Twitter has grown under Elon Musk — mainly in the U.S., data shows

Elon Musk has generated fresh interest in Twitter, and you don’t have to take his word for it. 

Data from two independent research firms, Apptopia and Sensor Tower, indicate that downloads and activity on Twitter are on the upswing in the weeks since Musk bought it and in comparison to last year, appearing to confirm recent boasting from the tech billionaire that he has reinvigorated the social media app. 

But the situation is more complicated than a simple rise in downloads and activity. 

According to Apptopia, downloads of Twitter in the U.S. averaged about 125,000 a day during a recent 31-day period — a figure that’s 23% higher than during the previous month and 42% higher than a similar period a year earlier. 

The growth was slower outside the U.S., though, with 14% growth from a month earlier and 4% growth from a year earlier, Apptopia data showed. 

Carolina Milanesi, a consumer tech analyst, said the slower growth outside the U.S. may be an indication that people abroad are less interested in drama around Musk as a public figure

“If you’re in Italy, maybe this is not top of mind for you,” she said. 

Milanesi, the president of Creative Strategies, a consulting firm, said the quantity of users may matter less than their demographics. 

“Especially if he wants to pivot to a paid-for service, not everyone is going to want to or be able to pay $8 a month,” she said, referring to the $7.99-a-month Twitter Blue service

Elon Musk attends SATELLITE 2020 conference
Elon Musk in Washington on March 9, 2020. Yasin Ozturk / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images file

Sensor Tower data on user growth was mixed, showing that installations jumped 16% in Musk’s first month compared to the month previous but fell 3% on a year-over-year basis. The two research firms use their own sources and proprietary methods to reach their estimates, resulting in some variation. 

Sensor Tower also reported a modest rise in overall activity. According to its research, the number of daily active users worldwide on Twitter was 2% higher during the month after Musk’s purchase compared to the month previous, and it was up 4% from the same period a year earlier. 

Social media experts said the spark of interest may only be temporary, tied in part to the suspense around the future of Twitter

“People slow down to watch a crash scene in real life, so I think there’s a lot of rubbernecking going on,” said Matt Navarra, an industry analyst. 

Musk, the world’s wealthiest person, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, has repeatedly cited internal measurements as evidence of record sign-ups of new users and record activity on Twitter overall. But those numbers do not appear to have been audited by outsiders, and Twitter is no longer a public company subject to government reporting requirements

Twitter did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday for further details. Musk bought the company in October for $44 billion, and as CEO he’s made radical changes, including pushing out over half of its employees, welcoming back some previously suspended accounts and loosening rules around speech allowed on the platform. 

Mazdak Hashemi, a former vice president of engineering at Twitter, said in a tweet Sunday that the platform felt more “alive” with Musk in charge, though with a big qualification. 

“Increase in engagement is not always a good thing especially if the overall quality, safety and health of the echo system gets impacted,” he wrote. He did not immediately respond to a request for further comment. 

Musk, who already had a huge following when he bought Twitter, has continued to add followers at a rapid clip. He has the second-highest number of followers at 119.5 million as of Tuesday, behind only former President Barack Obama at 133.2 million. Musk is on pace to pass Obama in January, experts told the BBC

Navarra said people may eventually tire of Musk’s tweets, and that Twitter faces a steep challenge if it wants to reach the widespread popularity of Facebook, Instagram or YouTube. Those apps count their users in the billions, while Twitter has about 259 million daily users, according to Musk. 

“Twitter is an acquired taste,” Navarra said. “It’s always been for a very narrow set of use cases, journalism being one, and a lightning rod for whatever is happening in the world.” 

Amid the chaotic moment for Twitter, some other platforms are thriving. 

Substack, an app and website for publishing and distributing email newsletters, saw its downloads shoot up 84% during the Musk era of Twitter, rising to 9,836 per day on average from 5,332 per day on average the previous month, according to Apptopia. 

That spike could be due to journalists leaving Twitter and notifying followers that their newsletter would be their main channel, said Tara Kirkpatrick, an Apptopia spokesperson. But it may have already ended, with Substack downloads peaking Nov. 6, the firm’s data showed. 

Substack did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

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