Half of Twitter’s Users Are Worthless, and That’s Good
An Apple Inc. iPhone 6 smartphone is held as a laptop screen shows the Twitter Inc. logo in this arranged photograph. (Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg)

Half of Twitter’s Users Are Worthless, and That’s Good

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(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Allow me to let you in on a little secret: Twitter Inc. isn’t a big user of its own product.

That’s right, while the company’s main account @twitter has 57.1 million followers, it follows just one other, which doesn’t make it a very engaged account holder. And its tweet frequency is relatively low — even I have sent more tweets than @twitter has, and I signed up two years later. President Donald Trump has sent four times as many — 48,700 tweets since March 2019.

The other thing that’s worth noting is that most of Twitter’s users are worthless. The social network company on Thursday reported fourth-quarter revenue that surpassed $1 billion for the first time, driven in large part by a 21% increase in monetizable daily active users (mDAU, in Twitter parlance).

This shift to “monetizable daily” came in late 2018 and compares with an old metric it used simply called monthly active users. But the big result of this change is to cut its apparent user numbers — under this definition — by more than 60%. That sounds bad. It’s not.

Twitter defines monetizable users as “people, organizations, or other accounts who logged in or were otherwise authenticated and accessed Twitter on any given day through twitter.com or Twitter applications that are able to show ads” (emphasis added). A few years ago, the company boasted about being able to serve ads to people who weren’t even Twitter users; it contended more than 500 million people visited the site without logging in.

So the upshot is that hundreds of millions of people might possibly be considered part of the Twitter audience, but Twitter itself no longer considers them “users” for the purpose of monetization. They are, for all intents and purposes, worthless, except that makes Twitter itself more valuable to advertisers. By assuring the real customers of Twitter (the ad buyers) that the product they’re getting (the users) is genuine and authentic, it can push up prices and increase revenue. As a result, the money it makes from each of those “valuable users” (let’s call it AARPmDAU)  is trending up. 

Half of Twitter’s Users Are Worthless, and That’s Good

Going into a U.S. election year, this could matter. There’s bound to be a lot of noise online over the next nine months, including a lot of fake news, conspiracy theories and partisan rancor. Sure, this may drive up use and engagement, but Twitter seems to be taking the line that not all engagement is good engagement. Quality is important.

As part of this, the company has bolstered measures “to protect the integrity of election-related conversations and proactively limit the visibility of unhealthy content on Twitter.” Contrast that to Facebook Inc., which has decided to take a hands-off approach to censorship to the point of allowing demonstrably false advertising.

If Twitter is lucky, this approach will also help bring audiences back. In its call with investors Thursday morning, Chief Financial Officer Ned Segal noted that the company aims to make casual users — for example, those who haven’t been on Twitter for more than a month — return more often. I believe that this could in turn boost monetizable daily active users, and lure more advertisers, creating a virtuous cycle.

Twitter has already lost the size battle. At more than 2.5 billion users globally, Facebook has that trophy. But in attempting to make its platform appear more sanitized, from both a content and a user-metrics standpoint, Twitter may have a shot at becoming the platform of quality, not quantity. 

Who knows, maybe even Twitter will use its own product more often.

Average Advertising Revenue per Monetizable DailyActive User

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Tim Culpan is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering technology. He previously covered technology for Bloomberg News.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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