Twitter & ElectionsNovember 6, 2020
I’ve watched CNN for 38 of the last 48 hours. Some observations:
• Quinnipiac, Marist, Pew, and FiveThirtyEight should take a poll and stick it up their a$$.
• I hope someday someone will touch me the way John King fondles the Perceptive Pixel wall. Still time.
• If AT&T stock falls below $20/share, I will raise $2-3 billion, acquire >100 million shares, and advocate for a divestiture of Time Warner assets. It’s time to acknowledge this is a failed acquisition and the telco is now paying a conglomerate tax where the disposition of media assets would be accretive. CNN needs to command the space it occupies and be put behind a paywall. The nonstop barrage of reminders that my prostate is engorged and that I need to be more Calm is the wrong way to extract shareholder value from Anderson Cooper and Fareed Zakaria.
Use Your Words
Brevity can be the soul of wit. And competence. “Be sincere, be brief, be seated” was FDR’s advice. But brevity can also be a sign of nonchalance. In the opening statement of Twitter’s recent earnings call, CEO Jack Dorsey spoke for 17 seconds. Although Twitter beat EPS predictions by 280%, its market cap declined $8.5 billion the next day as investors realized Dorsey’s incompetence/disinterest. While other tech CEOs spoke 45% of the words in their earnings calls, Dorsey spoke 11% of the words — not exactly reassuring. For every word Dorsey spoke, Twitter lost $11.7 million.
When Dorsey did speak, he briefly acknowledged that Twitter had work to do on direct response advertising (they have been saying that for years). He then touted Topics, a one-year-old feature that helps Twitter users better curate what tweets appear in their feed. If not much for innovation, the executive who did most of the talking, CFO Ned Segal, reported a 29% year-over-year growth in daily active users.
Improved product features are overdue, but what Twitter needs is a different business model that reflects a glaring reality — the firm is a niche player with a high-value audience that feels remarkably 2015. At Snap, a firm with a full-time CEO, daily active users increased 19%, and revenue increased 52%. Facebook daily active users increased 12%, and revenues increased 22% (on a base 8x that of Twitter). Twitter is the only firm in its competitive set that grossly under-monetizes its users.
I’ve been telling Twitter a move to subscription would be the single most accretive action in the firm’s history, and the stock popped just on the announcement in July that they were exploring a subscription model.
Yet here we are, four months later, and what did Dorsey have to say in response to a direct question on this earnings call about new revenue? Nothing. He let Segal break the news: “There’s nothing new to report today.”
Jack had more to say a few days earlier when he appeared before Congress. In response to questioning from Ted Cruz, Dorsey denied that his platform has any influence on the outcome of elections in the U.S. — “We are one part of a spectrum of communication channels that people have.”
Yet in an October 9 blog post, Twitter acknowledged that it plays a “critical role” in democratic conversation, political debate, and civic participation. These are factors that determine elections. Either Dorsey has decided that conventional logic does not apply (insight gleaned on a silent retreat?) or he’s been too busy at Square to read the post.
Twitter is a publisher with massive reach and influence. Twenty-two percent of Americans use Twitter, and 70% of users get news on the site. That’s 52 million Americans. For context, the New York Times website reaches 76 million unique visitors per month, and the Wall Street Journal 20 million.
It’s never too late to do the right thing, and several weeks ahead of the election, Twitter and Facebook turned off some of their most polarizing features and amped up misinformation notices. (OK, maybe it’s too late for Facebook.) Trump’s Twitter feed was mostly hidden tweets on November 4, since he kept lying about election abnormalities. Yet will these features be turned off after the election? These are multinational platforms, and there’s always an election somewhere. Are platforms conceding that their algorithms are toxic? What will be the permanent fixes to these problems? Is it time to suspend accounts, no matter how prominent, after they’ve posted a certain number of misinformation posts?
On the night of the 2016 election, traffic to Twitter more than doubled. This likely happened again Tuesday night and the following three days as the time-space continuum warped — I never want to think about Pennsylvania or Georgia again. To suggest that Twitter does not have the ability to influence elections by escalating polarization and supplying 52 million Americans with false and misleading news is delusional.
Weapons of Mass Entrenchment
Media outlets were aflutter with the news that a board committee reviewing Twitter’s leadership and management structure concluded Dorsey should remain at the helm. This was the work of Twitter’s communications team, who are representing Jack, not shareholders. Trained at the Sandberg School of Distraction, Twitter’s comms hacks spend more time manicuring the image of leadership instead of articulating a vision. Similar to the Libra team, most insurance, and life jackets on Delta, the comms teams at big tech serve no real purpose.
What most business media missed: The board was de-staggered and Elliott’s standstill (agreement not to purchase more stock) will end soon. This means Twitter management no longer has two weapons of mass entrenchment. In addition, Omid Kordestani, former chairman and Dorsey apologist, has stepped down as chairman.
The reason I’m a Twitter shareholder is I believe the stock has a floor and a sizable potential upside easily realized if the CEO were to go on a silent retreat, for 30 years. Egon Durban (Silver Lake … and an awesome name) is on the board, ready to pounce and take the firm private should it fall below $30 per share again. The unlocks/upside are simple: a new CEO and any (I mean, any) progress toward a subscription model.
Prediction: TWTR is up 50% in the next 12 months.
Beyond the shareholder appreciation, I hope Twitter adopts a similar theme as the one the sublime, strong hands of John King are beginning to shape for us — repair. Some wonderful things have happened this election. A record number of voters, early votes that beat previous years’ total votes in several states, openly gay Black congressmen and a transgender state senator elected for the first time.
Also, a QAnon supporter, Marjorie Taylor Greene, was elected to Congress. It’s unlikely this individual would have had any chance to represent our country if Twitter and Facebook had not built businesses fueled by rage and conspiracy. TV brought Kennedy. Facebook and Twitter have yielded Ms. Greene, who believes Muslims should be banned from serving in government and that Oprah traffics children.
There is a sense, however, that Twitter realizes Mom and Dad are coming home early, the garage is on fire, and the dog is pregnant. The firm has a chance to use this election as an opportunity for redemption. There is evidence already:
Life is so rich,
P.S. On the pod, I spoke to GOP political strategist and Project Lincoln cofounder Steve Schmidt and Pod Save America cofounder Dan Pfeiffer. And … we’ve moved out of the advertising age and into the product age. Develop a foundation in product strategy with my colleague Professor Adam Alter — sign up for the Product Strategy Sprint, running Jan 12-26, 2021.
You had me at your second bullet point. LOL at John King. What a piece of crap he is. Can’t believe he and Dana Bash have a kid.
Boebert is just as crazy
I think this bears repeating: Five Thirty-Eight is not a pollster; it’s a polling aggregator. Garbage in, garbage out as they say in the classics.
Trump could pardon Snowden and release the classified information related to the domestic surveillance program and military drone strike program (forget the name but it had a cool sounding “kill matrix”) but Trump is too stupid to properly smear Biden and Obama before he leaves office……..www.jobztip.com
How did President Trump lie about election abnormalities?
I get paid over $190 per hour working from home with 2 kids at home. I never thought I’d be able to do it but my best friend earns over 15k a month doing this and she convinced me to try. The potential with this is endless…,…..www.jobztip.com
CNN International has no such ad bombardment and my prostate remains unmolested. Suggestion: get a VPN and pretend to be in Europe. CCN Int does present on a loop in-house ads for other CNN news presenters, to the point where I hate them already.
Love your work but unfair criticism of 538. First, they are pollsters, so sticking a pole up their a$$ not that clever. Second, with enough time the presidential result will fall within their fat tail. Given polling error, that’s pretty impressive.
They are *not* pollsters
In a word. Brilliant
This column is a bit (or a lot) contradictory. Scott complains that Twitter does a poor job of monetizing its audience, but in the same breath (and in every other column he writes) is critical of Facebook for being good at doing the very same thing. Let’s be honest – Facebook and Twitter are both horrible, destructive net negatives to humanity. They spread hate, misinformation and give a global bullhorn to people like Marjorie Taylor Green. As Scott correctly points out, without social media Taylor Green might be at best the crank at the local PTA meeting complaining about how fluorescent lights in schools are turning her children into communists. So why root for Twitter to fix its business model? Let Twitter turn itself into the new AOL. Frankly let’s call Jack Dorsey the CEO of the Year. I’d much prefer someone just as incompetent at the helm of Facebook, rather than the rapacious amoral toad running the place today.
I clicked on the link to Marjorie Taylor Greene’s twitter in the email I got and then went down a rabbit hole through Trump Twitter. I hate myself right now.
Twitter is navel gazing for the talking head crowd. (Looking at you, Scott). There may be 51 million people who are aware that there is this invention called twitter, but to equate that with influence or importance is misplaced. While we’re on twitter, why, when news organizations are discussing a tweet, do they first write verbatim what the tweet says, and then show an image of the tweet right after it? This is done for no other form of information. When quoting the Washington Post, the NYT does not show a cut out headline from the paper, so what gives? Solve this problem and all else will fall into place, and twitter stock will rise. You’re welcome.
I think I have spotted something. While it is definitely not OK to have a hodgepodge approach to C-19 (states and localities decide the rules for themselves), it is absolutely OK to have a hodgepodge of election rules for those who govern over us.
Yawn…..who gives a shit about that bearded turd.
Scott, my first time reading one of your posts and found this to be incredibly witty, sometimes hilarious, informative and highly interesting. Loved it and subscribed.
You of all people should know 538 did a great job. They got one state wrong so far and they didn’t say Biden will win in a land slide – they said the probability has him win in 80% of scenarios. That’s it.
A great job = either a very low bar or an open bar for those who liked how their person finished first. Actual popular differential Biden +3% – predicted B+8% (51/43). Ohio actual = T+8% versus 538 max spread T+1.7% — if we like the excitement of surprise and of not really knowing what we’re actually gonna get, great job… if accuracy is part of the scorecard? NO one did well. All that said, I did hear the few who call balls and strikes say this election is in the margin of error, if we run the simulation 3-4 times, Trump wins once… so that was the best practically accurate reporting I heard – and it wasn’t from WaPo, NYT… I had to work hard to find someone capable of being honest AND accurate – which is a key feature of our current state of national political dysphoria.
Brilliant, insightful and funny as always Scott. Listening to Schmit is always eye opening, enjoyed that as much as your conversation with McNamee.
Scott, listened to Pivot today and, like you, I’ve been watching CNN for 38 hours straight. The only difference between us is that I’ve been watching the live stream of CNN on my web browser, which goes to nothing but 2 minutes SILENCE (1:30 longer than those horrible Calm ads) during the commercial breaks. Hilariously, if I watched it on my $65/month Hulu Live subscription, I too would be shoving fingers up my ass in a frantic attempt to quell my engorged prostate fears. Maybe CNN is testing the waters here? Why else would they just not show them on their website’s stream? (while allowing my browser’s Adblock extension to get rid of banner ads) As someone who’s father just quit his job (and career) as a sales rep for a local TV station (where they sell digital ads, seriously who the hell buys digital ads from a TV station?!) on Monday I’m hoping your insight into CNN going behind a paywall is right. Your musings on the carcinogen of media, ad support, has prompted me to pay for add free subscriptions on every service, YouTube, Reddit, even god damn SoundCloud! (Hulu is going away for double dipping) I’m thankful my father is out of the advertising industrial complex, because I can finally contribute to its downfall without feeling guilty.
I think this post is one of your best. I see detractors in the comments, but I’m with you in your commentary. We are ALL more partisan (I include myself in this assessment) and we need to really work on the repair. To understand how we got here and to work on the gaps is gonna be the trick. In the last year I’ve started up conversations with people who are on the opposite side of the political spectrum and the conversations are based on trust and honesty. We have come to the conclusion that we are not that far apart and that all sides are to blame. It is a start. And business has a lot to do to help this. I’m in on the ATT stock acquisition. I don’t have bottomless funds, but I’m in. I want to buy a ticket on that ride.
Jack Dorsey hates Twitter. He believes only he can fix it but he’s a perfectionist so he can’t even start. It’s sooo common!!
Anyone who associates with the Lincoln Project is a partisan hack. Professor G wants to highlight only the rightward hysterics on Twitter and lacks gumption to call it what it is – inside of a men’s toilet stall for all parties. Twitter needs trump and down it goes without him, but Prof G knows more about business than me so I’m curious to see how his 2021 predictions shape out. At least he has class to look back at the end of each year and own it.
Doug, re: your opinion of people who associate with TLP; perhaps, but anyone who calls someone a partisan hack for doing so is part of society’s larger problem, not its cure. You are right about one thing, however: Prof G does know more about business than most of us, you and me included. I only came to Scott’s defense because your comment was heavy-handed and cocksure before it was reasoned and fact-based—never a good look, syntactically speaking.
38 hours is a lot of soul-crushing commercials to sit through, amirite. Taking a hand mixer to my teflon pan right now just to see what it can withstand.
Okay, it sucks to be listening to Pivot and feeling like such a hack for my comment as you basically said the same thing three times.