If you did a search on Google News Tuesday for "Facebook," these were among the top headlines:
* Facebook Eyeing Up $100 Billion IPO
* Facebook IPO Set at $100 Billion Amid Alleged User Loss?* Facebook IPO: If social network goes public, is it really worth $100 billion?
They all stem from an article published on CNBC.com shortly after noon on Monday in which "people familiar with the matter" say Facebook could go public by the first quarter of next year.
(Also see: Facebook edging closer to IPO)
The thing is, that's not news. A Facebook IPO long has been rumored for early next year. In January the Wall Street Journal reported (see link above) that a private-placement memo informed potential Facebook investors that the company "will be forced to begin disclosing financial information or stage an initial public offering by April 2012."
What would force Facebook to disclose financial information, even though it's not a publicly traded company, is something called "the 500 rule," which, CNBC explains, "mandates that once a private company has more than 500 investors, it must begin releasing quarterly financial information to the Securities and Exchange Commission, just as public companies do."
Again, none of this is new information. It's been discussed for months.
What is new is the headline-ready $100 billion valuation the "people familiar with the matter" put on Facebook. As you can see from a Google News search, that's what's dominating Facebook news online at the moment.
On Monday morning, however, a different story was dominating news about Facebook. You know, the one about "Facebook Fatigue," and how usage dropped 5 percent in the U.S. in May and also fell in a number of other countries? And that Facebook's international growth is slowing?
Almost all you saw if you did a Google News search on Facebook early Monday were headlines such as:
* Decline In Users Hints At 'Facebook Fatigue'
* Facebook: 100,000 Brits bored with site deactivate accounts amid privacy fears* Has Facebook peaked? Millions of users bored with site deactivate accounts ...
But by mid-afternoon, miraculously, the Page 1 headlines mostly were about the $100 billion (!) IPO. Facebook couldn't totally obliterate the "declining user" story, but it did manage to change the conversation.
Well-played, Facebook. But how will it squash every report about user decline and slowing growth? Leak more "news" to the media, each time doubling the valuation? If this gets to be a monthly thing, we could be looking at a $500 bazillion price tag for Facebook by December, according to "people familiar with the matter."
As I wrote yesterday, expect a big marketing push to reverse user decline in mature markets and accelerate growth in developing markets. But mostly, expect the IPO to get rushed out, perhaps by the fall, before Facebook's most important metric -- willing rubes with money -- begins to turn south.