Twitter is trying to make its user growth look better than it is

Growing anemically.
Growing anemically.
Image: AP Photo/Noah Berger
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

If you looked at Twitter’s earnings release today at a glance, you might be inclined to believe that the social network added 8 million new users, ending the second quarter with 316 million users. According to the company, this is a 15% increase year-over-year and 2.6% sequentially.

But one important thing to remember is that Twitter recently changed the way it calculates its monthly active users. The company now counts what it calls “SMS Fast Followers,” or people who sign up and access Twitter entirely using text messages, which is helping boost the anemic user growth plaguing the company.

Minus SMS Fast Followers, Twitter only had 304 million users, up 2 million—or 0.66%—from the quarter before. On a year-over-year basis, it grew by 12%.

Twitter’s always had SMS-only users, but counting them as monthly active users appears to be a ploy to placate investors. The company hasn’t said publicly what SMS-only users have to do to be considered active. And there are concerns about monetizing such users, who for the most part live in developing countries and own feature phones. Many of Twitter’s ad products, such as app install ads or cards, are designed for its mobile apps and don’t work on text messages.