On yesterday’s Q4 earnings call, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo was asked how many people try Twitter and then abandon it because they don’t like it.
The number is Twitter’s “dark pool,” and Twitter never talks about it.
But we know the number.
Officially, Twitter only reveals its monthly active users — those people who are on Twitter and use it during the previous month. That, in fact, is the most useful guide to a social media platform’s health.
But because Twitter said yesterday that its active user base is only growing slowly, attention is being turned to why that is. Only 1 million people in the U.S. joined in Q4, and Twitter added only 9 million users globally, for a monthly active total of 241 million. Those numbers drove the stock down more than 20% over night.
On the earnings call, Carlos Kirjner of Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. suggested to Costolo that people were signing up for Twitter, not seeing anything they liked, and then leaving the platform:
Just a quick follow-up, Dick. How many — can you give us a sense as to how many people come on the platform, tried Twitter and then leave because they couldn’t curate [ph] a good enough feed or for any other reason? Because that seems to be the problem that you’re trying to address.
Costolo declined to answer the question:
Yes. We’re not going to speak specifically to the — to any specific numbers of new user retention or so forth.
That was not surprising. Business Insider asked Twitter the same question back in November but the company declined to comment. However, Twitter signups are monitored by Twopcharts, a company that — as the name suggests — generates data about Twitter users. According to Twopcharts, there are currently 938.4 million total registered user accounts.
Put another way, nearly 1 billion people have tried Twitter, but currently only a quarter of them actually write one tweet per month.
That would mean that about 697 million people have signed up for Twitter but do not use it in any given month (i.e. 938 million – 241 million ).
And the number of inactive accounts is rising: When Business Insider checked this data last November, there were 883 million total Twitter accounts, of which 651 million were inactive. In three months, the number of dead accounts has gone up by about 46 million (i.e. 697 million – 651 million). Some back-of-the-napkin maths tells us that for every five new Twitter signups, four don’t go on to use the service even once per month, on average.
The caveat here is that the definition of “inactive” overstates the number of people who appear to be not using Twitter. A lot of people use Twitter by following all the interesting people they want to hear from, and then they simply read their tweets without actually writing anything themselves.
By that definition, Twitter ought perhaps to do itself a favour and create an active user metric that includes people who check in to “listen” to others on the service but not actually say anything themselves.
Here’s Twopcharts’ current data. Click to enlarge:
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