What Is Monthly Active User (MAU)?

Monthly active user (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.

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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 variable, 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, while for others, an active user must meet different requirements.

Facebook (NASDAQ: FB), for example, defines a user as one who has actively interacted with the site by "liking, sharing, commenting, messaging, or clicking through another link." The company considers a user as "active" if she has engaged with Facebook in these ways within the past month. If a user does not interact with the site for a 30-day period, then Facebook considers that user "inactive," and not qualified to be counted as a monthly active user.

Twitter (NYSE: TWTR) on the other hand, deems users to be "active" if they follow at least 30 accounts and are followed back by at least one-third of those accounts. Twitter's system calculates MAU by counting the number of "active users who have signed in" within the past month. 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?

Key Takeaways

  • Monthly active user (MAU) is a key performance indicator (KPI) that online companies use to count the number of unique users who visit a site within a specific period.
  • 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."

What Is the Matter With MAU?

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: It would no longer include "third-party pings"—that is, people who are not active Facebook users, but who share content only via another site that's integrated within the Facebook login.

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 reason it turned out was that most of those four million "users" did not use Twitter at all. Rather, they had been counted when Apple's (NASDAQ: 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 will stop sharing its MAU figure altogether beginning in late 2019. One might ask: If Twitter does stop sharing its MAU data, will its competitors do the same?

Is MAU Still Worthwhile?

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, until there is standardization in industry reporting, it makes little sense to do away with MAU.

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