Twitter delivers, and CEO Dick Costolo is safe (for now)
The stakes for Twitter’s fourth-quarter earnings report, which the company released on Thursday, were high. For the past year, analysts and investors have demanded that the social media company clarify its vision, increase its user count, and explain its revolving door of top executives.
Calls for CEO Dick Costolo to step down have intensified. Jim Cramer, host of the CNBC show Mad Money, said that Twitter is in an “ABC situation”—as in “Anybody But Costolo.” Fears of an activist investor percolated, prompting Twitter’s high profile co-founders and board members to Tweet their support for Costolo and Twitter last week.
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Luckily for Costolo, the company delivered. Or at least it delivered enough to make analysts and investors momentarily happy. Twitter’s stock rose as high as 12% in after hours trading. Twitter (TWTR) handily beat analyst’s revenue estimates, earning $497 million in the fourth quarter on an expected $453.6 million in sales. That represents a 97% increase over the year prior. Twitter’s quarterly net loss even shrunk from $511 million on $242 million in revenue to a net loss of $125 million on $479 million in revenue.
But more importantly, Costolo clearly outlined his plan to expand Twitter’s user base and monetize “logged out” users, his term for regular people around the web that see Twitter content. He added that Twitter has launched or is experimenting with every product Costolo promised at the time of Twitter’s IPO in November 2013. In other words: Sure, things look bad. But we still did what we said we’d do.
It helped that Twitter rode in on a wave of positive momentum this week. After months of confusion and criticism over Twitter’s new plan, the company made two exciting announcements this week: It will now “syndicate” Tweets, delivering branded Tweets to third-party apps including Yahoo Japan and Flipboard; and it will partner with Google to include Tweets in Google’s search results.
Despite the positive news, Twitter’s biggest challenge remains: It can’t seem to increase its users. The company reported just 288 million monthly active users, versus an expected 292 million. It’s only a slight jump from 284 million users in the third quarter. The company blamed the gap in growth on a glitch with Apple’s new iOS operating system, released in September.
In an attempt to entice new users and lure lapsed users back, Twitter built several new products and experiences, among them an “instant timeline” and a “logged out homepage.” Both aim to remove barriers to consuming Twitter content. But the company’s biggest bet involves expanding the definition of “user” to include anyone who sees a Tweet.
“More than half a billion users come to Twitter but don’t log in,” Costolo said during the earnings call. The company is betting its future on its ability to advertise to those people. If Twitter keeps doubling its revenue and growing closer to profitability, Wall Street seems willing to wait and see if it works. That is, at least, for now.