Facebook has reported “blowout” Q4 results that surpassed analyst expectations in almost every area.

The social media giant reported Q4 revenue of $28.07bn, up 33% on the year-ago period.

Earnings per share came in at $3.88 for the three months ended 31 December, exceeding the $3.22 per share forecast by financial intelligence firm Refinitiv.

Its monthly active users grew by 12% to 2.8 billion, with the average Facebook user generating $10.14 in revenue in Q4.

“We had a strong end to the year as people and businesses continued to use our services during these challenging times,” said Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO. “I’m excited about our product roadmap for 2021 as we build new and meaningful ways to create economic opportunity, build community and help people just have fun.”

Throughout 2020, Facebook generated total revenue of $85.97bn, up 22% on 2019.

Facebook’s 2020 net income totalled $29.15bn, a 58% increase on 2019 that demonstrates the social media giant’s resilience to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Despite the negative publicity and antitrust cases, it appears there is nothing that can stop what is arguably the world’s most important advertising platform,” said Jesse Cohen, senior analyst at uk.Investing.com.

“Small and medium-sized businesses, which make a much bigger contribution to the company’s overall sales, continued to allocate their ad dollars to Facebook during the holiday season.

“The blowout results helped ease concerns that Facebook is losing business – and users – to other social media platforms, such as Pinterest and Snapchat.”

There are also signs that Facebook is gradually diversifying its revenue stream. The Silicon Valley firm generates almost all of its revenue from advertising, but in Q4 revenue generated from ‘other’ sources grew by 156% year on year to $885m, accounting for more than 3% of total revenue.

Facebook chief financial officer David Wehner said the increase in ‘other’ revenue is due to strong sales of its Oculus Quest 2 virtual reality headset over the holiday period.

However, the company warned it expected to face “more significant ad targeting headwinds in 2021”. This includes Apple’s upcoming iOS 14 update, which will prohibit the type of data collection used by Facebook unless people opt into tracking.

“Apple may say they’re doing this to help people, but the moves clearly track their competitive interests,” said Zuckerberg. “This dynamic is important for people to understand because we and others are going to be up against this for the foreseeable future.”

Facebook said it expected to see an impact from iOS 14 “beginning late in the first quarter”.

It also warned of “continuing uncertainty around the viability of transatlantic data transfers” in light of the preliminary ruling in the Schrems II case for Facebook to halt data transfers from the EU to the US.

“Following an election season rife with misinformation and conspiracy theories, the only real thorn in Facebook’s side is user trust,” said Yuval Ben-Itzhak, president of Socialbakers, a social media marketing company.

“It needs to work harder to communicate better with its billions of users – the recent furore over WhatsApp’s data sharing is a prime example of how quickly users can turn against social media platforms when communication isn’t clear. To keep users on side, and keep advertisers coming back for more, Facebook’s leaders should be focused just as much on building trust with its user base as with innovation. If they succeed, 2021 is likely to be the year Facebook soars even higher.”


Read more: Facebook’s vow to pull out of Europe reflects EU-US data transfer divide