Just thirteen years after it began as a side project in Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard dorm room, Facebook recently announced a major milestone: 2 billion monthly active users.
While it might seem inevitable that the social network that everyone and their grandmom is on would hit these kinds of numbers, there was a lot of hard work going on behind the scenes to get to 2 billion.
Here’s five reasons Facebook pulled it off:
They’re Mad Scientists
According to Andy Johns, Facebook’s former Product Manager of Growth, the company makes heavy use of testing and experimentation. Anyone who uses the site knows they’re always testing out new features, but they also test things like page layout and design, button design and placement, website copy – all with the goal of making it easy for users to sign up, post and share.
By constantly running A/B tests and other conversion optimization tactics, they find out what users respond to and get rid of what doesn’t work, making the process of signing up for and using Facebook as seamless as possible.
Being a ubiquitous social network means being available to users anywhere, all the time. How does Facebook do it?
First, they knew that in order to get users around the world using Facebook, it needed to be available in different languages.
But instead of hiring teams of employees to translate the site, Facebook had their engineers build a translation app that allowed users to translate the app themselves.
With the explosion of smartphones and tablets, Facebook’s growth teams knew more and more users were visiting the site on mobile devices, so they designed their websites to be the perfect mobile experience. Did it work? As of May 2017, Facebook reported that mobile ads accounted for 85% of their billions of dollars of ad revenue.
Also, by acquiring mobile-first apps like Instagram and WhatsApp, Facebook gained access to hundreds of millions of smartphone users.
They’re Master Pirates (AARRR!)
Facebook has mastered the art of being a pirate, better known in tech startup circles as AARRR Metrics.
AARRR Metrics was a term popularized by angel investor and former PayPal employee Dave McClure, and no it doesn’t involve wearing an eye patch and walking around with a parrot on your shoulder (unfortunately). AARRR stands for the five metrics any startup should be measuring and constantly improving:
Acquisition – Getting new users to visit your website and sign up.
Activation – Getting new users to start using your product or service.
Retention – Keeping those users engaged and coming back.
Referral – Your users telling other people about your product.
Revenue – Monetizing your users.
Facebook has their AARRR’s down pat. The social network’s ubiquity constantly exposes them to users who don’t have Facebook yet, and their landing page and sign up process is simple (Acquisition).
Once you sign up, you’re encouraged to add/find friends and make posts, which fills your newsfeed up with content and gives you a reason to use the site (Activation), and users who sign up, but don’t start using the site are emailed and encouraged to browse and post.
Oh, and all those emails Facebook sends? They’re also useful for keeping users updated on what their friends are doing on Facebook, plus likes, comments on their posts and other social validation goodies to keep users coming back to the site (Retention).
How’d you find out about Facebook? Was it a TV commercial? A billboard on the highway? Did you get a pamphlet in the mail? If you’re like most people, you found out about Facebook through word of mouth (Referral). Because is designed to make it easy for people to share things and keep in touch with friends and family, it’s not surprising that people who aren’t already on Facebook still get exposed to Facebook posts, at which point they may decide they want to sign up, starting the acquisition part of the cycle all over again.
And, of course, Facebook isn’t giving us all a place to share our internet memes with grandma out of the kindness of their little hearts. They want to make money (Revenue). With all the data being provided through our goofy party photos and long thinkpieces about cats, Facebook has built an ad platform that brings in billions of dollars a year.
Proving, once and for all, that it pays to be a pirate. AARRR!
They Built A Culture That Values Growth
One reason why Facebook’s growth team was able to try all the crazy growth experiments they did was that the company leadership and other teams took growth into account.
As Andy Johns says in this excellent Quora post:
“Growth wasn’t mitigated to a sub-function of a higher function within the company like a Paid Search team might be a sub-function of the Marketing team within an e-commerce company. Growth was a horizontal layer across product like engineering/ops is a horizontal framework behind product. Not only would someone ask “What’s the performance impact on site speed or stability if we build and ship ‘X’?” it became common for people to ask “What’s the impact on growth if we build and ship ‘X’?”. The decision to make growth a canonical part of the product, engineering and operational discussion was a really important decision that the executives made. “
In other words, Facebook made growth a company-wide endeavor, and it paid off big time.
They’re Product Geeks
Testing out growth ideas was and is key to Facebook’s growth, but how do they know what ideas to experiment with in the first place? According to former Facebook VP Growth Chamath Palihapitiya:
“knowing true product value allows you to design the experiments necessary so that you can really isolate cause and effect. as an example, at facebook, one thing we were able to determine early on was a key link between the number of friends you had in a given time and likelihood to churn. knowing this allowed us to do a lot to get new users to their “a-ha” moment quickly. obviously, however, this required us to know what the “a-ha” moment was with a fair amount of certainty in the first place.”
The main takeaway is that Facebook grew so fast because they’re constantly testing new growth experiments and learning from those experiments. Even if you don’t have Facebook’s billion-dollar budget or huge teams of engineers and designers, you can still test things like your website copy, offers, new marketing channels, and optimizing your website for mobile devices. Have you had success running growth experiments in your business? I’d love to hear them in the comments!