Twitter burnout puts revenue hopes at risk
They loved it. Now they hate it.
A growing number of celebrities, athletes and self-promoters are burnt out and signing off Twitter.
Some people built big audiences on the short messaging service only to have their followers turn against them. Others complain that tweets that once drew lots of attention now get lost in the noise.
Twitter set a price of US$26 per share on Wednesday for its initial public offering, valuing the company at US$18 billion, and will begin trading on the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday under the ticker symbol TWTR.
The company is selling potential investors on the idea that its user base of 232 million will continue to grow along with the 500 million tweets that are sent each day. Twitter’s revenue depends on advertisements it inserts into the stream of messages.
But Wall Street could lose its big bet on social media if prolific tweeters lose their voice.
Watch: Twitter can't rest on laurels despite successful IPO: analyst
Evidence of Twitter burnout isn’t hard to find. Just look at the celebrities who – at one time or another – have taken a break from the service. The long list includes everyone from Alec Baldwin to Miley Cyrus.
Actress Jennifer Love Hewitt lamented “all the negativity” she saw on the service when she quit, temporarily, in July. Actress Megan Fox left nearly a million followers dangling when she checked out in January, explaining that “Facebook is as much as I can handle”.
Pop star John Mayer deleted his account in 2011, saying Twitter absorbed so much of his thinking, he couldn’t write a song.
“I was a tweetaholic,” he told students during a talk at the Berklee College of Music.
If Twitter turns off celebrities who have a financial incentive to stay in close contact with fans, how can the company prevent average users from becoming disenchanted?
Many users conclude that Twitter is a time-sucking seduction and turn away.
One who calls herself patrilla$$$thrilla excitedly tweeted “first tweet, wocka wocka” just after she joined in July. On Wednesday, 161 tweets and 27 followers later, the romance was over. She quit to “fully enjoy the little details in life I miss because I’m too busy here”, she tweeted.
The cacophony creeps into everyday life. Twitter fanatics tweet from the dinner table, during a movie, in the bathroom, in bed. Vacations can seem like time wasted not tweeting.
The overdoers suffer from a “fear of missing out”, says Tom Edwards, vice-president at themarketingarm, a Dallas-based advertising agency.
Just ask Gary Schirr, an assistant professor who teaches a course on social media at Radford University.
In August, while vacationing on a beach, Schirr felt a pang of withdrawal because he had stopped tweeting to his 70,000-plus followers. Then he saw an old condemned house about to be washed away and posted a photo to Facebook and Twitter. He felt relieved when the likes and retweets rolled in.
“You feel forgotten if you’re not out there,” he says. “It’s another sign of addiction. You feel bad if you don’t tweet.”
Prolific tweeters stay engaged partly because there are real benefits to a big following, which usually requires tweeting a lot.
Journalists who have large Twitter followings have used them to land better-paying jobs, because every click on stories can make more money for their new employer. Actors can land roles on TV or the movies if their digital audience is expected to tag along.
Matt Lewis, a columnist with The Week magazine, says his Twitter following is like “portable equity” that gave him an edge over more established writers earlier in his career. He’s now got nearly 33,000 followers.
Even so, one of Lewis’ more popular stories is titled Why I hate Twitter. It goes into why the social network became, for him, “a dark place” overrun by “angry cynics and partisan cranks”. He became demoralised by the criticism, but he couldn’t pull himself away.
“It’s also like a prison. You can’t check out,” he says.
Along with the potential for burnout, there’s also the risk that Twitter becomes uncool to the younger generation, especially when services such as Pinterest and Instagram are a tap away.
Devon Powers, an assistant professor of communications at Drexel University, says many of her students have moved on to Snapchat. But there can still be pressure to keep up with the other services.
“There’s all these new obligations to update and report and check in,” she says. It can make dropping offline feel like a relief.
“If I get really busy, the first thing I stop doing is checking Twitter. I’m living my life. I’m not having a commentary about it.”