Monthly Active Users (MAU): Definition and How Indicator Is Used

What Is Monthly Active Users (MAU)?

Monthly active users (MAU) is a key performance indicator (KPI) used by social networking and other companies to count the number of unique users who visit a site within the past month. Websites generally recognize monthly active users via an identification number, email address, or username.

MAU helps to measure an online business's general health and is the basis for calculating other website metrics. MAU is also useful when assessing the efficacy of a business's marketing campaigns and gauging both present and potential customers' experience. Investors in the social media industry pay attention when companies report MAU, as it is a KPI that can affect a social-media company's stock price.

Key Takeaways

  • Monthly active users (MAU) tracks the number of unique users who visit a web site or platform over some period of time.
  • It is used as a benchmark for determining the performance, growth, or popularity of online sites.
  • The problem with MAU is that companies do not use exactly the same parameters when calculating MAU.
  • Also, there are no industry standards for defining key terms, like "user" and "active."

Key Performance Indicators (KPI)

Who Uses MAU, and How?

All too often, companies do not use exactly the same parameters when calculating MAU, and there are no industry standards for defining key terms, like "user" and "active." For this reason, critics of MAU believe that the metric creates unfair comparisons among competitors. Others think that MAU is useful only in combination with other qualifying metrics, and some wonder if it is relevant at all.

As a quantitative assessment, MAU just tabulates the number of visitors; there is no component that accounts for the depth, or quality, of a user's experience. When calculating MAU, some companies consider a user as someone who simply has accessed their site. For other businesses, a user is one who has created a log-in and password. And still for others, an active user must meet certain requirements.

For example, Meta (META), formerly Facebook, defines a monthly active user (MAU) as a registered and logged-in user who has interacted with Facebook through the company's website or a mobile device or used its Messenger application (and is also a registered user) in the last 30 days as of the date of measurement. Meta also tracks daily active users (DAUs), who must meet the same requirements as MAUs to count, but meet those requirements on a daily, rather than monthly basis.

Twitter (TWTR) on the other hand, no longer tracks monthly active users, but instead looks at what it calls monetizable daily active usage or users, or mDAU. Twitter defines mDAU as people, organizations, or other accounts "who logged in or were otherwise authenticated and accessed Twitter on any given day through or Twitter applications that are able to show ads." If Twitter's MAU does not include the same engagement variables as Facebook's MAU, can the metric yield an apt comparison of the companies' site usage?

Limits of MAU

The fact that there are no uniform standards for the individual components of MAU, and other metrics used to quantify trends in social media, makes for a slippery playing field. In 2015, in response to skepticism about the accuracy of its MAU figures, Facebook revised its definition of MAU, noting that it no longer counted people who were not active Facebook users, but who share content only via another site that's integrated within the Facebook login.

While seemingly an apt move on Facebook's part, this begs the question: Did the other social media websites also make this change in their MAU calculations?

For years, Twitter had been asking investors to judge the company on its daily active user (DAU), not MAU, growth. On its 2015 fourth-quarter earnings call, Twitter was asked to explain why it had lost four million MAUs during the previous quarter; the company attributed the losses to the fact that most of the so-called users didn't use Twitter, but had been counted when Apple's (AAPL) Safari web browser performed an automatic Twitter data pull.

However, Twitter only began sharing its DAU data in February 2019. Switching from monthly to daily user counts showed that the company was gaining, not losing users. Twitter said that it stopped sharing its MAU figure altogether in late 2019. One might ask: If Twitter does stop sharing its MAU data, will its competitors do the same?

The Bottom Line

Some have argued strongly for retiring the MAU metric. However, one company doing this on its own would not be meaningful. Although it is true that the variations in user metrics can make it difficult to compare social media companies, it makes little sense to do away with MAO—until there is some sort of standardization in industry reporting, at least.

Also, because companies' business models are linked to their revenue-generating efforts, understanding MAU trends could still be worth the time and effort.

Article Sources
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  1. Meta. "Form 10-K," Page 56-57.

  2. Twitter. "Form 10-K," Page 7.

  3. Meta. "2015 Annual Report," Page 14 and 35.

  4. Twitter. "2015 Annual Report."

  5. Twitter. "2019 Annual Report."

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