clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

What Is Twitter? We Hope to Learn at Analyst Day.

What type of social network is Twitter?

Asa Mathat

It has been just over a year since Twitter’s highly anticipated IPO, and the past 12 months have been tumultuous.

The stock has been on a roller coaster. Today’s executive team bears little resemblance to the group that brought Twitter to Wall Street last November. And an ever-evolving roadmap from Twitter CEO Dick Costolo has put him in the hot seat, according to a recent Wall Street Journal report.

But on Wednesday, as Twitter prepares for its first-ever Analyst Day as a public company, it’s important to remember that we’ve seen this story before. Facebook also had a rough first year on Wall Street, which didn’t lead to impending doom.

Facebook’s stock was down more than 45 percent a year after its IPO. Twitter, by contrast, is up 57 percent. And while Twitter takes the cake for executive turmoil, Facebook spent much of its time dealing with a rough transition to mobile that Twitter hasn’t dealt with at all.

The biggest difference between the two companies, however, will likely be the defining one in terms of whether or not Twitter has a Facebook-like rebound on the horizon. With Facebook and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, we’ve known all along what the service intends to do (connect the world) and where it provides value to advertisers (all of our personal data).

With Twitter, we’re still awaiting answers to both those questions, and this Analyst Day would be a great place to start answering them.

Costolo continually talks about Twitter’s plan to create the “largest audience in the world.” That implies that Twitter aspires to be a billion-user company one day, although at the current growth rate, it’ll be decades before that’s a reality. Is this actually Twitter’s goal? The company needs to do a better job of setting expectations for both advertisers and analysts so that each subsequent earnings release doesn’t lead to a stock dive.

Costolo has hinted that Twitter will one day unveil some new metrics to measure its reach, a figure that better captures the audience that Twitter can touch, including people who see Tweets on TV or visit the site but don’t have an account. For now, that metric doesn’t exist, and the metrics they do share don’t live up to the “largest audience” goal that Costolo has vocalized.

If Twitter is going to serve as a smaller social network — that is, not the next billion-user behemoth — that’s okay, but it needs to be articulated.

The company also needs to do a better job of explaining its value to advertisers. This doesn’t mean Twitter isn’t making money — the company reported revenue of $361 million last quarter. But advertisers need to understand what they get when they spend their money on Twitter. Why should I come here instead of Facebook? Or Snapchat or Instagram or …

The company doesn’t have the same breadth of information about users that Facebook or Google does, so targeting won’t be as precise. Its user base is also much smaller, so it doesn’t have the massive reach that either of those companies boasts.

It does, however, have the real-time element that Facebook wants. This appears to be Twitter’s greatest value — the ability to reach users in the moment.

Twitter has shown it can make money and continue to grow its user base (albeit more slowly than expected). Now we want to know what type of social network Twitter is. Analyst Day would be a great place to start explaining.

This article originally appeared on

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.