As of yesterday, Facebook claimed 955 million monthly active users, that is , people who have either visited the social network through its website or mobile site or clicked one of those ubiquitous share buttons distributed on countless third-party sites, like AdAge.com.
Anyway you cut it, the scale is vast. But just how many of those people are actually doing something on Facebook? Now the company is telling us.
In a recent interview, Facebook Head of Audience Insights Robert D'Onofrio said that about 85% of those monthly active users are creating some form of content. It needs to be said that Facebook defines content creation broadly and includes everything from uploading a photo or video to writing a status update to less time-intensive actions such as becoming a fan of something or liking a friend's post. Messaging and check-ins aren't included.
So is 85% a lot or a little?
Facebook, unsurprisingly, sees this as a big number, especially when you consider research showing that social networks are often dominated by a noisy few. Facebook is less often associated with these sorts of findings than, say, Twitter, with its more public setup and many verbose participants like brands, news outlets and several-tweet-a-minute celebrities. For instance, last year Yahoo produced a study finding that 50% of tweets consumed were created by an elite cadre of 20,000 users.
Still, Facebook is eager to show that its user base, while massive, is still engaged.
"There's a misperception generally out there that when it comes to social media you have a minority of the users generating a majority of the content," said Mr. D'Onofrio. "The 80-20 rule does exist, but in the opposite way on Facebook."
I ran Facebook's 85-15 finding by Debra Aho Williamson, principal analyst-social media at eMarketer, who, because of that broad definition of content creation Facebook is using, called it a "weird stat."
"Clicking a like button when it comes to liking an advertiser is valuable information and helps Facebook deliver targeted advertising," she said. "But as a measure of usage and active usage it's not as valuable as other metrics and how people spend their time, like posting pictures and doing other things that require one click of the mouse."
Facebook didn't break down exactly how the 85% is spending its time and that varies by demographic group. Mr. D'Onfrio said that 25- to 44-year-olds are heavily into location-based check-ins, while young adults overindexed on messaging and status updates.
As for the other 15%, those 135 million or so people that aren't creating content in a given month? Facebook is quick to caution they don't comprise some sort of small army of zombies inflating Facebook's user levels. They might better be described as lurkers. At least some of those people are going to Facebook properties reading and clicking around and, all importantly, functioning as ad impressions.
Mr. D'Onofrio oversees a research team that 's working to give advertisers and the general public a better understanding of what users are doing on Facebook, slicing and dicing that activity by demographics, location and other variables. Some of this data will be rolled out in some very public ways, not least the Olympics. Beginning this weekend, Facebook will be using its Talk Meter product to provide NBC, the Summer Games broadcast partner, with data on what Olympics topics are causing the most chatter.
Talk Meter, which rates different search terms on a scale of 1 to 10, will actually help NBC figure out storylines and inform programming, possibly telling audiences what the most popular events or most-liked athletes are. Mr. D'Onofrio said Talk Meter could play well in other big events, like the Oscars, Golden Globes or Super Bowl. In other words, expect to see Facebook integrated more into TV programming, especially around mass events, something that 's come relatively easy to social rival Twitter, now ubiquitous on news programming.
So is Facebook doing this in order to take a bite out of Twitter's heavy TV presence? Mr. D'Onofrio wouldn't take the bait.
"I want to get our research out there and see what we can bring to NBC partnership," he said. "That's where my focus is right now."
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