With nearly 1.5 billion users, Facebook’s audience appears to be about five times the size of Twitter’s, which was last reported as 304 million active users during the company’s Q2 earnings call earlier this year. But Twitter CFO Anthony Noto doesn’t think it’s quite that simple.
At the Deutsche Bank tech conference this week, Noto said that Twitter’s reach is actually far greater than user numbers suggest–potentially even bigger than that of Facebook. Here’s why, as per Noto’s comments on Wednesday:
I often get the question from friends [who] are like, “You know Facebook has over a billion users,” and I’m like, “Well, we have an audience, depending on how you measure it, that’s pretty comparable.” But they only have that audience, they only have the 1.4 billion they report, there’s no other number. We have other audience numbers that no one talks about and when you add those up it’s a big number, in fact in some scenarios you could argue that it’s bigger.
Noto makes a valid point. Facebook’s entire growth strategy is centered around the idea of keeping people within the Facebook ecosystem–thus the introduction of features like Instant Articles, through which the social network can directly host articles from major publishers. Twitter content, on the other hand, is distributed everywhere: Most major online publications frequently embed relevant tweets into news articles, and notable tweetstorms and viral hashtags are now regular fodder for cable TV spots. (Facebook posts, especially videos, also regularly become news items.)
According to Quartz, former CEO Dick Costolo claimed in July that Twitter is pulling in millions of logged-out users–half a billion, allegedly; these are people who either don’t have a Twitter account or did not log into it while viewing content on the platform.
Noto is clearly attempting to shift the focus away from Twitter’s unimpressive user growth–in the past year, the social network’s userbase grew just 12%–and assuage the concerns of investors. But if Twitter can couple ads with its tweets, there’s no reason why the company can’t make money off the distribution of that content across other platforms–even if its internal user numbers are less than stellar. Twitter’s future may not lie in features like its News tab or Project Lightning, a tool for live events coverage coming this fall, but in embracing that its bite-sized tweets can have far more impact outside the blue-hued walls of its own site.