Rani Molla is a Bloomberg Gadfly columnist using data visualizations to cover corporations and markets. She previously worked for the Wall Street Journal.
Twitter is now, officially, a pinata. Investors have torn into the execution of its business model, its share price and its very reason for existence.
Given Twitter's wayward strategies and revolving-door management structure over the years, some of this may have been inevitable. Still, Twitter has a big audience, it provides a service its users like, and maybe it's not thaaaat bad.
To test that notion, let's compare it with Facebook, the current Sun King of the social media landscape.
Everyone, and then everyone again, is on Facebook, and its metrics are enviable. Twitter has just a fifth of Facebook’s users and is having trouble courting new blood. Facebook is a revenue juggernaut, while Twitter’s revenue growth has slowed.
But how do the companies and their platforms compare in other ways? Twitter’s users skew younger and are more diverse than Facebook’s; they're also wealthier, more educated and more likely to live in urban areas. From an advertising perspective, these are good people to know.
Twitter also plays well with media, attracting users with a broader range of news content than Facebook. Twitter's users also like to follow live events and get news updates on the site, among other things. (That, however, is a niche following in the end and doesn't generate mass allegiance of the kind that Facebook enjoys. Niche offerings can be harder to monetize in eye-popping numbers because, well, they're niche.)
But niche offerings can still have value and make money if they're managed effectively. Facebook is gargantuan, but social media may not end up being monolithic. As the social media audience evolves, allegiances may splinter -- opening the door further to niche players.
Examples abound of social networks that are popular among certain groups: Pinterest (women), Snapchat (teens), LinkedIn (professionals), Neopets (kids and, weirdly, people who used to be kids).
There are crucial ways in which it is difficult to compare Twitter and Facebook given the available data. Twitter says hundreds of millions of tweets are sent each day, while Facebook prefers to discuss time spent on the site because it thinks most people on social platforms tend to engage passively. For its part, Facebook says it has slightly more than a billion daily active users. Twitter declined to provide a comparable number. Likewise, it's impossible to compare likes and retweets and shares.
Twitter's saving grace may be that it doesn't have to appeal to everybody. It can just get its house in order, tend to its bottom line and focus on serving the people it has -- and Facebook doesn’t.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.
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