Pictures beat words: In August, U.S. smartphone owners visited Instagram from their smartphones more frequently and for longer periods of time than they visited Twitter.
That data comes from comScore, via a new mobile measurement report: It says that throughout August, Instagram had an average of 7.3 million daily active users — or DAUs, in Facebook parlance. That tops of Twitter’s 6.9 million DAUs over the same period of time.
What’s more, the average Instagram user spent 257 minutes accessing the photo-sharing site via mobile device in August, the data claims, while the average Twitter user over the same period spent 170 minutes viewing.
This is the case despite the fact that Twitter had approximately 29 million unique U.S. smartphone-based visitors in August, while Instagram had just under 22 million (comScore measured usage across iOS, Android and BlackBerry OS devices that accessed both sites via native application as well as through the mobile Web browser). This stems from the roughly 110 million smartphone owners who live in the U.S.
So let’s parse this: While Twitter may have had a greater number of smartphone users visiting its site (via the mobile Web and via Twitter apps), Instagram’s users appear to be returning to the site on a more frequent basis, and spending longer on the site each time they return.
Facebook declined to comment on the data. A Twitter spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
For a number of reasons, this is a pretty big deal. That the barely-two-year-old Instagram could rocket up in user engagement and retention in such a short amount of time, eventually surpassing Twitter in the process, speaks to the sheer momentum of the photo-sharing product.
Above all else, it speaks to the ongoing mobile issues of Facebook, now the parent company of Instagram. The massive shift in user traffic to mobile devices is a real thing, and Facebook seems to now hold an asset in the highly popular Instagram. The trick now, however, is to figure out a way to effectively monetize Instagram and the Facebook mobile experience.
Twitter, with its own ad product suite of promoted and paid tweets, seems to have cracked this. The company trumpets its ad business as already lucrative in the two years since its inception, though it has not provided any hard revenue projections to back this up. Current eMarketer projections for Twitter’s 2012 mobile ad revenue, however, put the start-up’s ad products near the top of the heap; eMarketer projects that Twitter will rake in close to$130 million in mobile ad revenue in 2012, nearly doubling that of projections for Facebook, which sit at around $72 million.
And Twitter ascribes most of this success to the mobile nature of the company’s core product. As of June 7, 60 percent of Twitter’s active users access the service via a mobile device. Twitter says the inherently mobile nature of Twitter increases overall engagement between users and tweets, making it more likely for users to click through on its ad products.
Now the pressure is on Facebook to create mobile advertising products that effectively utilize what seems to be Instagram’s key strengths, according to comScore: Bringing users back more often on a daily basis, and keeping them engaged for a longer period of time compared to Twitter.
We should note that until as recently as this summer, comScore did not provide a detailed information report on mobile metrics. Only in May did comScore first launch its Mobile Metrix 2.0 measurement product. It is not clear whether comScore’s numbers will continue to reflect these trends in Instagram and Twitter use. Also of note is that comScore’s data only measured activity from users age 18 and older, which no doubt cuts out a broad swath of minors who use both services.
To some degree, it makes sense that users spend more minutes engaged with Instagram than Twitter. Instagram’s never-ending flow of content is composed entirely of photos, with each picture requiring some degree of pause to take in. Twitter’s stream, on the other hand, is primarily composed of text-based messages, interspersed with some embedded photos, videos and links out to other Web sites. In a way, Twitter is designed to make it easier for users to move speedily through the stream, stopping on text or pictures as often or as little as they like.
Twitter has been trying to change this in recent months, however, with the introduction of products like Twitter Cards, a proprietary technology that allows outside content publishers to preview off-site content within tweets themselves, making Twitter as a whole more visually stimulating and, above all else, engaging.
An aside: It’s likely that Twitter could have achieved this richer, more visually oriented look if it had tried to buy Instagram. And, indeed, Twitter did try, yet failed to beat Mark Zuckerberg’s billion dollar offer. Must sting a bit to see the app that got away now flourish in the hands of your greatest competitor. (I know it smarts for Jack Dorsey, who hasn’t used the service since.)
But that battle is over. Now it’s up to Facebook to turn its darling new mobile engagement asset into a moneymaker. And as shareholders wait for a return on their Facebook investment, the clock is ticking.