A year ago today, Instagram debuted its Stories feature, which took Snapchat’s feature of the same name and adapted it slightly, something I criticized at the time in a blog post, arguing that the sheer brazenness of the copying should be beneath Instagram. Whatever the ethical shortcomings of such a move, it’s clear that it’s been very successful, with over 250 million daily users of the feature a year later, and Instagram hasn’t been shy in gloating about its milestones, especially where they make for favorable comparisons versus Snapchat. We’re getting more of that today, with Instagram offering up new data on time spent in its app among different age groups, which again compare nicely with Snapchat’s equivalent metrics. Snap Inc said on its Q1 earnings call that its users spend on average over 30 minutes per day in the app, up from a range of 25-30 minutes described in its S-1 filing a few months earlier. Instagram, meanwhile, says that under-25s now spend an average of 32 minutes in the app per day, while older users spend an average of 24 minutes per day. That’s very close to Snapchat’s numbers, but of course at rather larger scale: Snapchat’s most recent daily active user number was 166 million, whereas Instagram now has 700 million monthly active users, meaning that total time spent on Instagram is vastly higher than on Snapchat. All of this is making life tough for Snapchat, which has grown much more slowly since Instagram’s Stories launched, and which will continue to struggle to convince advertisers that it’s worth spending money on reaching its narrower audiences with inferior ad tools versus reaching Instagram’s much broader and larger audience with better targeting, tracking, and ultimately results.
Facebook Hits 2 Billion Monthly Active Users (Jun 27, 2017)
It’s a milestone I’ve been anticipating since Facebook’s last earnings call in May: Facebook has hit 2 billion monthly active users, up from 1.936 billion at the end of March, signifying slightly faster growth in Q2 this year than last year, and putting Facebook MAUs at around 27% of the world’s total population. In and of itself, the milestone is no more important than any other number Facebook might have reported – there’s no magic to two billion – but it’s indicative of Facebook’s massive reach, which continues to grow more quickly over time. As I said back in May, Facebook is the first company ever to have announced two billion regular users for any product, though Google search has to be close, and other Google products such as Android and YouTube have been officially pegged at 2 billion active devices and 1.5 billion monthly users respectively. What’s perhaps even more interesting is the way Facebook itself seems to be downplaying the milestone – Mark Zuckerberg’s post on the topic is very brief, while Facebook’s corporate post (linked below) quickly glosses over the number and goes back to the company’s recent focus on community and using its enormous influence explicitly for good. Partly, I think that reflects a new humility on the part of Zuckerberg about the mixed influence Facebook has had on the world, but I also wonder if it wants to avoid painting a target on its own back from an antitrust and broader regulatory perspective, especially in light of the EU action against Google this morning. Lastly, it’s worth talking briefly about where that growth is coming from, and where it will come from in future. Facebook’s first billion came roughly half from North America and Europe, and half from the rest of the world, while just 16% of its second billion came from those first two regions, and 84% came from Asia and the Rest of the World, with nearly half the total coming from Asia. That picture is only going to skew even more in that direction going forward, with Asia in particular and the Rest of World region to a lesser extent driving over 90% of growth. That means more Internet.org-type activities to grow the addressable market, but it also means that growth in users won’t bring nearly the revenue growth past user growth has, because ad spend and incomes are far lower in many of the markets where Facebook will grow going forward. Update: I’ve just published a deeper dive on Facebook’s first, second, and third billions on Beyond Devices here.
Today’s Instagram announcement is ostensibly about the launch of live video replays, a new feature that allows users to save their live videos for 24 hours as an Instagram Story. However, the part most outlets I’ve seen have focused on is the announcement of 250 million daily active users for Instagram Stories as a whole, which is naturally being compared once again with Snapchat’s overall user numbers. That’s always a bit disingenuous because comparing a single feature in an app with 700 monthly active users with daily active user numbers for a standalone app isn’t a like for like comparison – some large number of people who regularly use Instagram as an app might occasionally dip into Stories without ever posting one, while the average Snapchat daily active user spend sover 30 minutes in the app every day, suggesting a very different level of engagement. But this is the inevitable comparison, not just because the Stories feature was copied from Snapchat but also because its launch seems to have come at just the time Snapchat user growth slowed. The reality is that Facebook’s reach is now such across its many apps that it can easily launch new features and services and have them reach this kind of scale, and in the process eat into the time spent in other apps, but I don’t think anyone at Facebook would suggest that Instagram Stories by themselves generate nearly the engagement of Snapchat as an app, and even Instagram as an app likely only generates the same engagement and time spent as Snapchat among a minority of users. But that doesn’t mean Instagram Stories isn’t a huge hit for Instagram and a great way to neutralize the ongoing threat presented by Snapchat as a competitor, especially among the demographics where it hasn’t yet gained wide adoption.
Instagram is apparently cracking down on some of the third party services which exist to artificially inflate follower counts by generating automated likes and comments on other accounts. Several have apparently shut down recently and blamed their closures on Instagram policy decisions, and it appears Instagram’s recent focus has been on these third party services rather than on user accounts that make use of them, which is both more efficient and better for PR – any attempt to target actual accounts risks false positives and a big backlash. But both Instagram and Twitter continue to suffer from a problem with not just what we might call artificial growth but accounts which are entirely automated, usually in order to push products off Instagram itself. Just in the past couple of weeks, my private account has had follow requests from half a dozen clearly pornographic accounts, and although Instagram has shut each one down relatively quickly, the identification of such accounts needs to happen more proactively.
Snapchat Claims Unique Audiences Despite Facebook Growth (May 3, 2017)
Snapchat claims that it is still able to reach unique audiences despite Facebook’s rapid growth. That’s quite a claim since Facebook’s monthly active users now equate to two thirds of the entire US population and it reaches 52% of the US population daily. But app analytics firm App Annie has some numbers which suggest that Snapchat’s audience does include a chunk of users who aren’t active on Facebook or Instagram the same day. So Snapchat’s argument is really one about reaching a narrow base of users that can’t be reached another way, which is really an argument for Snapchat as a complementary ad platform rather than a core platform, given that the reach of both Facebook and Google is far wider. Snapchat’s reach at the end of last year was about one third of Facebook’s in the US, and far lower than that in most markets around the world, so it remains very much a niche play despite its success in a demographic that matters to advertisers.
Facebook Messenger now has 1.2 billion users, its second messaging app to hit the milestone (Apr 12, 2017)
Twitter’s results this morning were a great illustration of the quandary Twitter presents: on the one hand, it’s never been more important or relevant in the world, and on the other it just doesn’t seem to be able to turn that into meaningful user growth, revenue growth, or profitability. Revenues were actually down year on year, especially in the US, while losses also increased due partly to restructuring costs. Monthly user growth was anemic again, while daily user growth accelerated, though Twitter bafflingly continues to refuse to provide actual DAU numbers (it’s likely that they’re well under half of its MAU number of 319 million, so around 150 million). Meanwhile, Twitter is still talking about exactly the same shortcomings in its ad product around measurement, targeting, delivering ROI, and creative capabilities that it’s been talking about for ages now. And it sounds like it’s rethinking a number of its direct response ad formats and may kill off some that are actually delivering revenue because they’re too resource-intensive. At this point in Twitter’s history (almost 11 years in) and Jack Dorsey’s second tenure (a year and a half in), the company really shouldn’t be about to undergo yet another major reset in its strategy. In the meantime, Twitter management is asking investors to take it on trust that they can convince advertisers that the underlying growth in DAUs and impressions means they should spend more money on Twitter. We’re certainly due for at least one more really shaky quarter, but there’s a good chance we won’t see meaningful financial progress in 2017 at all. I’ve done a slightly more in-depth take at Beyond Devices here.
via Twitter (PDF)
Instagram Stories is stealing Snapchat’s users – TechCrunch (Jan 30, 2017)
This would be very bad news if it turns out to be true – celebrities and those who manage celebrity and other accounts on Snapchat claim they’re seeing a significant reduction in views of their Stories on Snapchat as a result of both Instagram’s launch of its own Stories feature and Snapchat’s move to kill the Auto-Advance feature for Stories in its own app. This kind of thing is always worth taking with a pinch of salt – the ranges discussed here are very broad, and some of the data might be outliers – but the trend seems to be consistently downward, and is backed up by some app download data as well. The positive spin from Snap here would be that it’s actually focusing engagement more by only showing users the Stories they actually choose to see, but I’m not sure investors will buy that. Again, any day now we should have some real data from Snap to go on to evaluate engagement and usage, but this is another specific concern they’ll need to address in the S-1 filing. In the meantime, more evidence that Facebook and Instagram’s strategy here is paying off, and that when Facebook broadly launches its own Stories feature the impact could be even more severe.