Twitter Inc. says it has reaccelerated its user base, but won’t give numbers to prove it.
Company executives pointed to a year-over-year increase in daily active users on TWTR, -12.34% conference call Thursday, saying they had achieved their 2016 goal of accelerating usage, but would not give analysts an idea of how many DAUs they actually have. The touted user growth came alongside a fourth-quarter revenue miss and commentary that the company had not seen a boost in monthly user growth even after the election.
This suggests Twitter has seen existing users increase usage, but has not attracted new users.
Shares of Twitter were down 10% Thursday.
Twitter said it saw daily active users increase 11% year-over-year in the fourth quarter, compared with year-over-year growth of 7% in the third-quarter of 2016. Twitter also pointed to “double-digit engagement growth” year-over-year in tweet impressions, meaning how many times a tweet shows up in user’s feeds, and time spent on the platform, but did not give specific numbers.
These metrics prove that Twitter is growing its usage, according to executives, but it is still unclear exactly how many are in that daily audience.
“We achieved one of the hardest things to do for a consumer service at scale: we reversed and reaccelerated our usage,” Jack Dorsey, chief executive of Twitter, said on Thursday’s earnings call.
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Despite President Donald J. Trump’s almost daily use of Twitter to communicate with the American people, the social media giant posted its 10th consecutive quarter of lower revenue. WSJ’s Steven Russolillo analyzes the numbers on Lunch Break with Tanya Rivero. Photo: AP
Executives attributed the increase in usage to changes in product offering on the platform. They said President Trump’s use of the platform may have increased “awareness” of Twitter, but it would be difficult for a single person, even the president, to “drive sustained growth.”
It is clear that beyond confusing usage metrics, Twitter is struggling with its user base growth. The company posted flat U.S. monthly active user growth and overall monthly active users rising 0.6% sequentially.
“It’s a good sign that the people that are on there are engaging more,” said James Cakmak, an analyst at Monness, Crespi, Hardt, of the DAU numbers. “But no matter how you spin it the overall base is not growing.”
This is the only daily active user metric Twitter provides.
While flat user growth can sink a social media company, the more troubling issue for Cakmak is how Twitter is using its user base. Twitter appears to be doing well with brand advertising, which he said requires a large audience, while direct response advertising, which he said works better with a smaller user base, is declining.
“There is a mismatch between the user base and their monetization capabilities,” said Cakmak, who has a neutral rating on the stock. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
Twitter missed fourth-quarter revenue expectations, and saw a revenue decline in direct response revenue, and guided to lower revenue for the first quarter. Video ads were its largest revenue-generating advertising segment. Twitter said it would be re-evaluating its revenue product features going forward.
Concrete daily active user numbers would be a better measure of engagement on the platform, said Mark Mahaney, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets, but as its stands the flat monthly active user number shows a maxed-out user base.
“I think either metric is good, but MAUs just tell me that unless they do something dramatic…I don’t know why it would grow,” Mahaney said.
The lack of growth includes revenue as well, Mahaney said, implying that the company will likely have declining revenue for the “foreseeable future.” His latest rating on the stock was sell.
When pressed by analysts to disclose more concrete daily active user numbers, Anthony Noto, chief operating officer of Twitter, noted that the company had only recently started providing DAU metrics and was unlikely to release more detail on it.
“The growth rates are the things we’re most comfortable sharing at this point, and we’re going to stick with that,” Noto said on the call.
Facebook releases concrete daily active user numbers, reporting 1.23 billion users in its fourth-quarter, as does Snap, which disclosed 158 million daily active users in its prospectus. Snap has yet to release monthly active user numbers as Facebook and Twitter do.
Twitter’s reluctance to release more numbers may be the potential for unflattering comparisons with the two, Cakmak said.
Shares of Twitter have fallen 12% in the past three months, while the S&P 500 SPX, +0.58% has gained 6.5%.