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Is the Sky Really Falling at Twitter? We'll Find Out Wednesday.

Twitter reports its Q4 and full year 2015 earnings on Wednesday.


“The End of Twitter.”

“#RIPTwitter: User outrage over changes to tweets.”

“Twitter shares tumble to all-time low.”

If you read only the headlines about Twitter over the past month, you might be surprised to hear that there are still living, breathing human beings working at the company. But that is indeed the case, and a few of those human beings are going to announce the company’s Q4 and 2015 full-year earnings results to the public Wednesday afternoon.

This earnings report is the most important in Twitter’s history. The company is coming off a tough quarter, with investors unhappy about its expected growth figures and still concerned about Twitter’s ability to retain top talent following the departure of four VPs on a single Sunday in January.

Users, too, are vocally upset about two looming product updates: expanded character counts and some type of algorithmic timeline feature. Their displeasure at the algorithm news resulted in a less-than-flattering hashtag, #RIPTwitter, that prompted a tweetstorm from CEO Jack Dorsey trying calm everyone down.

The market’s reaction so far? Twitter’s stock price is at an all-time low.

Analysts are expecting profits of 12 cents per share on roughly $710 million in revenue for the quarter. That would be about 48 percent growth in revenue over the same quarter last year.

There’s a lot to look for during the company’s Q4 earnings call. Here’s where to start.

User Growth

Is Twitter still growing? Some analysts believe the company will end up showing negative user growth for 2016, although that doesn’t appear to be the case this quarter. RBC’s Mark Mahaney, for example, expects Twitter to add three million users over last quarter to 323 million total, an 11 percent increase over last year. He doesn’t expect Twitter to add any U.S. users, which is where the company made almost 65 percent of its revenue last quarter.

Stifel analyst Scott Devitt made headlines last week when he downgraded Twitter’s stock to “sell” and included a handful of slides alongside his report as evidence for the decision. Here’s the user growth slide he published, which shows a pretty obvious plateau.

Scott Devitt / Stifel

(Note: His MAU numbers are different from Mahaney’s because Devitt isn’t including a small group of users called SMS Fast Followers who receive tweets via text. Twitter includes these in its MAU total.)

Average Revenue Per User

This was an important metric for Facebook, too. If you aren’t adding more users, you need to make more money off your existing users to keep business growing. Facebook was able to do both during its Q4 earnings call two weeks ago. Twitter will need to show that its existing users are still growing in value in order to (temporarily) appease investor growth concerns.

Here’s another slide from Devitt’s presentation, which shows the discrepancy between the value of Facebook and Twitter users.

Scott Devitt / Stifel

Twitter’s Board and Upper Management

Twitter is looking to replace two of its board members, and the company is hoping to have those replacements ready in time for Wednesday’s earnings announcement. It’s unclear if they’ll get there. The company is looking at big-name media folks; television writer and producer Shonda Rhimes is one name on the company’s list, according to sources.

Twitter also lost almost half of its executive team on one day late last month, and it’s somewhat unclear who will replace those folks permanently. Most of the roles have temporary bosses now, but it will be worth listening to hear if Dorsey mentions any hiring plans moving forward.

Direct Response Ads

A few quarters ago, Twitter earnings were a train wreck in part because of poor-performing direct response ads, an ad unit that is intended to drive users to a particular action, like visiting an advertiser’s website or installing an app. A report earlier this month in The Information said that while these ads are just a small part of Twitter’s overall business (roughly 15 percent), they may be an issue once again. The report found that Twitter ran out of people to show these ads to.

This is every Twitter investor’s biggest fear, that the company’s slowing growth will impact its ads business. So far, Twitter has been able to keep its revenue chugging along, but any evidence that it’s hitting a ceiling because of user growth won’t sit well with investors.

A New Earnings Format

This is a little inside baseball, but Twitter is starting a new earnings format for Wednesday’s investor call. Instead of spending 10 to 15 minutes sharing an update on the call, Dorsey and his top lieutenants will share a summary beforehand, essay style. The call will be used strictly for questions. In other words, there should be more time for analyst questions and less time with executives reading off a script. Nice!

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