Musk’s X still has one thing going for it: its users

Musk’s X still has one thing going for it: its users

Elon Musk

Elon Musk’s impulsive $44bn purchase of X, formerly known as Twitter, has resulted in an advertiser exodus, negative cash flow, heavy debt burden and, in one investor’s case, a 71.5 per cent devaluation. Plans to monetise users at scale and expand into ecommerce and finance have stalled. Rivals cheer its downfall. But user resilience could yet convince advertisers to return.

Parsing the numbers is not simple. Before Musk bought the social media site it reported close to 238mn monetisable active daily users and just over 368mn monthly ones. This metric, invented by Twitter, tracked accounts that logged in and could be shown adverts.

The company was criticised for its failure to produce regular annual profit but user growth was more consistent — up more than a quarter over the previous two years.  Musk declared that under his stewardship Twitter use would explode, reaching a billion people by 2024. This will not be the case. But nor have users abandoned it. Popular users such as Elton John stopped using the platform in protest at changes Musk has made to moderation.

But according to information Musk has volunteered, for what it is worth, it appears that overall user numbers are rising. By November 2022, one month after his acquisition of the company was complete, he said daily users had topped 259mn. Since then, Musk has opted to focus on monthly users. This summer he posted a chart claiming the platform had more than 540mn monthly users — up almost 50 per cent since late 2022 according to estimates from emarketer.

Documents seen by the FT show the company claims more than 92mn users in the US. If US users still account for about 18 per cent of the total, as they did before Musk owned Twitter, the 540mn monthly global figure is realistic. How active these accounts are is unclear.

Third party sites such as Sensor Tower, Apptopia and Similarweb all suggest the network’s popularity has dipped this year. Similarweb estimates that by September 2023, visits via desktop and mobile were down 14 per cent year on year. Changing the company name from Twitter to X has caused confusion.

However, those data sites also show a dip in traffic to other social media sites. One way to judge X’s popularity is to compare it with rivals. In the US, it remains the third most visited social media site after Instagram and Facebook.

Advertisers may be wary of Musk’s erratic behaviour and changes to content moderation. But they could be won round — if the audience for their adverts remains.

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