Twitter: A Mythological Giant?

Twitter is now daily global phenomenon, fuelling everything from celebrity profiles to national revolutions.

The media is obsessed with it, and everyone seems to be on it. But what is the real story behind the phenomenon?

Since its launch in 2006, the number of Twitter users has soared. There are now 255m users of the site worldwide.

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As well as soaring it has also floated, opening on the US stock market last November at a staggering £11bn (which has since doubled).

 

Twitter’s rise has even brought a previously mythological creature to life. Once thought to live under bridges, trolls now have a new home, and only ever spit their bile in 140 characters or less.

 

But it’s not just old myths Twitter has brought to life. It has also managed to create one or two of its own.

 

Like the dotcom bubble before it, the rise of social media has proven that having reach and influence doesn’t always equal success. Twitter may seem too big to fail, but this is exactly what it wants you to believe.

 

When it comes to reach, Twitter has it. Facebook may rule the roost with 1.28bn users worldwide, but no one can compare to that, and there’s no point trying.

 

Here’s a better comparison: at its peak in 2008, MySpace was one of the world’s most visited sites. In June 2006 it even overtook Google in the US. But it still only had 75.9m users – less than a third of what Twitter has now.

 

Twitter’s influence is all around us. What was the hashtag before 2006? It was the plaything of software geeks, sometimes used by the rest of us to denote numbers.

 

But now it has become the four-lined flag of online groupthink, and was voted the word of the year in 2012 by The American Dialect Society.

 

The humble tweet has become the new way people receive news, and sent papers and TV stations scrambling. Twenty-four-hour news channels don’t break stories any more – they merely air ones already broken by Twitter.

 

Twitter has also allowed brands to achieve what was previously thought impossible – a direct line to customers.  With hashtags as their hook, it’s just a case of reeling them in.

 

But despite everything – its reach, its influence, it’s huge price tag – Twitter still hasn’t turned a single profit.

 

In fact, it has been operating at a loss the whole time. Here is the company’s revenue compared to its profits since 2010.

 

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As you can see, last year’s profits aren’t going to be retweeted by investors anytime soon. Despite bringing in £665m in revenue, Twitter still went £645m into the red.

The company’s share price also plummeted to a historic low last week, after a decline in the rate of user growth was reported.

In the panic that ensued, shares in Twitter fell by 24 per cent, and billions of dollars was wiped from its value.

And the concerns for investors don’t stop there. It is estimated that almost 1bn accounts are registered on the site, which means that 740m of Twitter’s accounts are mostly inactive.

The amount of time people spend on the site is also falling, with timeline views down nearly 7% in the last quarter.

And according to one study, the average account only has one follower. Even when you only account for active accounts, the figure is a lowly 61.

Who would have known? Because of its size, social media has become a mish-mash of myth and reality. It seems to dominate our lives, even when it’s losing more money than sense.

Forbes has predicted that Twitter will start to be profitable in 2015, but it will be fascinating to see how this happens – if it happens at all.

What other type of company would be valued at billions when it is operating at such a loss? Reach and influence seem to go a long way in the fantasy world of today’s markets.

But when advertising accounts for most of your revenue, they mean little. The real key to long-term success is engagement, and without it Twitter might just fall from its perch.