Defining Twitter by more than the numbers

Twitter user growth

Twitter reported its financial results for the second quarter 2014 this week:

  • Q2 revenue of $312 million, up 124% year-over-year
  • Q2 net loss of $145 million and non-GAAP net income of $15 million
  • Q2 GAAP EPS of ($0.24) and non-GAAP EPS of $0.02
  • Q2 adjusted EBITDA of $54 million, representing an adjusted EBITDA margin of 17%

Depending on which media report or commentary you read, it’s either an unimpressive financial performance, or a strong performance to silence critics.

Either way, a common view in mainstream media reports is that the results exceeded financial analysts’ expectations.

One other significant element in the earnings announcement is growth in the number of users, as the Financial Times chart above shows – a consistent increase every quarter since mid 2010 to arrive at today’s number of 271 million average monthly active users, an increase of 24 per cent over the same period last year.

The combination of financial results that exceed expectations and continuing user growth are facts that the stock market and investors like. Indeed, the FT’s report includes a bottom-line statement:

[...] Shares rose to $51.25 in after-hours trading, the highest price since Twitter reported its first results as a public company in February, prompting the stock to plummet. The stock is almost double the price at which Twitter listed last year.

One other aspect I find interesting relates to what Twitter is, ie, how people now describe Twitter.

In media reports, you’ll see it described variously as a “micro-blogging service” – that moniker arose in the very early days of Twitter – or a “social-networking service,” both labels used in a BBC News report. It’s a “social network,” says the Telegraph. The FT calls it a “messaging platform” while The Wall Street Journal says it’s a “social media company.”

And Twitter? How does the company describe itself? From the ‘About’ paragraph in the earnings report:

Twitter (NYSE: TWTR) is a global platform for public self-expression and conversation in real time. By developing a fundamentally new way for people to create, distribute and discover content, we have democratized content creation and distribution, enabling any voice to echo around the world instantly and unfiltered. The service can be accessed at Twitter.com, via the Twitter mobile application and via text message. Available in more than 35 languages, Twitter has 271 million monthly active users. For more information, visit discover.twitter.com or follow @twitter.

Compare that to the mission statement on the Twitter corporate page:

Our mission: To give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers.

And note the latest user metrics on that page:

  • 271 million monthly active users
  • 500 million Tweets are sent per day
  • 78 percent of Twitter active users are on mobile
  • 77 percent of accounts are outside the U.S.
  • Twitter supports 35+ languages
  • Vine: More than 40 million users

Clear?

The future looks mobile for Facebook

Facebook mobile

Facebook posted its financial report on July 23 for the second quarter of its 2014 financial year.

The report shows financial pluses across the board for the mega social network in significant areas:

  1. Overall revenue for the second quarter of 2014 was $2.91 billion, an increase of 61 percent compared to the same period last year.
  2. Revenue from advertising was $2.68 billion, a 67 percent increase over the same quarter last year – and around 92 percent of overall revenue reported for the second quarter 2014.
  3. Mobile advertising revenue represented about 62 percent of advertising revenue for the second quarter of 2014, an increase of 41 percent compared to the same period last year.
  4. GAAP net income for Q2 2014 was $791 million, up 138 percent compared to the same period last year.
  5. GAAP diluted earnings per share was $0.30, up 131 percent compared to the same period last year.

Holders of Facebook stock will no doubt be quite happy, like Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook founder and CEO, who remarks drily:

“We had a good second quarter,” [Zuckerberg] said. “Our community has continued to grow, and we see a lot of opportunity ahead as we connect the rest of the world.”

What struck me most about the numbers as shown in the concise earnings announcement is the advertising revenue growth and the high proportion of that growth  – nearly two-thirds – that comes from mobile.

Facebook mobile advertising growth /via FT

Indeed, the FT reports on Facebook’s earnings with two interesting charts – the one above showing the growing shift to mobile of Facebook’s user base since the start of 2013; and the one below, showing a clear growth trend since mid 2012 of mobile advertising sales.

Facebook mobile advertising growth /via FT

As for the opportunity Zuckerberg refers to, to “connect the rest of the world,” put that in the context of the latest user metrics included in the company’s earnings report:

  • Daily active users (DAUs) were 829 million on average for June 2014, an increase of 19 percent year-over-year.
  • Mobile DAUs were 654 million on average for June 2014, an increase of 39 percent year-over-year.
  • Monthly active users (MAUs) were 1.32 billion as of June 30, 2014, an increase of 14 percent year-over-year.
  • Mobile MAUs were 1.07 billion as of June 30, 2014, an increase of 31 percent year-over-year.

Plenty of room for growth.

(Picture at top via DigitalTrends.)

Would you be happier without Facebook?

99 Days of Freedom

If you were not happy – outraged, even – with how Facebook behaved over the mood experiment they conducted last month, an experiment from a Dutch creative agency might be right up your street.

What Facebook did was manipulate information posted on nearly 700,000 users’ home pages that showed that the social network could make people feel more positive or negative through a process of emotional contagion.

Now Dutch creative agency Just has come up with 99 Days of Freedom, a call to action for Facebook users to demonstrate their disapproval of Facebook by switching off from the social network for 99 days.

[...It] asks users to refrain from Facebook use for a period of 99 consecutive days and report back on how the hiatus affects personal notions of happiness. The initiative’s website, 99daysoffreedom.com, provides a set of simple user instructions, which include posting a “time-off” image as a profile picture and starting a personalized, 99-day countdown clock. From there, participants are asked to complete anonymous “happiness surveys” at the 33, 66 and 99-day marks, with results posted to the initiative’s website as they’re compiled. The initiative will also host a message board through which participants can post anonymous accounts of how an extended break from Facebook is impacting their lives.

It’s a kind of mood experiment in reverse.

It’s also a cool initiative that gets Just a lot of attention for its imagination and creativity, as well as for the initiative itself. If it gets traction, it could focus considerable public attention on broad issues of online behaviours, manipulation of those behaviours by social networks, what companies do with our personal information, how we spend time online, etc – all hot topics today and great ones for ongoing public debate and discussion.

In its press release announcing 99 Days of Freedom, Just also talks about the amount of time people spend on Facebook:

[...] According to Facebook, its 1.2 billion users spend an average of 17 minutes per day on the site, reading updates, following links or browsing photos. Over a three-month period, that adds up to more than 28 hours which, the initiative’s creators contend, could be devoted to more emotionally fulfilling activities – learning a new skill, performing volunteer work or spending time (offline) with friends and family.

The subjective conclusion will appeal to many users, to be sure. My view is that many other users will be quite comfortable from an emotionally-fulfilling perspective – or any other one – with spending 28 hours on Facebook during any three-month period.

You could apply the same argument to Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn… Horses for courses.

Still, 99 Days of Freedom is an interesting experiment and it will be equally interesting to see how it goes, how many people sign up to do it – 16,748 when I looked at the website just now – and what conclusions arise at the end of each person’s 99 days. I’d love to see a brand try it!

Give it a go?

Enjoy life!

 

PR spam on an industrial scale

Spamalot

When done well, PR pitching can be almost an art form.

If your pitch meets the criteria of the recipient of your outreach, its likely your message will be well received and may even produce the action you are aiming for.

The opposite is also true when a pitch is as thoughtless in its creation as it is mindless in its execution. You know the kind of thing I mean, email pitches in particular.

What if such pitching were to be automated, where the targets of your pitch weren’t individually assessed to see if each were the “right” target for your message (and for your client or employer)?

Instead, what if you created a hit list of thousands of email addresses and hit them up with automated email pitches on the basis that if you hit a large enough quantity, a small but sufficient enough number will respond to make your effort worthwhile.

Sound familiar?

That’s what PR Hacker is doing in the US, according to a report in The Holmes Report quoting PR Hacker founder Ben Kaplan describing the business approach from his previous experiences in book promotion that he’s bringing to his PR firm:

[...] His model relies on A/B testing and 1% conversions from massive media blasts to generate lots [of] media coverage quickly for clients – without the status reports, weekly update calls and other administrative overhead of traditional agencies.

Here’s how that works. The PR Hacker team blasts pitches to a database of 7,000 tech media and expects a 1% conversion to land its client, at least, 70 hits. Kaplan also keeps databases on money/business media and relationship/romance media that each have upwards of 5,000 contacts – so a multi-vertical pitch, by his estimates, should yield close to 200 hits assuming the minimum 1% conversion. To keep the pitches from seeming too much like spam, he personalizes various fields within each pitch.

“We A/B test our pitches on the lower tier guys first,” he explains. “Then we go to the top-tier with what’s been tested…And a great story will trump all. So rather than focusing too much on personalizing, we focus on getting the story right.”

Looks to me like an approach to spam on an industrial scale. At least, a “by the numbers” game.

Is this what this element of public relations practice will become? A percentage return on a massive database-blast investment? It doesn’t look like it will fit well with professional standards of behaviour defined by the PR establishment, not in the UK at least.

Yet Kaplan’s approach is clearly outside such standards – perhaps the clue is in the name of his firm – and goodness knows some poor PR behaviour may benefit from a shake-up that Kaplan could well be responsible for.

In any case, get your email spam filters up-to-date.

[Picture at top by Coast to Coast Tickets who have lots of tickets for Monty Python Spamalot performances across the US this year. I thought the Spamalot metaphor works well for this post.]

Valuable insights in 2014 #InternetTrends report by Mary Meeker

netflix-chromecast.jpg

Last week, US venture capitalist and former Wall Street securities analyst Mary Meeker published her 2014 Internet Trends report that offers a deep-dive look into the trends, possibilities, probabilities, scope and scale of what the global connected world will look like in the coming few years.

It highlights trends to pay attention to, offering keen insights into what’s shaping this connected world:

  1. Key internet trends showing slowing internet user growth but strong smartphone, tablet and mobile data traffic growth as well as rapid growth in mobile advertising.
  2. Emerging positive efficiency trends in education and healthcare.
  3. High-level trends in messaging, communications, apps and services.
  4. Data behind the rapid growth in sensors, uploadable / findable / shareable data, data mining tools and pattern recognition.
  5. Context on the evolution of online video.
  6. Observations about online innovation in China.

At 164 pages, the slide deck is huge in its scope, and a challenge to decipher detailed meaning from just a deck without the benefit of hearing its creator talk you through it (she did that at the event last week for which she had prepared the deck).

Many others are filling the vacuum to do that. I have some thoughts, too, on a few areas from the 164 slides. I expand on that below, but if you want to just feast on all of Meeker’s data right now, here’s the deck:

Last year’s 2013 Internet Trends report was 117 pages, a slim volume by comparison. Indeed, I found it it a relatively simple matter to quickly glean and absorb insights from her deck to come up with what I saw in May 2013 as fifteen big trends for the evolving digital age.

A year later, how does the landscape look?

Here are three elements from the 2014 report that caught my attention (and imagination).

1. The rise of the mobile internet and the mobile devices that people want to use on the web are irresistible

The first aspect is the steady increase in shipments of smartphones (Wikipedia definition) worldwide since 2009 …

mm2014slide06

…  and, in tandem, the rocketing growth in tablet (Wikipedia definition) shipments which overtook shipments of desktop and notebook PCs at the end of 2012/beginning of 2013.

And notice the massive uptick in tablet shipments that started at the end of the first quarter in 2013 …

mm2014slide07

… which makes it easy to understand in the context of the increasing numbers of people accessing content on the web via mobile devices like smartphones and tablets in May 2014 compared to the same time in 2013. While there isn’t a slide to show how connectivity – whether wired, wireless or cellular – is growing everywhere, these figures surely provide convincing evidence that that is what’s happening.

And global mobile usage average has almost doubled year on year, broadly reflecting the detail in each of the regions measured.

mm2014slide09

What these metrics say to me is this: if your presence on the web isn’t attuned to mobile – meaning, your site delivers the content people want and a great experience they expect when they come to you on their mobile devices – you’re in serious trouble.

2. The evolution of mobile apps

If using the web on a mobile device is increasing at a rapid pace as smartphones and tablets eclipse desktops and laptops, the requirement for mobile tools – apps – to let you do what you want on your mobile connected device is equally increasing at a rapid pace …

mm2014slide40

… where those apps are evolving into tools of genuine utility for the user, that let you do certain things very well.

So instead of being all things to all men, so to speak, many apps are shifting into specific use formats …

mm2014slide41

… that offer you context-aware interactions that, as TechCrunch notes, are purpose-built and informed by contextual signals like hardware sensors to interact with you in far more compelling ways than at present to maximize their usefulness to you.

3. Game changers for mobile TV and video consumption

Meeker’s slide deck has a great deal of content about the rise of personalized television where you the user define what the content is that you will watch and where you get it from (think of custom user preferencing in Netflix and Chromecast, as examples of this), and how you control it.

Consumers increasingly expect to watch TV content on their own terms.

I have a good example: watching a film that’s delivered from Netflix where I control its output with my smartphone or tablet to play on my digital smart television via wifi connection to the Chromecast dongle plugged in to the HDMI port on the TV. No traditional TV broadcaster in this transmission/consumption equation at all.

mm2014slide124

For me, this text slide summarizes very well the key aspects of all this, the “televisual game changers.”

mm2014slide126

And so, a small subset of the compelling content in Mary Meeker’s 164 pages of metrics and insights that make up her Internet Trends 2014 report. My focus has very much been on mobile. That’s by accident and by design – I didn’t plan this post to be like that, yet all the things that grabbed my attention that I’ve written about here are all to do with mobile.

Well, maybe not everything. Big data trends, for instance.

mm2014slide60

Do review the full deck and see what strikes you as compelling. And some of the other reporting on it is pretty good, adding to the ways in understanding what the report is about:

Download the PDF report here: 2014 Internet Trends By Mary Meeker or view the deck on Slideshare.

Perspectives on social business at Social Business Sessions London

Iron ManIf you’re keen to explore different perspectives on organization culture, social business, enterprise 2.0 and the nature of work, an event in London I’m participating in this coming week could be right up your street.

The Combined Social Business Session – London #e20s takes place on Wednesday June 4 at Yammer’s EMEA headquarters, from 6pm to 9pm. You can participate without cost; all you have to do is sign up.

Organized by David Terrar, Janet Parkinson and Alan Patrick – who, I just realized,  I first met around eight years ago now – it’s one of the monthly Social Business Sessions London events at which a mix of a main 20-minute presentation, 5-minute lightning talks and an unconference-style panel discussion makes for a stimulating environment for informal exchanges of ideas and opinion, all with pizza and wine.

I was thrilled to be asked to do the main presentation in which I will focus on a mix of ideas that will form a broad perspective on those four elements mentioned above that are key to the principles of these events.

Or, as David put it in the email he sent out last week to members of the event group:

Our main speaker this time is our good friend and well known communicator, blogger, and podcaster Neville Hobson. Neville’s well known on the London social media scene, as well as being on Microsoft’s list of social business influencers in the UK. His talk will expand on a recent blog post of his titled “Foundations for evolving relationships between people and machines”. He’ll use Gartner’s Hype Cycle to discuss the following emerging trends and areas:

  1. Augmenting humans with technology
  2. Machines replacing humans
  3. Humans and machines working alongside each other
  4. Machines better understanding humans and the environment
  5. Humans better understanding machines
  6. Machines and humans becoming smarter

He’ll take those ideas forward and talk specifics like the Internet of Things, 3D Printing, Big Data and augmented reality, leading to the way they are changing the enterprise and the world of work.

Sounds good!

The blog post David referenced is this one that I wrote in August 2013. A lot has happened since then, especially concerning wearable technology and the relentless progress of mobile.

Hope you can make it to Yammer’s HQ in London on June 4. Sign up for your free ticket! And a 5-min lightning talk if you’re up for it.