registered, to 6.19-million registered on 13 January 2013.
While some of the account closures reported by Facebook are users deciding to leave the service and deleting their accounts, the majority are not, Goldstuck said.
“The average user doesn’t make an effort to close their account,” he remarked. “They just leave.”
The anomaly occurred because Facebook was culling accounts that were duplicates, fake, or used for spamming, Goldstuck explained.
Despite this sudden drop, however, Facebook’s user uptake trend in South Africa is upwards, Goldstuck said.
Where are those user numbers?
The reason this growth isn’t reflected in the data that is publicly available, Goldstuck explained, is because Facebook’s mobile sign-up doesn’t require users to specify a location for them to join.
Asked whether there is an indication of how many users are on Facebook that have left their location unset, but still use the service, Goldstuck said that they can get that number for a specific moment in time.
In August 2012, World Wide Worx and Fuseware released a research report on South Africa’s social media landscape in which they found that 5.1-million users in SA had given a location, but the total number of registered users were 6.8-million.
Goldstuck said that while they don’t have an official statistic, they have been given an indication that South Africa’s registered Facebook userbase is at around 8-million currently.
Facebook is able to use IP address data to get an idea of where users are signing on from, which they use internally, Goldstuck said.
He added that they don’t integrate the IP address data with user-provided data, however.
If a user changes their location in Facebook later on they will be reflected in the ad planning tool, Goldstuck said.
SocialBakers, the service whose data was used in many of the reports, confirmed Goldstuck’s conclusion explaining that their data doesn’t show the number of registered users.
“It is absolutely not true to say that our data shows that Facebook has ‘lost users’,” a spokesperson for SocialBakers recently told MyBroadband.
“It is, however, true to say that a percentage of Facebook users were less active over a six month period.”
According to SocialBakers there are plenty of people who might not be regular users, such as those in an older age demographic who might only go online occasionally to look at photos of their grandkids.
“A fluctuation in [monthly average users] both positively and negatively is completely normal across most markets,” SocialBakers explained. “It can, for example, be affected by holiday seasons or big news events.”
Asked whether they get their data from Facebook’s ad planning tool, SocialBakers provided the following statement:
We get data from the API’s of all the vertical platforms we monitor. We publish the public data on our website and then for our paid tools such as Analytics Pro, we create our own formulas to sort and categorise it.
Facebook shooting itself in the foot?
Asked whether the number of mobile sign-ons reflected by the data is an indication of a shift in the demographic of Facebook users in South Africa, Goldstuck said that it does appear to be entering the mass market.
“Sadly, this is a less trackable market at this stage,” Goldstuck said.
He said that Facebook is probably aware of the issue, but rather than try to fix a disconnect between disparate systems, they’re working on a new system where the cellphone becomes front-and-centre.
This is only going to happen in the long term, however, Goldstuck said.
“In the meantime they are definitely doing themselves a disservice,” Goldstuck said
“Facebook has probably been blind-sided by Africa,” he added. This is because the uptake of social networking operates so differently in developing nations, Goldstuck said.
“It’s not the same animal as it is in developed countries,” he concluded.