For many months now, Twitter has been disappointing Wall Street. Notably, many investors are frustrated by the company’s lack of user growth; the growth of its lucrative U.S. audience in particular has been stagnant for over a year.
But looking solely at active users doesn’t reveal the true nature of Twitter’s growth challenges. So we turned to SurveyMonkey Intelligence to unpack what’s really going on, namely with Twitter’s mobile apps.
And it turns out Twitter’s growth problem isn’t about acquiring new users, it’s about keeping the ones they do manage to acquire. In other words, there’s a Twitter retention problem.
The company attracts new users just fine, but Twitter’s retention rate is troublesome
Any app that acquires a bunch of users is off to a great start. But if the app can’t keep those acquired users coming back, then it has a retention problem. In app industry, we say those lost users have churned.
Looking at March 2016 app downloads–which is a good indicator for user acquisition–both Twitter and Facebook grew by around 6% relative to their respective active user audiences on mobile in the U.S. In other words, the Twitter and Facebook apps grew at similar rates.
But that’s where the similarities end. If you look at Twitter and its subsidiary apps, they’re characterized by a much higher churn rate (i.e., worse retention) than Facebook’s apps.
This chart looks at weekly churn, which refers to people who used the app one week, but didn’t use it again in the following week. Some of those churned users will probably return to the app in the future, but generally speaking, Twitter retention rates do not look very good at all, especially when compared to Facebook’s apps.
This points to a scenario where any success Twitter has in adding new users is basically wiped out by user churn, resulting in the stagnant monthly active user numbers that the company repeatedly reports.
A big difference between Facebook and Twitter apps is retention
What separates Facebook from Twitter is not in acquiring new users, but in retaining users. A company with poor user retention (like Twitter) needs to aggressively attract new users just to maintain the size of its active user audience. When a company is good at both acquiring and retaining active users (like Facebook), then growth is much more achievable.
Unfortunately for Twitter, retention is one of the hardest metrics to improve in any product. Twitter’s ability to continue to succeed as a company will be largely determined by its product team’s ability to staunch the bleeding of users from its mobile app, which is no easy feat.