benders-robots

It’s become sort of a tradition on Wall Street every time Twitter releases an earnings statement to fret over the social network’s user base. At last count, Twitter had 271 million monthly active users, or less than a third of big brother Facebook’s billion-strong base. After five straight quarters of decelerating growth, the rate at which Twitter is picking up new users has finally bounced back a bit. The company has also said it will start reporting usage metrics in ways that better reflect the true reach of the platform — after all, many of the people who saw some of Twitter’s most iconic tweets, like Obama’s victory photo and Ellen’s Oscar selfie, are not registered users.

In a new filing, Twitter has indeed taken steps to more accurately quantify its user base — but not in a way investors might have hoped.

The company says that up to 8.5 percent of its users or 23 million “used third party applications that may have automatically contacted our servers for regular updates without any discernable [sic] additional user-initiated action.” In other words? Robots.

Just because these accounts post automated content, it doesn’t mean they can’t provide value to users. Look at CongressEdits, a bot that tweets out edits to Wikipedia pages originating from Congressional IP addresses, or Yes You’re Racist, a bot that retweets anybody who uses the words, “I’m not racist, but…”. The only problem? These bots don’t add value to advertisers, which is what really matters to Twitter’s shareholders. They don’t see or click on promoted tweets, and they definitely don’t buy anything on the other end of that link. Androids don’t dream of electric luxury sedans.

Bots aren’t the only users Twitter’s advertisers aren’t reaching. The company says that around 11 percent of active users access Twitter solely through third party apps. The bots are included in this number, so that means 2.5 percent, or 6.8 million users, use third party apps not owned by Twitter.

And finally, the company estimates that less than 5 percent, or 13.5 million users are “fake or spam” accounts.

These numbers, taken by themselves, aren’t so bad. As someone who can’t fathom using www dot twitter dot com to tweet, I’m surprised there’s such a small minority of users on third-party clients (an additional 3 percent of users use third-party apps owned by Twitter like Tweetdeck, but that’s still a small slice of the whole).

Nevertheless, Twitter has still yet to find a way to better capture the true reach of its users. In the meantime, at least it’s being honest about how many of its users are truly monetizable.

With that in mind, does Twitter have a solid number on “weird twitter” users? If so, it can probably knock those ones out of its monetizable user base while it’s at it.