Are social media ghost users really a problem?

UK2 Group, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 13.08.13Are social media ghost users really a problem?

Just because people don’t post on Twitter or Facebook, social media networks can still be valuable to them.

What constitutes an “active user” on social media? Do you have to tweet to count yourself a genuine Twitter user? You certainly have to post on Instagram to be considered an active user of the photo sharing network, as users discovered just before the holidays. Instagram cracked down hard on fake, spam and inactive users, causing a drop in follower counts all around.  Celebrities were hit especially hard, with poor Justin Bieber losing 3.5 million followers in the Instagram rapture.

While no one is going to mourn the loss of spam accounts, so-called inactive accounts are arguably another issue. Lots of people use Twitter or Facebook just to look at stuff posted by others, and they are very much enjoying these social networks even though they don’t contribute anything themselves. Twitter has 218 million monthly active users, which is not much compared to Facebook’s 800 million, but this only counts the people who actually log onto Twitter. Lots of people look up Twitter pages without logging in – aren’t they users of some sort too? And what about when presenters on TV read out Tweets – does that make the listener a user?

Twitter has no way of counting their “ghost users”, but they are aware of them. “Twitter is everywhere,” said Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, according to ‘AdAge’. Costolo said the Twitter audience was “two to three times” larger than the monthly active user numbers, and the company is experimenting with ways to “improve the content” for visitors who’re not logged into the platform. Still, Twitter is only really making money from users who’re active in the traditional sense: “We are focused one-hundred percent on the user experience today. We’re not monetising those audiences [who’re not logged in].”

It sounds like ghost users are becoming an asset for Twitter, in part because their presence is an acknowledgment of Twitter as a place of breaking news and debate. Even among members who rarely check their news feed, Facebook is gaining a reputation as the place to go to check birthdays, and the quick and easy place for sending off a message to someone when you don’t have their phone number or email address. Even for ghost users, social networks is often the place where the conversation happens.

Published by Jessica Furseth

Journalist; Londoner.