The number of people who use Instagram each month more than doubled during the past two years to 500 million monthly active users (MAU), according to the social networking company. The media-sharing platform says it added an average of 10 million MAU every month for 27 consecutive months.
The growth further elevates Instagram as an elite force that continues to distance itself from the competition in social. The gap between Instagram and Twitter is especially notalbe in the United States, where Instagram has 100 million MAU and Twitter has 65 million MAU. While Twitter sputters along with 310 million MAU globally, as of the first quarter of 2016, Instagram says it has at least 300 million daily active users (DAU), or people who use the service at least once every day.
"I think the fact that Instagram's DAU number is very close to Twitter's monthly active user number feels pretty important," says Jan Dawson, chief analyst and founder of tech research firm Jackdaw. "That's an indication of just how fast Instagram has grown even as Twitter has stagnated, and, of course, Twitter has consistently refused to provide a DAU number itself."
Facebook continues to consolidate its power through a family of apps that are growing in popularity, and its acquisition of Instagram was a critical part of that journey. However, each Facebook property retains the freedom to continue to focus on its core strengths. It's a strategy that has proven to be successful: WhatsApp (also owned by Facebook) surpassed a billion MAU four months ago; Messenger reached 900 million MAU in April; and Facebook itself closed the first quarter of 2016 with 1.06 billion DAU and 1.65 billion MAU.
The argument against MAU metrics
Meanwhile, a debate over the usefulness of MAU measurements is heating up. Monthly usage metrics indicate "very little about true engagement on a platform, because using an app every 30 days isn't that much different from never using it at all," Dawson says. "For social and communication apps, the key is daily usage, and time spent is an even better measure because it tells you how people are really engaging."
Earlier this month, Ted Livingston, CEO of Kik, a popular chat app with 300 million registered users, introduced a different way to measure engagement. "At Kik we've become less interested in how many messages are exchanged or how many times an app is opened, and more interested in how people engage in chatting," Livingston wrote in a blog post. "Put more simply: we care more about attention than app taps."
Kik now groups chat sessions into three categories: active, when a user replies within 20 seconds; passive, when a user replies within three minutes; and sporadic, when a user replies occasionally throughout the day. The gesture is a refreshing departure from the status quo, but the majority of social and messaging apps are likely to continue to share whatever numbers make them appear most successful.
Daily usage metrics are increasingly in vogue at Facebook and Snapchat, however, which makes them more likely to become the next standard of measurement. Facebook has not yet released DAU numbers for WhatsApp and Messenger, and that may soon change, but the challenge for Facebook is timing. Once it reports on daily use it will be difficult not to continue to release future DAU numbers.
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