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

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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