Updated: Sept. 12
Despite efforts to make the Twitter IPO as “low profile” as possible, it will probably rival the Facebook IPO in terms of hype. The announcement on Thursday that it has begun the process of becoming a publicly traded company, marks the beginning of a new era in the social media world, a world in which all the most important companies and platforms — Facebook, Twitter, Google, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn — will either be owned by publicly traded companies or are publicly-traded companies themselves. Social media is no longer a free-for-all land grab, but rather, something that can be evaluated using real business metrics.
So what does that mean for Internet users?
It means that Wall Street will now have an important voice in what happens next. And make no mistake about it, the Wall Street bankers are already circling around Twitter. For Twitter, the involvement of Wall Street will mean a renewed search to squeeze out revenue from users and advertisers in order to appease future shareholders, especially if the early 2014 projections for the Twitter IPO turn out to be correct. And that means correcting all the mistakes that Facebook made during its (initially) disastrous IPO, when shares opened at $38 and traded down as low as $17.73 before finally making up ground over the past year.
Most likely, that means a focus on mobile advertising revenue, since the one area investors criticized Facebook for was its lack of a mobile-first strategy. After posting mobile ad revenue of $134 million in 2011, Twitter is on track to report $582.8 million this year and then $1 billion in 2014. That’s a very aggressive target – essentially doubling revenue on a year-over-year basis – but it’s well within reason, given Facebook’s marked success in boosting mobile revenue and Twitter’s own success in building out its mobile advertising ecosystem with offerings like “promoted tweets.”
And, just as Facebook has been ramping up its mobile focus (going so far as to force employees to go mobile-first at its HQ), Twitter, too, is going to be looking for ways to go mobile-first. Case in point – Twitter has been re-evaluating the whole Twitter ecosystem that Twitter let grow up around it in the early days of usage. Now, the focus is on people using the Twitter app on their smart phone or tablet, rather than using a third-party app that synchronizes with Twitter’s API.
And, finally, the involvement of Wall Street means that we should look for more sorts of concepts like Facebook’s Internet.org project – big long-term plays to bring in lots more users. Twitter may never be the size of Facebook, but it has been notably poking around the TV entertainment market in search of new users and new ways to integrate Twitter with your TV viewing habits.
If you don’t think Twitter has TV on its mind these days, just consider this year’s Video Music Awards. Anytime someone like Miley Cyrus can generate 300,000 tweets per minute, you know you’re on to something.
Without a doubt, Facebook’s return to its IPO stock price and its bright, shiny $100 billion valuation has opened the door to IPO speculation about Twitter. For months, there was the respectful silence on Wall Street, as people realized that there would be absolutely no appetite for a Twitter IPO if the Facebook IPO turned out to be a dud. That’s all changed now that Facebook shares are up 115 percent over the past 12 months. And, when – CEO Dick Costolo decided to announce his company’s upcoming IPO via Twitter, it may just be the tweet heard ‘round the world.
Editor’s note: This item, published for Innovations in August, has been updated with the announcement of a pending IPO for Twitter.