Facebook Headcount Will Never Be Huge

Facebook OfficeFacebook’s impending IPO presents a fundamental question that should be on the mind of anyone working in the tech arena: what does it mean for jobs? What kind of people do companies like Facebook—or Google or Twitter for that matter—need, and how many?

In its paperwork, Facebook says it will continue to add to its current staff, which doubled to 3,200 in 2011.

Our employee headcount has increased significantly and we expect this growth to continue for the foreseeable future. We have also made and intend to make acquisitions with the primary objective of adding software engineers, product designers, and other personnel with certain technology expertise. While our organization is growing rapidly, we are focused on increasing our talent base at a rate that allows us to preserve our culture.

But in our information economy, big market caps no longer necessarily mean big workforces. Google has close to 30,000 employees, exponentially more than Facebook, but there’s no sign that Facebook will ever need to be that big. GigaOM’s Om Malik also suggests that Facebook may not hire as much as acquire, or “acq-hire,” by using its cash infusion to buy and integrate small companies and their staffs.

And Richard Blackden, a writer for Britain’s Daily Telegraph, calls this “a bittersweet moment for America.” Why?

Anyone dipping into Facebook’s prospectus will be bombarded with evidence of the meteoric growth that Facebook has achieved over the last three years. It’s an echo of the early years of other US companies, such as Ford and General Electric, that reshaped the world. But there’s one important way in which Facebook differs from its predecessors: it’s not creating as many jobs. For a country battling almost 9 percent unemployment, the most worrying statistic in the prospectus is that Facebook employs just 3,200 people. It is, of course, hiring, and staff numbers did double last year. But it’s far-fetched to imagine that Facebook will ever provide employment on the scale that companies like GE, Ford or, more recently, Microsoft did. Like other Web-based companies such as Zynga and LinkedIn, Facebook is a business that just doesn’t need as many people.

Let’s keep an eye on Facebook’s job listings and headcount in 2012. As goes Facebook, so goes our information economy.