Can Donald Trump revive Twitter?

Twitter has struggled in recent years to gain more users and increase advertising revenue. But some wonder if the new US president could be its financial savior.

Richard Drew/AP/File
Square CEO Jack Dorsey is interviewed on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, In this Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015.

The 2016 elections were seen by some as a boon for Twitter, a kind of political lifeline for a company that has been struggling with declining advertising revenues and slowing user growth in recent years.

On the campaign trail and as president-elect, Donald Trump has taken to Twitter frequently to express his views and sometimes, make major announcements, rather than hold a traditional press conference.

But Mr. Trump may not be enough to fully salvaged Twitter’s financial problems, according to recent reports. While the company is working to attract new users and dollars, it will now also have to juggle its new role as an unofficial presidential loudspeaker – while steering clear of becoming a platform for hate speech.

It’s “complicated,” Twitter chief executive officer Jack Dorsey said on Wednesday in response to a question about his views on Trump’s Twitter use, as reported by The Guardian.

“I think it’s an important time for the company and service. And having the president-elect on our service, using it as a direct line of communication, allows everyone to see what’s on his mind in the moment,” he said. “We’re definitely entering a new world where everything is on the surface and we can all see it in real time and we can have conversations about it. Where does that go? I’m not really sure. But it’s definitely been fascinating to learn from.”

The social network has been battered in the stock market in the past year as its growth lagged behind its competitors, Facebook and Snapchat. Prior to the elections, it tried to raise its game by pushing out live videos and advertising products that target campaigns and political groups. 

While it succeeded in seeing a record number of tweets posted during the elections and presidential debates this year, that surge has not translated to an increase of new users.

In an October earnings call, Twitter chief financial officer Anthony Noto admitted that the election had “no noticeable impact” on Twitter’s user growth,” he said, according to Reuters. “We really need to have a (presidential) debate on Twitter every day for it to meaningfully improve the quarterly metrics."

Its reputation also took a hit when the platform became a site of abuse, potentially putting off new users.  A report by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) found that between August 2015 and July 2016, there was a surge of anti-Semitic tweets directed toward journalists, many sent from accounts of Trump supporters. Twitter suspended the accounts of several leaders of the alt-right white nationalist movement in November for what it considered hate speech.

When rumors over a possible Twitter acquisition by Salesforce ended in October, after the latter said they were “not the right fit,” CNBC host Jim Cramer speculated that bidders for the company were put off after “seeing the hatred” perpetuated by trolls on Twitter.

Trump has himself been criticized for using Twitter spread false information – for instance, a tweet alleging voter fraud and claiming that he won the popular vote – and for insulting 289 specific journalists, newspapers, and other individuals, according to a tally by The New York Times.

“Harassment is going to be a huge issue,” Jan Dawson, chief analyst at technology and research firm Jackdaw tells The Christian Science Monitor in a phone interview. “These issues existed before ... [But] it’s unique that someone at the position Trump is now is part of it.”

Many don’t doubt that Twitter will continue being newsworthy. As the Monitor’s Gretel Kauffman previously reported, political experts see Trump’s use of Twitter as an effective strategy for him to communicate directly to his millions of followers.

But even if Twitter benefits from Trump's active use of the medium, getting more views from retweets and embeds of its posts, analysts say the company still needs to do a better job of monetizing this activity and encouraging passers-by to sign up for an account. 

“Twitter is very newsworthy,” Mr. Dawson says. “But it’s not earning them money.”

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