Facebook stopped losing users as 2022 got under way, even as its owner reported its slowest revenue growth in a decade.
The number of daily active Facebook users grew to 1.96 billion in the first three months of the year, parent company Meta reported on Wednesday.
That marked a turnaround from last year, when the social network reported a decline in users for the first time.
The drop wiped billions from the firm’s market value.
Since executives disclosed the fall in February, the firm’s share price has nearly halved.
But shares jumped 19% in after-hours trade on Wednesday.
“More people use our services today than ever before, and I’m proud of how our products are serving people around the world,” said Meta boss Mark Zuckerberg, who founded Facebook in 2004.
But Meta – which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp – still reported its slowest revenue growth in at least a decade.
Revenues in the first three months of the year were up just 7% compared to 2021, hitting $27.9bn.
Analysts say businesses are pulling back on advertising as they grapple with rising costs and economic uncertainty, stemming in part from the war in Ukraine.
And while Google and Facebook have long been the go-to sites for online ad dollars, they are facing more competition as newer platforms such as TikTok draw users and online shopping giant Amazon gets into the business.
Google-owner Alphabet earlier this week said advertising revenue in the first three months of the year rose 22%, more slowly than analysts had expected, while the smaller Snap also warned of troubles.
Mr Zuckerberg said the firm was investing in its video “Reels” to compete with TikTok, and expected ad sales to catch up.
But Meta is also grappling with new privacy rules from Apple, which make it more difficult to target adverts. The company has said the changes could cost it $10bn in lost sales this year.
The company said it expected revenue in the coming months of $28bn to $30bn – below analyst estimates.
Meta said this reflected factors including the war in Ukraine and the potential impact of regulatory changes in Europe.
In March Russia banned access to Facebook and Instagram, as part of its crackdown on independent media following the invasion of Ukraine.
Mr Zuckerberg has said that the firm will invest heavily in artificial intelligence and virtual reality – the so-called Metaverse – for its next phase of growth. But that is costing it dearly for now.
Overall, Meta’s profits in the quarter were $7.46bn – more than analysts had expected but still down 20% year-on-year.
“Meta’s ad business continues to face some very real challenges,” said Jasmine Enberg, principal analyst at Insider Intelligence.
“Facebook, of course, is no stranger to obstacles, but the [Apple] changes are the first direct threat to its ad business.
“Combined with the rise of TikTok, brand safety concerns, and a shift in social media user behaviour, there’s a perfect storm heading straight for Meta’s ad revenues. Even so, it’s clear that advertisers are still turning to Facebook and Instagram to reach their wide audiences.” (BBC)
•PHOTO: Mark Zuckerberg