The MAU - A Dying Social Media Metric

by Jason Keath on Apr 02, 2019

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MAU, or Monthly Active Users, has been the main metric by which we measure the health and growth of social networks since before MySpace thought Facebook was just some college fad.

It’s been the best shortcut for Wall Street and advertisers to gauge which social networks are engaging the most people and which social networks are growing.

How social networks define their monthly active users has never really been that consistent.

  • If you never log into Facebook but you click a like button on a blog, are you active?
  • What about if you read a bunch of Tweets but never post?
  • Or if you only use Snapchat for it’s messaging, but never see a Story ad?

And if you only log into a social network once a month, does that really say much to anyone about the health of that platform?

The nuance of what goes into these metrics is usually lost on everyone but Wall Street analysts. But the good news is we’ve started to learn more and get better metrics from the platforms. And it is good news that the MAU will soon die off.

Snapchat has never released their total MAU numbers, always focusing on DAUs, or Daily Active Users. This is driven in part because Snapchat is an app. And apps focus on DAUs. They want your use of the app to be a habit.

When Snapchat came along and, more broadly, when social networks began to be more about the mobile app experience, a daily user metric became much more important.

Since Snapchat’s launch and growth, we’ve seen Facebook and Instagram focus more on their DAU numbers, partially in an effort to compete with Snapchat’s growing influence.

The MAU has remained dominant. If for no other reason, it is the one metric we can use to compare all of the social networks, even those in China.

List of social network MAUs as of 2018. Facebook 2.2 bil, Youtube 1.9 bil, Whatsapp 1.5 bil, etc.

However, times they are a changing.

And the MAU is going the way of… well, MySpace.

In the most recent round of quarterly reports (2018 Q4) Facebook and Twitter both announced that they are either killing off or deemphasizing their monthly active user reporting.

Both for slightly different reasons. Both for self serving reasons.

And yet, this is probably a good thing. 

Facebook’s MAU Move

Facebook seems poised to adopt a new “ecosystem” strategy in reporting their high level advantage over all other social networks and will now deemphasize their MAU numbers going forward.

It’s no longer about how big Facebook is; it’s about how big all the things Facebook owns are.

So instead of the big number on their earnings calls being the MAU for Facebook.com, it will now be the monthly active users across ALL Facebook platforms. This includes Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger.

Facebook Earnings Report: 2018 Q4

One clear reason for Facebook’s move is that Facebook.com has started to reach a plateau at 2.3 billion MAUs. It’s still growing, but slowly, and growth is flat in western countries.

But growth on Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp are all still on the rise.

Expect to see Facebook touting it’s ecosystem in many ways in 2019 and beyond. Their “Family Plan” so to speak.

Their family of apps, family of messaging solutions, family of video solutions, family of ad solutions, etc.

This will be a broad message to Wall St, advertisers, and users.

Twitter’s MAU Move

Twitter announced that they will no longer be reporting MAU numbers after their next earnings (2019 Q1).

Instead they are choosing to focus on a new metric, an amended version of DAUs. This new metric is MDAU, or Monetizable Daily Active Users.

This is the number of daily users on Twitter that can see ads.

There are a ton of people that come into contact with Twitter every day on other apps, blogs, TV, etc. Only a portion of users can see ads and actually be monetized.

For Twitter, it’s also true that their MAU number has been flat for some time at around 320 million, rising and falling by a few million each quarter for a couple years.

But their DAU numbers have been growing at steady clip of about 10% Y/Y for 2 years. Even though we’ve only just now seen the raw numbers behind that percentage growth.

For Twitter, this focuses on their strength. They have consistently built up a small but influential user base of plugged-in consumers who engage in events, drive cultural trends, and break news.

And, of course, this number is going up.

Advertisers will be especially interested in the MDAU number and may put pressure on other social networks to adopt this new metric as a standard. 

I will emphasize again, both of these moves are self serving. Both changes deemphasize weaknesses for Facebook and Twitter.

Of the two, Facebook’s change is more of a PR move than Twitter. While Facebook is focusing on an even bigger number that does not really mean much to advertisers or consumers, Twitter’s MDAU metric is a more honest number for who is really using their platform and how businesses can engage those users.

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CEO and founder of Social Fresh, the social media education company. Jason is a social media consultant, a social media speaker and industry analyst. He consults with corporations and agencies on social media strategy, building community, and influencer...