MAUs be damned: Kik proposes new user engagement metrics for chat apps

Measuring the success of your app via the number of monthly active users is dubious at best. The metric may have become the standard but, when it comes to daily use apps such as messaging services or social networks, the data point becomes all the less illustrative.

As I pointed out last year, humans are social beings and we generally communicate with friends, family and loved ones on a daily basis. If I’m just opening your chat app once a month or once a week, you don’t have the right to label me an “active” user. Doing so is lazy at best or deliberately misleading at worst.

These habits take time to shift, of course. To date, the industry has stuck with its fuzzy data point: Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat, Line and even Snapchat (internal data only) are among the many that convey their traction by listing how many people have opened their app at least one time per month.

They also track messages sent and received (which are crucially not the same due to groups), messaging frequency and other large numbers that don’t really provide much context into how apps are actually being used. Even time spent inside an app is misleading considering chat apps are typically used alongside other apps as users multitask on the device.

One chat app firm that is trying to change the status quo is Kik. The Canada-based company, which was recently backed by China’s Tencent at a valuation of over $1 billion, has adopted a more qualitative approach to measuring engagement.

  • Active: when a user replies to a chat messaging within 20 seconds
  • Passive: when a user replies to a chat messaging in two to three minutes
  • Sporadic: when a user replies to chat messaging over longer periods during the day

Kik, which only provides total registered user numbers (now 300 million), is squarely focused on the U.S. youth market — it claims that 40 percent of U.S. teens use its iOS or Android app. With a focus on a particular group not a mass audience, it is perhaps unsurprisingly that it is pushing this kind of measurement.

“As we have seen chat behaviors evolve, at Kik we’ve become less interested in how many messages are exchanged or how many times an app is opened, and more interested in how people engage in chatting. Put more simply: we care more about attention than app taps,” Kik CEO Ted Livingston (pictured above) explained in a Medium post.

Within this measurement structure, Kik put out a few interesting snippets about its young userbase:

  • The average U.S. teen on Kik engages in 6.1 chats a day, averaging 12.7 minutes per session
  • U.S. teen females on Kik chat 35 percent longer than their male equivalents
  • U.S. teen “super users” — who Kik says make up 10 percent of its userbase — engage in 10 chats per day with an average of 157 minute per day
  • Kik users are more engaged in active chat mode during the week, but they have more chat sessions during the weekend
  • Overall, Kik users spend about 21 percent of their time in an active chat state and 79 percent in passive state

To really benefit from these new metrics it would be useful if Kik did share common industry metrics — that would help emphasize the relevancy of its new metrics — but don’t expect that to happen any time soon… well, actually, ever.

“Existing metrics tend to favor feed-based consumption rather than chat,” Joel Cumming, Kik’s head of data, told TechCrunch in an interview. “Everyone can make up their own rules for [measuring monthly active users] — we could’ve gone down that route but didn’t. The U.S. teen market is not 600 million users in size so we prefer to focus on engagement.”

(We’ve heard that before from Kik.)

Of course, going public with MAUs would also make Kik look a lot smaller than the competition. Facebook Messenger and Facebook-owned WhatsApp both claim over one billion active users, Line has 212 million, WeChat has over 697 million, and Snapchat has — according to leaked data — over 100 million daily users.

Nonetheless, as someone who had to deal with companies peddling bullsh*t user data for far too long, I applaud the qualitative focus. Sadly, I doubt others in the industry will follow Kik’s lead.