Instagram Denies 25% Holiday User Drop From TOS Backlash, And Here Are Real Explanations For A Usage Dip

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Sure, it’s not unlike the New York Post to be sensationalist. But in this case it misinterpreted data to suggest Instagram was hit harder by backlash to its terms of service changes than it actually was. Combined with it being a quiet-ish holiday news week, I am taking a story it published today on a 25 percent drop in Instagram users with a little more than a grain of salt.

Basically, it notes that figures from AppData demonstrate that Instagram lost 4 million daily active users — nearly a 25 percent drop to 12.4 million from 16.4 million — between December 19 and December 26. And as the NYP terms it, people are walking away in a “rage against rules.” The Post blames the decline on Instagram’s new, more commercially-minded terms of service — which it rolled back on December 21, i.e., in the middle of its DAU plummet, in response to public outcry.

To balance out that one-sided view, here are some further observations that give a slightly bigger picture about what is going on:

– Yes, AppData notes that Instagram lost 4 million DAUs over the holiday period, as based on Facebook logins via the app. But it’s also seen some gains (according to the same data): weekly active users in that period are up by 1 million (currently at 28.5 million), and monthly active users are up by 1.1 million (currently at 43 million). DAUs also seem to be up a bit since Christmas, and they are now down by only 3.5 million over the last seven days.

– AppData doesn’t show an app’s full user count or even a representative sample. In this case it shows users who connected their Instagram accounts to Facebook and either logged in with their Facebook credentials, searched for their Facebook friends, or shared to Facebook. That leaves out tons of users who use Instagram independently. The decline in Instagram usage may have been more pronounced amongst Facebook-connected users as they may have been exposed to more viral backlash to the TOS change via the news feed.

– There are other photo apps that have seen fluctuations in DAUs and MAUs in the last week. Look at Hipstamatic, or Snapseed, or Flickr, whose well-timed launches made some people wonder whether it could replace Instagram.

– The NYP story compares this to last Thanksgiving, which was rich pickins for Instagram. Then it celebrated record postings as people rushed to snap their turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce. But this time around, the Christmas “Poke” effect may be at work:

As Josh pointed out in reference to stories of how another photo app from Facebook, Poke, is slipping after an initial burst of interest, people who would have received new iOS devices will be downloading essential apps this week rather than the second wave of nice-to-have apps. The same could apply to apps like Instagram — not just on iOS but Android as well.

– A week and a half ago, we published some data looking at whether Instagram traffic had dropped off as a result of the removal of preview “Cards” on Twitter. The answer: Yes, referral traffic went down from Twitter, but Instagram traffic overall appeared to be holding up, at least at that point.

In that post, I noted that any decline could have to do with Twitter, but could also be related to the hullabaloo over terms of service; or even a newer version of the app that is getting worse ratings than older versions. The same applies here.

In short, there are a number of reasons for a decline in daily active users at Instagram (some alarming, some seasonal). Yes, it may be that people are voting with their fingers, and if that’s the case it will likely be something that Facebook and Instagram will have to consider as they think of how to make money with the app. But to directly relate it to an already overblown situation smells off.

The scare caused Facebook’s share price to drop nearly 3% this morning, but as the truth proliferates and the markets close, $FB has recovered and down just 0.5% to $25.91.

Update: Instagram itself has now sent us the following statement:
“This data is inaccurate. We continue to see strong and steady growth in both registered and active users of Instagram.”

[Additional reporting by Josh Constine]