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Why Twitter Is Coy About Its User Numbers: Advertising

In honor of its fifth anniversary, Twitter posted a list of metrics about itself -- you know, the usual curious and inoffensive numbers about tweets per day, average new accounts per day, and the number of employees. But as Liz Gannes at All Things Digital pointed out, there was a notable gap: the number of users that Twitter has. And there's a reason for the silence: the company doesn't want to put off potential advertisers, because growth ain't what it used to be.

Announcing user numbers is a classic way for Internet companies to jockey for position, attract media attention, seek additional funding, and look for advertising customers. This is true even if a company is well past start-up status. At SXSW, Marissa Mayer, Google's (GOOG) vice-president of location and local services, mentioned a good number of statistics, including the number of mobile users on Google Maps and what percentage of Maps use came from mobile users.

When you find a company shying away from mentioning numbers of sales or customers, there's usually a reason. According to the study by social media analytics firm Sysomos of over a billion tweets in 2010, there are some interesting peculiarities in Twitter's activity. About 22.5 percent of users were responsible for 90 percent of all activity. Notice, that's not all tweets, but all activity. And 44 percent of users joined in the period from January 2010 through August 2010.

There is a rapidly growing number of accounts, but relatively few do anything. For advertisers, the big word is engagement. They want to know that an audience will react to what reaches them. Otherwise, why spend money on an ad? Of course, it's difficult to say for certain how many people actually use the service, but here's a year-long estimate of unique users by Compete.com:


Not that you can sneeze at that many people a month, but the trend seems pretty flat, even with a massive growth in accounts. Would that include people using applications that avoid the main Twitter URL? The list of subdomains includes api.twitter.com, so perhaps it does. And when you consider that, according to Alexa.com, the average time spent on Twitter is maybe 7 minutes, that's not a lot of time for people to notice ads. Maybe that's why Twitter doesn't want to talk about more significant user statistics.

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