Silicon Valley tech giant Meta is one of the most influential companies in the world. The parent company of Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and more might be best known as the catalyst that helped spur the growth of social networking—from its beginnings as a small app that connected college students to becoming a global powerhouse with billions of users. 

Meta’s name changed from Facebook in 2021, which signaled its evolution to become more than a social platform. The choice of Meta as its name was meant to emphasize its metaverse and Web3 focus on VR and AR technology. But the wave of momentum around artificial applications has overshadowed its metaverse ambitions, and as of 2024, some of its most impactful innovations have been related to generative AI.

In this guide, we take a look at how Meta has evolved, and explore the ins and outs of how advertisers and marketers are interacting with its platforms.

Overview of Meta

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and more, is an ad giant both in the US and worldwide. With a projected $62.70 billion in US ad revenues in 2024, Meta will account for 20.4% of US digital ad spend and 75.6% of US social network ad spend, according to an October 2023 eMarketer forecast (subscribers only). 

After a period of rapid growth in 2020, Meta’s core businesses have faced several challenges in the years since. Issues related to Apple’s AppTrackingTransparency (ATT) hurt Meta’s ad targeting capabilities. Regulatory hurdles, particularly in the EU, have also impacted Meta’s ad business. And privacy and public relations scandals have been recurring problems for Meta.

Meta is No. 2 in US ad spend—second only to Google—but its dominance is in question as Meta is losing share to Amazon, turning the duopoly of Meta and Google into a triopoly of Meta, Google, and Amazon.

And advertisers are overindexing on Meta compared with other digital platforms, meaning Meta has a much higher share of US digital ad spend than time spent with digital.

share of digital time spend by us adults vs share of us digital ad spend
A chart showing share of digital time spent per day by US adults versus share of US digital ad spending, by platform, 2023.

A brief history of Meta

  • 2004: Meta was founded as TheFacebook by Mark Zuckerberg. It soon changed its name to Facebook. The platform was originally available only to college students.
  • 2006: Membership opened to everyone.
  • 2007: Facebook launched its mobile product in a move that would prove to be a successful anticipation of the rise of the smartphone.
  • 2008: In July, Facebook launched its iPhone app. 
  • 2010: The Android Facebook app launches. 
  • 2012: In April, Facebook acquired photo-sharing platform Instagram for $1 billion.
  • 2012: In May, Facebook filed for IPO.
  • 2014: Facebook acquired VR company Oculus, which would support Facebook’s own VR ventures.
  • 2014: Facebook acquired messaging platform WhatsApp.
  • 2015: Facebook launched livestreaming.
  • 2018: Facebook admitted the platform recommended Russian propaganda to some users, potentially influencing the 2016 US presidential election.
  • 2018: News of the Cambridge Analytica breach dropped, alleging the firm used information from Facebook profiles to target political advertising in the US.
  • 2021: Amid scrutiny, Facebook rebranded to Meta and emphasized a focus on Web3 and the metaverse.
  • 2022: Meta laid off over 11,000 staff members after unsustainable growth during the pandemic and aggressive investment in the metaverse that didn’t immediately catch on.
  • 2023: Meta launched vertical text platform and X (formerly Twitter) rival Threads.

What is Facebook?

Meta’s core product, Facebook, offers social networking tools from blogging, photo sharing, payments, games, and more.

Facebook audience stats and user demographics

In 2024, Facebook will boast 2.12 billion users worldwide, or 26.3% of the global population, according to a May 2023 eMarketer forecast.

Facebook is banned in several countries, including China and Russia, taking away some potential for growth.

Facebook will have 177.6 million US users in 2024 or 52.0% of the US population, according to eMarketer’s forecast.

  • Facebook use in the US is declining, and the platform has had trouble appealing to younger users, Gen Z in particular.
  • That said, Facebook is the No. 1 social media platform in use by US teens and adults, according to a January 2023 Edison Research survey with support from Amazon Music, Wondery, and ART19.
  • Among US social network users, 76.7% will be on Facebook in 2024, but penetration is declining, according to eMarketer’s May 2023 forecast.

Facebook advertising spend

Facebook’s US ad revenues will total $32.55 billion in 2024, a growth of 7.2% YoY, per an October 2023 eMarketer forecast.

  • Facebook will account for 10.6% of US digital ad spend in 2024, though share is declining.
  • Facebook ads still account for more than half (51.9%) of Meta’s US ad revenues, though it is losing share to Instagram.
  • Facebook and Instagram share an ad platform, streamlining processes for advertisers. (More information on ads on Facebook and Instagram is featured further down in this guide.)

Facebook influencer marketing

Facebook is second only to Instagram when it comes to influencers using the platform for influencer marketing, according to eMarketer’s Influencer Marketing by Platform 2023 report.

  • According to eMarketer’s July 2023 forecast, 97.6% of US influencers use Instagram for marketing, while 73.8% use Facebook.
  • In 2024, marketers will spend $1.00 billion on influencer campaigns on Facebook.
instagram reels vs tiktok for influencer marketing
A chart showing that more US marketers use Instagram Reels than TikTok for influencer marketing.

Ecommerce on Facebook

In 2024, 64.6 million people in the US (or 37.2% of US Facebook users) will be social commerce buyers via Facebook, according to eMarketer’s September 2023 forecast. 

  • Facebook will be second to TikTok (40.8%) but ahead of Instagram (35.0%) in US social buyer penetration in 2024.
  • But without Facebook Marketplace, third-party data suggests Facebook’s social buyer penetration drops below that of Instagram, as noted in eMarketer’s Social Commerce Forecast 2023 report.

Facebook Marketplace is Facebook’s circular economy offering, a place where users can list and shop items, self-serve. While this service has been immensely popular among users as a Craigslist rival, Facebook has had trouble capitalizing on advertising since Marketplace isn’t commonly used by brands, retailers, or anyone who would pay to promote listings.

Facebook Shops is an online storefront where consumers can browse and purchase products from a seller through Facebook. 

What is Instagram?

Instagram is a photo- and video-sharing social media platform that makes up an increasing share of Meta’s ad business. The core types of posts on Instagram are feed posts, which are photos or videos posted in the main timeline; Stories, which are photos and videos that disappear after 24 hours; and Reels, which is Instagram’s vertical video TikTok rival.

Instagram audience stats and user demographics

In 2024, Instagram will have 1.51 billion users, or 18.8% of the global population, according to a May 2023 eMarketer forecast. Like Facebook, Instagram is banned in several countries, including Russia and China.

Instagram will have 140.3 million US users in 2024, or 41.0% of the population.

  • Instagram skews younger than Facebook. Among people in the US ages 12 to 17, 57.5% will be Instagram users in 2024, while 28.8% will be Facebook users.
  • Among US social network users, 60.6% will use Instagram in 2024, and that figure is increasing.

Instagram advertising spend

Instagram’s US ad revenues will total $30.14 billion in 2024, a growth of 17.1% YoY, per an October 2023 eMarketer forecast.

  • Instagram will account for 9.8% of US digital ad spend in 2024, and share is increasing.
  • Instagram will account for 49.9% of Meta’s US revenues by 2025.

Instagram influencer marketing

“Essentially all creator strategies include Instagram,” wrote eMarketer principal analyst Jasmine Enberg in the Influencer Marketing by Platform 2023 report.

  • Even as creators build audiences on other platforms like TikTok, advertisers shouldn’t abandon Instagram.
  • In 2024, marketers will spend $2.21 billion on influencer campaigns on Instagram, more than twice as much as they will spend on Facebook, according to a July 2023 eMarketer forecast.
  • On Instagram, creators share sponsored content most often in feed posts (98.4%), Stories (98.1%), and Reels (98.0%), according to a June 2023 survey by Mavrck.
us influencer marketing spend by platform
 A chart showing US influencer marketing spending, by platform, 2023 and 2024.

Instagram Reels

Instagram introduced its TikTok rival, Reels, in August 2020. Instagram Reels is similar to fellow TikTok rival YouTube Shorts, which all feature short, scrollable, vertical videos in an algorithmic feed.

  • The introduction of Reels was a play for short-form video ad dollars, as short-form videos were the leading format for marketer investment worldwide in 2023, according to a January 2023 HubSpot and Brandwatch survey.
  • More US marketers use Instagram Reels than TikTok for influencer marketing, according to eMarketer’s July 2023 forecast.

Threads

In July 2023, Instagram launched Threads, an X-like app aimed at capitalizing on X’s user decline while leveraging Instagram’s massive user base.

  • Within five days, 100 million users worldwide had signed up for Threads, according to Meta, making its launch a huge success.
  • However, many of those sign-ups didn’t translate into active users: Threads will have 30.0 million active US users in 2024, according to a September 2023 eMarketer forecast.
  • In comparison, X will have 51.6 million US users, per eMarketer’s May 2023 forecast.
instagram threads vs twitter
A chart showing the number of users worldwide for Threads and X/Twitter, 2023. 

In addition to rivaling X, Threads could pose a threat to TikTok. Just after Threads’ launch, Enberg wrote, “TikTok is where most major internet trends now originate. While Reels is already a strong contender to TikTok in terms of usage and advertising, it hasn’t been able to compete on the internet culture front, especially among Gen Zers.”

But engagement on Threads has since declined, so first the platform needs to find a way to become a need-to-have app.

Threads does not have ads (yet), but many brands have set up a native presence on the platform.

Ecommerce on Instagram

In 2024, 46.8 million people in the US (or 35.0% of US Instagram users) will be social buyers via Instagram, according to a September 2023 eMarketer forecast. 

Some 19% of US adults start online product searches on Instagram, according to February 2023 Jungle Scout data.

us adults start online product searches compared to gen z
A chart showing where US Gen Z and total consumers begin their online product searches, February 2023. (Subscribers only)

What is WhatsApp?

WhatsApp is a messaging platform owned by Meta. WhatsApp will be used by 67.6 million people in the US in 2024, according to a May 2023 eMarketer forecast, and over 2 billion users worldwide, according to Business of Apps. One key role of WhatsApp in Meta’s portfolio is its super app potential. A super app, like China’s WeChat, can combine multiple services—including social networking, commerce, and messaging—into one place. WhatsApp offers messaging and could potentially offer payments as well.

As of January 2024, there are no ads on WhatsApp.

Ad types on Facebook and Instagram

Meta hosts a range of ad options, many of which are shared across platforms. Advertisers can use Meta Business Suite or Meta Business Manager to manage and track their ad performance.  

  • Photo ads: These ads are exactly what they sound like—one single image linked on Facebook or Instagram with a small amount of copy. These ads are easy to create because advertisers can turn Facebook Page posts into paid image ads.
  • Video ads: Another fairly self-explanatory ad type, these ads use video along with a small amount of copy. Video ads can be produced by creating content specifically for ads or by turning existing content into videos. There are a number of different subtypes of video ads, outlined below.
  • Slideshow ads: Slideshow ads are a form of video ad that include multiple images and can be paired with music and text.
  • Carousel ads: Carousel ads are similar to video ads, but users can scroll through up to 10 different images or videos and click into links specific to each image or video, along with minimal text.
  • Collection ads: These ads feature one primary video or image alongside a grid of three smaller images and some brief text.
  • Playable ads: Ads that allow people to preview and test drive mobile games within News Feeds or Stories.
  • Messenger ads: There are a few different types of Messenger ads—ads that appear between conversations in the Messenger inbox, ads that appear between Stories, and ads on Facebook and Instagram that link to a Messenger conversation where users can contact businesses directly. Ads in Messenger inbox are currently unavailable in the US, Canada, Australia, and France. 

Challenges and controversies

From its inception, Meta has faced controversies. These issues have spanned everything from data collection and privacy concerns, to misinformation and election influence, to loss of third-party data for advertisers. Here’s what social media managers need to know. 

Privacy issues and Cambridge Analytica

Meta has faced privacy concerns since Facebook’s beginning. These came to a head in 2018 when a whistleblower revealed that over 50 million Facebook profiles had been used by analytics firm Cambridge Analytica to target ads to potential voters. Cambridge Analytica worked with President Donald Trump’s 2016 election team and the Brexit campaign. The scandal resulted in the erosion of trust in Facebook and Meta as a whole.

Apple’s AppTrackingTransparency

In April 2021, Apple rolled out its ATT framework, which posed a huge threat to digital advertising and Meta’s ad business in particular.

ATT made it easier for mobile users to opt out of being tracked by Meta, obfuscating ad targeting potential. Advertising costs per thousand impressions on core Facebook grew 66% from Q4 2020 to Q4 2021, even as impressions decreased 22% over the same period, according to data provided by performance marketing agency Tinuiti.

Meta railed against ATT, calling it anticompetitive and allegedly implementing a secret workaround.

Meta took a hit, with its US ad business shrinking by 1.1% in 2022, per an October 2023 eMarketer forecast. Meta has since bounced back to double-digit growth, but it makes up a decreasing share of US digital ad spending.

Child safety

The Federal Trade Commission has proposed barring Meta from monetizing children’s data due to privacy, vulnerability, and mental health concerns, and President Joe Biden has called for an outright ban on targeting ads to minors. Similar bans implemented in the EU have resulted in Meta releasing paid tiers to its platforms without ads. Facebook and Instagram have been at the heart of mental health concerns surrounding teens for years.

GDPR issues

The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) resulted in international complications for Meta, including the aforementioned paid tiers. Meta has faced major fines related to privacy violations of the GDPR.

Misinformation

Misinformation is a persistent issue on Meta’s platforms, where algorithms can amplify conspiracy theories and fake news to vulnerable users. Threads has faced similar challenges. These problems can pose brand safety concerns for advertisers who risk their own content showing up next to controversial posts.

Metaverse endeavors

Meta’s October 2021 rebrand from Facebook to Meta also signaled a change in focus for the company. Meta began focusing on the metaverse, a VR world it claimed had ad potential. Meta opened its Horizon Worlds metaverse platform to users 18 and older in late 2021, then expanded to teens in 2023. But the idea of the metaverse hasn’t yet caught on for most, and Meta’s VR investments are still losing the company money.

AI endeavors

While the metaverse has failed to build buzz, AI has gained steam. Meta is pushing to get in on the action, including through its Meta Advantage program, a suite of products Meta says will help advertisers optimize their campaigns. “Meta is developing its own generative AI models, which are partially trained on data from its own platforms, to power its new Meta AI chatbot for WhatsApp, Messenger, and Instagram,” according to Enberg. “In a somewhat surprising twist, Meta has integrated Microsoft’s Bing search engine into the chatbot. Meta has also touted its prowess in AI as a major reason for its ad revenue rebound and time spent increases on Facebook and Instagram.”

Meta’s AI Sandbox, released in May 2023, allows for AI-generated testing of ad content, with tools for text variation, background generation, and image outcropping.