How Facebook Gets to 7 Billion

"Ubiquity" was one word that struck me when David Kirkpatrick, author of "The Facebook Effect," kept mentioning it at a Gotham Media Ventures breakfast panel last week. The other was "China."

Those were the answers. The questions, if you summon Johnny Carson's Carnac, were, respectively, "What is Facebook's goal?" and "What is Facebook's biggest obstacle in achieving its goal?"

China may be Facebook's single biggest obstacle in growing from 500 million users to 7 billion and beyond as it tries to gain adoption by every single person on the planet. Yet there's a bigger obstacle collectively: the other 4 billion people who are neither currently using Facebook nor living in China. How will Facebook colonize the rest of the world?

The question came up on the panel, and I had an answer. By the time Facebook has exhausted other courses of pursuing growth, it's going to go for its most ambitious marketing push yet: Facebook will give every person alive age 13 and up a phone.



Facebook will need to do this once its growth levels off, as it reaches somewhere between 1 and 2 billion users. Once it has signed up between 15%  to 30% of the world's population, one of the most ambitious companies the world has known will need the mother of all stimulus packages. Here's how the phone will serve its ultimate mission:

Doing more with Zero: Facebook already has a service called Zero ( Launched with more than 50 mobile carriers worldwide last month, it allows consumers from Anguilla to Uganda to access a text-only version of Facebook without incurring data charges. Viewing photos incurs data costs, but for no charge at all, users can post status updates and comments, send and receive messages, view the News Feed, and write on friends' Walls. Partnering with carriers this way still will only reach mobile subscribers, which falls short of Facebook's ambition.

The mobile flip: While Facebook reports over 100 million users of its mobile services today compared to an estimated 500 million users overall, the ratio of online to mobile users will quickly flip, especially thanks to carrier partnerships. That flip is already happening elsewhere. For instance, Mixi, Japan's leading social network, has three-quarters of its users accessing it from mobile devices.

One mobile per child: One Laptop Per Child is already pursuing $99 tablets, and the concept of "one mobile per child" is being discussed in various pockets of the web. What would be the cost of getting some kind of mobile device running Facebook in the hands of everyone? That's the ultimate realization of Facebook's mission to "make the world more open and connected."

Voices that care: If Facebook pulled off the feat of finding a scalable way to get billions of Facebook-enabled phones out to the world, it would still need to figure out the phone part. Here's where the next piece of the puzzle fits in: Facebook acquires Skype to enable free calls among handset users. That's just the beginning, as Facebook will pioneer voice translation software to allow someone speaking Ndebele in Zimbabwe to communicate with a Mandarin speaker in China.

There are still countless questions as to how this would work, and the business model is hardly clear-cut. Yet at some point, Facebook's growth will slow and everyone will wonder what's next. For Apple, the answer was the iPod, and then the iPhone. For Google, it's Android. For Facebook, it will also be mobile, but with even greater ambitions. Mark Zuckerberg's one person who can make a goal like gaining top market share in China seem trifling compared to the bigger picture.

7 comments about "How Facebook Gets to 7 Billion".
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  1. Paul Benjou from The Center for Media Management Strategies, June 22, 2010 at 3:05 p.m.

    Even thinking about Facebook reaching this lofty goal is an exercise in futility and a waste of time.
    Paul Benjou
    Ad Blog:

  2. Andy Giordano from Terri Bennett Enterprises, LLC, June 22, 2010 at 3:12 p.m.

    Here is the answer:

    Here is the question:
    How much more can I stand to read about the mental gymnastics revolving around Facebook and their inevitable conquering of the world.

  3. Ed Docnoc from Work From Home Dad, June 22, 2010 at 6:07 p.m.

    It's hard to imaging that a social wedsite like Facebook could grow this big in such a short time. Now imagen if you had bought stock in this company, a few years back then?

    Wow ! you would not have to work again...

  4. Mark McLaughlin, June 22, 2010 at 10:20 p.m.


    Do you think Facebook will be able to skip the step of becoming extraordinarily large in terms of cash flow?

  5. Scataboosh Fandango from None, June 22, 2010 at 11:28 p.m.

    Wow, I so find this lacking in perspective! Human beings are not automatons. We're not all about to jump on the "let's connect by FB" wagon. Perhaps a little more time offline at the frontline of poverty, mental illness, and alternative lifestyle choices might resolve this frightening Utopian vision...

  6. David Berkowitz from MRY, June 23, 2010 at 6:27 a.m.

    Okay, it's not for everyone. For those who are so adamantly doubtful though, a few very real questions:
    A) What brings you to the Social Media Insider? What are you looking to get out of it?
    B) Did you think Facebook would even get this far? Beyond Facebook, what's your take on the well over 1 billion users of social networks?
    C) Are you all US-based? If not, North America/Western Europe? I ask because we are especially spoiled in having access to global communications and media. That's not true for most of the world. Look at China as Exhibit A.

  7. Howie Goldfarb from Blue Star Strategic Marketing, June 28, 2010 at 11:08 a.m.

    Ridiculous premise. Remember 2 of 3 US consumers are not using social media everyday. And Facebook is going to get trumped sooner than later because their network sucks for both users and brands. It is not user friendly. Try going to a Fan Page on your own. Impossible. Try getting a Fan Page post to be seen. Almost impossible. A person with over 200 connections tends to see less than 10% of the info that is posted and commented on.

    And the activity numbers are so pitiful why is Facebook even in the news. The average active user posts only 4 photos per month. Only 1 in 2 of the 200 million who log in everyday update their status or comment or like.

    And you forget that the only way to get 7 billion users is for 3.5 billion people to each have 2 accounts.

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