Report: Seasonal Fluctuations Impact App Traffic

Stephen Yagielowicz

LOS ANGELES — A new Wall Street Journal report on Instagram’s fragile fortunes illustrates how the source of traffic fluctuations can easily be misinterpreted.

It is a problem faced by all website operators and application publishers, adult or otherwise: how to diagnose the cause of any changes in traffic, visitor or usage volume?

Sometimes the answer is obvious; other times it seems obvious, but really isn’t.

Take for example the recent fury over Instagram and the transient change in its terms of service, which opened up the distinct possibility of uncompensated commercial exploitation of the images uploaded to its highly popular photo sharing service.

Following the controversy, much was made of the reported drop in traffic to the Instagram app, which social media powerhouse Facebook paid a cool billion for — unexpectedly, the unauthorized re-distribution of digital content became a bad thing and Instagram needed to be punished for its transgression; or so the popular logic contended.

App-analytics provider AppData has another take on the topic, however, offering data fueling Wall Street Journal’s speculation that seasonal fluctuations may be to blame; but bases its findings solely on Facebook-connected users of the Instagram application, so the numbers’ accuracy cannot be guaranteed.

AppData reports a drop in Instagram’s daily active users (DAUs) around the Christmas holidays, but maintains that the site’s weekly active user numbers (WAUs) and monthly active users (MAUs) are increasing. AppData states that there were 12.5 million Facebook-connected DAUs on Christmas, compared to 14.5 million on Thanksgiving, which was before the copyright controversy erupted.

“Though the terms of service change spurred a lot of negative media attention and complaints from users, the decline in Facebook-connected daily active users began closer to Christmas, not immediately after the proposed policy changes,” AppData reported. “The drop between Dec. 24 and 25 seems likely to be related to the holiday, during which time people are traveling and otherwise have different routines than usual.”

The company reported similar trends for other apps, including Skype, Pandora, Pinterest and Yelp, showing that the Instagram pattern was not an isolated one.

For adult website operators, the debate over the cause and effect of Instagram’s traffic peaks and valleys serves as a good example of the need for testing; and how what may seem to be an insurmountable problem, may be the result of the day of the week…