Since the return of Jack Dorsey, Twitter has struggled to show signs of progress on any front. The company has been slow to ramp up innovation, user growth, or revenue. All the while, Twitter's chief rivals -- Facebook and Snap -- have pushed the boundaries on all fronts.
As Twitter releases its earnings for the final three months of a tumultuous 2016, the San Francisco tech company is all out of excuses, and Wall Street is impatient to see some results. [Update: It will have to wait at least another quarter. Twitter published results early Thursday that fell short of Wall Street expectations, with ad revenue actually falling in the fourth quarter. Daily active user growth did increase by double digits, just barely, but the number of monthly active users was more or less flat.]
Twitter closed the fourth quarter of 2016 by live streaming eight NFL games to its users. The service also bore down on the abuse that has run rampant on its platform. Above all, the company had the gift that is Donald Trump. Since the start of campaign season in 2015, Trump has used Twitter as his own personal megaphone to the world, and his voice seemed to reach a crescendo as the election ended and his presidential transition began. In the final quarter of 2016, Trump duked it out against Hillary Clinton in debates live streamed on Twitter. Following his election, virtually every one of his 140-character brain dumps has dominated the news cycle for at least a few hours.
No halfway competent bartender could mess up a cocktail with these top-shelf ingredients. And yet, if there was one, it would be Twitter. As the blue bird prepares to release its earnings, investors and analysts are reduced to hoping the social media firm will be able to show vital signs of any kind. Absent any indications of growth, things could get very awkward very quickly for Dorsey, the CEO.
"President Trump is maybe the best thing to happen to Twitter since the stock went public. Without him they have lost a lot of relevance," said Angie Thomson, market strategist with 50 Park Investments. "The bar is low for Twitter, and if they are able to post anything decent, the stock can easily rally from here."
Twitter is not expected to all of a sudden show a huge bump in user growth, but at the very least, analysts are hoping that the company can show some increase in the revenue it generates from those users.
"Despite their troubles, 317 million monthly active users is an incredible number," said Phil Davis, CEO of Phil's Stock World Investments. "The problem is figuring out how to turn those eyeballs into money, something Facebook is much better at than Twitter."
Adding to the pressure is the emergence of rival social media service Snap, which last week filed to go public. Snap appears to already have higher user activity than Twitter, which is five years older than its Los Angeles rival. In its S-1 filing, Snap reported 161 million daily active users. Twitter, meanwhile, refuses to reveal its figure for daily users, which is typically smaller than the monthly figure. For investors and advertisers alike, that's a troubling indication.
"With Snapchat owning the limelight and advertiser interest, Snapchat's S-1 has a pool of advertisers ranking Snapchat ahead of Twitter in several categories," said Johnny Won, founder of Hyperstop, a consultancy.
With Snap expected to go public as soon as March, the pressure is on for Twitter to show investors that its stock is worth buying or holding onto.
"Twitter has a tiny bit of room to breathe, but the market will be punishing if Jack disappoints," Won said.