The first year of Elon Musk being at Twitter's helm has seen a significant decline in web traffic and user engagement, amidst controversies surrounding changes in features and policies
Nearly a year ago, tech magnate Elon Musk acquired Twitter in a monumental USD 44 billion deal, eventually rebranding it as "X". This acquisition sparked a blend of anticipation and doubt, as Musk pledged to revolutionise the platform. Yet, recent metrics paint a contrasting narrative.
According to Similarweb estimates, September saw global web traffic to twitter.com drop by a significant -14 per cent year-over-year (YoY) and advertisers had no respite either, with traffic to the ads.twitter.com portal down -16.5 per cent.
The decline wasn't confined to the United States alone, where approximately a quarter of Twitter's web traffic originates. The trend was alarming across various countries, with drops of -11.6 per cent in the UK, -13.4 per cent in France, -17.9 per cent in Germany and -17.5 per cent in Australia.
Mobile app usage didn't provide a brighter outlook either. The combined monthly active users for iOS and Android in the United States were down -17.8 per cent YoY, while worldwide Android usage experienced a drop of -14.8 per cent.
“While the data shows a declining traffic trend, Musk has claimed he is trying to remove the presence of bots and making it (Twitter) a true global town square. He is piloting different revenue streams and it will be interesting to see whether it is headed. The chaos is likely to settle down in the near future,” Sandeep Das, corporate leader and author of “How Business Storytelling Works” told BW Businessworld.
Twitter's Traffic Trends Over a Year
The September statistics noted by Similarweb were consistent with longer-term trends, where comparing the first nine months of 2023 with the same period in 2022 revealed that twitter.com's traffic was down 11.6 per cent YoY in the US and 7 per cent globally. Mobile app usage in the US had also suffered, falling by 12.8 per cent during the same period.
Jyoti Malladi, Managing Director (Research) at Ipsos India, expressed concerns about Twitter's (X) recent developments under Elon Musk's ownership. She pointed out that Twitter had risen to global prominence over the past decade, serving as a platform for reaching millions of people and supporting significant social movements like Black Lives Matter.
But Malladi also highlighted that a series of missteps were evident since Musk since acquisition. “Starting with removing all legacy Blue Check, charging a monthly fee for a blue tick, capping the number of posts users can view, letting go of the established brand name and logo, reinstating of some unsavoury elements into Twitter etc. are some of the reasons that contributed to the decline in traffic and more importantly for the platform losing relevance.”
Interestingly, while Twitter's overall performance has been on a downward trajectory in 2023, traffic to Musk’s personal profile on the platform and posts witnessed a staggering 96 per cent YoY increase in September.
“If Elon Musk wanted to build traffic to his social media profile, surely there must have been a cheaper and easier way. Coming up on a year after his USD 44 billion purchase of Twitter, recently rebranded as X, traffic to twitter.com/elonmusk/ is just about the only positive metric of success we can find,” noted David F. Carr, Senior Insights Manager at Similarweb, in his recent report on Twitter’s performance.
However, Twitter's troubles are not unique, as many leading social networks have seen negative comparisons. The top 100 social networks and communities tracked by Similarweb collectively faced a -3.7 per cent decline in year-over-year traffic in September.
Musk's ongoing feud with the media may further undermine X's utility as a news source and it has already reduced Twitter's significance as a traffic source for publishers. Similarweb data indicates that The New York Times, for instance, used to receive 3 per cent to 4 per cent or more of its total traffic from twitter.com referrals three years ago, but this figure has dwindled to less than 1 per cent in recent months.
Musk's strategy has even involved removing headlines from the preview of news articles users post to the service to discourage them from clicking away, which is far from ideal for media houses posting their reports on the platform.
A Tumultuous Year
While Elon Musk's management of Twitter has stirred controversy and seen majority of advertisers exit the platform, rival platforms have struggled to attract more than a small portion of its user base. It's worth noting that other social networks are grappling with traffic declines as well, but Twitter's performance has been notably more challenged, particularly in recent times.
Despite appointing CEO Linda Yaccarino, Elon Musk remains at the helm, issuing edicts through Twitter, or whatever they're called in this evolving era. He staunchly upholds the "free speech absolutist" stance, a stance that critics argue allows the proliferation of extremist content and conspiracy theories. Some of his recent declarations, like the proposal to introduce charges for all X users, have prompted experts to suggest that the end may be near.
According to a Bloomberg report earlier this year, analysts and brand agencies note that Musk's decision to rebrand Twitter to "X" could result in a staggering loss of value, estimated to be anywhere between USD 4 billion and USD 20 billion.
Unny Radhakrishnan, Chief Executive Officer at Digitas India, offered a more optimistic perspective on Twitter's future. He suggested that it's premature to dismiss Twitter as a platform despite a minor decline in its userbase, noting that its user count of 300 million or less is relatively small compared to the global internet audience. According to Radhakrishnan, Twitter remains highly relevant as a destination for serious discussions and topics, featuring experts from various fields.
“Yes, it (Twitter) is not the best for videos, but then it was not made for videos. More importantly, Elon Musk’s plans for Twitter are not clear. He is experimenting with new monetisation plans. What could possibly change is the emergence of BlueSky (bsky.social), which is backed by former Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey. A Twitter handle I follow, The MIT Press, has already started popularising their BlueSky handle,” Radhakrishnan added.
Referring to past examples of Mastodon and Threads, the Digitas India CEO noted the evolving nature of social media and the uncertainty of future platforms' success.
Meanwhile, Twitter's audience has not disappeared despite the overhaul and Musk has hinted at evolving it into an "everything app" for ecommerce and financial transactions in the future. Whether that vision materialises remains to be seen, but for now, X is undeniably on a slow spiral downward.
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