Exactly one year has passed since Elon Musk’s $44bn (£36.2bn) splurge on Twitter, now rebranded as ‘X’. During that time, the social media site has undergone an extreme makeover, sparking regular speculation that it is on the brink of extinction.
But despite a decline in users and discontent among advertisers, one look at X tells you it is far from dead — even if 16.5m of its users are bots. Meanwhile, prodigies Mastodon and Meta’s Threads, hailed by some as “Twitter Killers”, are yet to slay the giant.
Daily active users (DAUs) now number 225m, as revealed by X’s chief executive, Linda Yaccarino, at Vox Media’s Code 2023 tech conference in September. Twitter had 254.5m DAUs just before Musk’s takeover last October.
Since then, the billionaire’s controversial decisions have included reinstating banned accounts, such as Graham Linehan, opting for a paid subscription service called ‘Twitter Blue,’ and even scrapping the beloved Larry the Bird logo.
The most recent change caused a 16 per cent drop in UK DAUs between July and October, from 6.1m to 5.1m, according to data from GWS. Although X is not the only platform facing engagement challenges; Facebook and Snapchat also witnessed declines in DAUs over the same period, by six and 10 per cent, respectively.
“The jury is still out on whether Musk’s takeover of Twitter, now X, has been a success,” said Paul Carter, chief executive of GWS.
“While user figures are down, Musk has been able to hold off the rise of a ‘Twitter killer’ some predicted would arrive, especially with big hitters like Threads launching in recent months.”
He continued: “Perhaps most importantly for X, our data shows that those who remain are still highly engaged with what the platform has to offer – these loyal users seem to be just as happy to spend their time on X as they were prior to his takeover.”
GWS figures show users who remain on the site are highly engaged, with time spent on the platform up seven per cent to 17.8 minutes per user daily over the last quarter.
But not everyone is optimistic about Musk’s impact, with social media commentator Drew Benvie telling PA News Agency he “couldn’t imagine it going any worse”, especially as misinformation on the platform is rife.
So when Mark Zuckerberg’s Threads launched to great fanfare in July, attracting five million sign-ups in the first few hours, some said it hinted at the end of X.
The initial boom quickly vanished. GWS found that, in the UK, Threads saw a significant decrease in DAUs, dropping from 772,000 in July 2023 to 322,000 in October 2023.
Zuckerberg gave an update on his latest media venture during an earnings call on Wednesday evening.
He said: “We’re three months in now, and I’m very happy with the trajectory. There are just under 100 million monthly actives at this point, and we’re now getting to the point where we’re going to be focusing on growing the community further.”
With the current growth rate, it could achieve the mark of a billion users in “a few more years”, Zuckerberg said. Threads is yet to be made available in the EU.
However, monthly active users may be a vague indicator of engagement, as even users who flick the app open once are counted.
“Even with the benefit of instantly being able to pull Instagram contacts into your Threads account, uptake has been slow and users are becoming inactive,” said Jade Fitzgerald, experience design director at Beyond, a digital product agency.
She explained: “With social media, a lot of the draw is the hit of dopamine and instant gratification that comes from interaction with other users, so it is always less likely that users are going to stick with a platform that isn’t being engaged with.
“Without offering something truly unique and highly beneficial, it’s difficult to change user behaviour and build an original following, so the teams behind Threads and Mastodon should be asking themselves how they can create this differentiation.”
As of the start of October, the free social networking platform Mastodon had 1.7m active users according to independent site Mastodon Analytics, although it is unclear if this number is daily or monthly.
X boasts nearly 550m monthly active users, Elon Musk said last month.
But despite its popularity with certain groups such as journalists and politicians, Twitter’s profitability concerns may pose long-term sustainability challenges.
Lenders who facilitated the $44bn deal expect a loss of around $2bn (£1.6bn) as they struggle to offload the debt, The Wall Street Journal reported this week. Yaccarino is set to discuss the company’s future with bank lenders who facilitated Musk’s acquisition.