Twitter floats. But there's a problem

It won't make money as easily as Facebook.

Late last week, Twitter officially revealed its plans for a $1 bn initial public offering. For an IPO of this size, alongside a valuation of $10 bn, even though it has never turned a profit, this is pretty punchy. One thing that is for sure, Twitter’s floatation is the most hotly anticipated since Facebook’s nearly 18 months ago. However, once the morning bell has been rung and the hype and frenzy calms down, you can bet there will be anxious stakeholders and investors, keen to see some rapid return.

Such is the scrutiny on it, Twitter has to justify this valuation. And fast. If it is going to be a financial success, it has to monetise its biggest asset, its audience. But this is where Twitter may come unstuck. Similarly to Facebook, it will likely look to advertising to its users to claim revenues – both on desktop and on mobile. It is clearly taking the latter especially seriously, with its recent $350 million acquisition of MoPub, which will certainly facilitate the process of advertising to its mobile userbase. It should also be noted that Twitter has undoubtedly done phenomenally well to recruit over 200 million users into its environment. However, the big difference is that its particular environment is not especially advertiser friendly.

Think how quickly tweets appear and then disappear on a timeline; consider the potentially intrusive nature of ads in your conversation stream. At a moment in time therefore, capturing engagement – so key to targeted advertising –  is limited, which puts the brakes on meaning, purpose and potential wastage.

The additional problem is that this is all happening within Twitter’s own four walls. A tweet can be there and gone within seconds within Twitter, but it can live on across the entire Web in a number of different forms – email, IM link, shortened URL. But Twitter, similar to other noteworthy social networks and portals, is currently not able to engage, target and therefore make money across the open Web, which makes the walled garden it sits in seem even more claustrophobic.

Another major pressure Twitter is facing is, quite simply, the affiliation with the word “social”. There is undoubtedly a sentiment, whether in the City or on Wall Street, that if you are a “social media business”, you are automatically going to be worth billions. The term seems to have become the sole domain of the major networks, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. However, this is not a fair representation of social media. These sites certainly command a great deal of active users, but the truth is they only actually account for a relatively small percentage of what is actually being shared and communicated across the Web. Think how much is shared via other methods, such as copy and pasting, IM and even good old email (which is still by far and away the most used way to share content). The only entity that truly represents global social interaction is the Internet at large. And this needs to be considered when labelling a company as “social”, especially one that has to operate within its own confines. The sooner this recognition starts happening, the sooner the inordinate amount of pressure on networks, such as Twitter, to show instant return will ease.

I’m not saying Twitter will not be highly successful but people have to stop over cooking the dish. This is the largest Silicon Valley offering since Facebook’s last year. And with the limitations it has, it is going to have to work very hard to appease anxious stakeholders wanting to see an early return. Let them exist and be happy as a very successful and smart business but don't hype it and assume they have to make billions in ad dollars!

Photograph: Getty Images

Rupert Staines is European Managing Director at RadiumOne

Photo: Getty
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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.