A little less than six months into trading on the public market, Twitter's (NYSE:TWTR) share price has fallen more than 25%. However, for the seasoned social media investor, it might be reminiscent of Facebook's (NASDAQ:FB) early fall in the public markets. Over its first six months, Facebook's share price fell over 35%, but after those six months, Facebook shares are up 210%.
Could Twitter, another social network finding its monetization feet, do the same and return big to an investor today?
Facebook's early fumble
To find out if Twitter can repeat Facebook's stellar returns, we need to look at what caused Facebook's fall and rise. For one, the mishandled Facebook IPO did not start the stock with positive momentum. Following this, when employees and other insiders could sell their stock after lock up expiration dates passed, the stock experienced simple market mechanics of more sellers than buyers, lowering the share price. Employees wanted to diversify their wealth, no matter the prospects of the company's future.
And, Facebook's prospects at the time did need to conquer the hurdle of an increasingly mobile audience. And that mobile audience had yet to be turned into a reliable cash flow.
However, Facebook solved this mobile hurdle, and in the first quarter of 2014 revenue was up 82% over the same quarter last year, with mobile advertising accounting for nearly 60% of this. The company has proven its ability to monetize, and now grows along with the overall shift of advertising to online and mobile outlets.
What's bringing down Twitter? Twitter actually took an opposite route than Facebook as it peaked around $74 per share since its first day close at $45 per share. But Twitter quickly followed Facebook's narrative of lock up expirations and a questionable future.
On May 6, 475 million Twitter shares became eligible for trading, out of a total of 570 million shares helping push the share price to around $33. Investors shouldn't be concerned so much about this single day, as it's rational for investors to diversify their holdings if they are overly weighted with Twitter shares -- especially employees who depend on Twitter for a salary.
The question that investors now need to ask is if Twitter can solve its issue of slowing user growth -- or if it even needs to. Revenue for the first quarter of 2014 increased 119% over the same quarter last year to $250 million, with mobile advertising accounting for 80% of this. Twitter does not have to prove that it can survive in a mobile world like Facebook did, but with user growth over the last quarter at 6%, Twitter does have to prove it has growth in its future.
A potential upside
One case for growth comes from comparing Twitter and Facebook, because Twitter could close the gap in how much it makes per user.
Twitter has about one-fifth the global users that Facebook claims: 255 million tweeters vs 1.28 billion facebookers. Comparing average revenue per user for the companies is difficult, because Twitter does not report that as a main metric, instead opting for ad revenue per 1,000 timeline views. However, as Fool Evan Niu helps formulate, you can calculate something close to a comparable figure.
Globally, Facebook made $2 in average revenue per user last quarter, whereas Twitter made $0.88 per user. In the U.S. and Canada, Facebook took in $5.85 per user, while Twitter brought in $2.79 per user in the U.S. alone.
Not all social media is the same
The above optimistic case takes for granted Twitter's ability to monetize, which is never a given with fickle technology and its users. Twitter could be positioned to stun the market with a healthy turnaround, with or without improved user growth, but its headwinds might be stronger than what Facebook faced with fewer users.
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Dan Newman has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Facebook and Twitter. The Motley Fool owns shares of Facebook. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.