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What Jack Dorsey Has to Do to Keep His Job at Twitter

By Adam Levy - Mar 13, 2020 at 8:43AM

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Activist investors want Dorsey out, but he bought himself some time.

Twitter (TWTR 1.89%) CEO Jack Dorsey's job is in jeopardy.

Activist investment firm Elliott Management built a 4% stake in the social media company and called for Dorsey's ouster, among other concessions, earlier this month. Twitter acceded to most of Elliott's demands: It gave up three board seats and established a committee to review leadership. It also set up a $2 billion share buyback program, backed by a $1 billion investment from Silver Lake.

The only concession Twitter didn't make was removing Dorsey. Instead, it agreed to certain operating metrics the company must hit to ensure his continued leadership. Dorsey needs to grow monetizable daily active users (mDAUs) 20% this year and accelerate revenue growth by gaining share in the digital advertising market.

Here's what Dorsey will have to do to hit those goals.

Jack Dorsey holding a microphone in front of a crowd.

Jack Dorsey. Image source: Twitter. Copyright Esten Hurtle (@esten) for Twitter, Inc.

Keeping up the pace on user growth

Twitter posted its best quarter of daily active user growth as a public company in Q4. mDAUs climbed 21% year over year, the fourth straight quarter of acceleration.

Management says the acceleration is due to product improvements, with more than half of the 26 million net adds in 2019 directly tied to changes to the core Twitter product.

But it's not clear how much of that daily active user growth is coming from existing Twitter users simply logging in more often, or whether Twitter is actually attracting a lot of new users to the platform. Management has even admitted it has work to do on the latter. "When people come to Twitter, they still have to do all that work around finding and following the accounts that are related to their interest," Dorsey said on Twitter's fourth-quarter earnings call. "We think we can take a bunch of that friction away."

Twitter's existing monthly user pool represents a much smaller population to draw daily usage from than the general population. So if Dorsey and company can't figure out how to add new users from the platform and merely succeed in engaging existing users more, Twitter will struggle to hit the mark.

Overcoming last year's revenue slowdown

Twitter hit some hiccups in revenue growth last year, and it's hoping to turn things around in 2020. Revenue grew just 13.7% in 2019 and slowed considerably in the second half of the year, following a data-collection bug that hurt Twitter's direct-response advertisements. The biggest impact was on its mobile application promotion (MAP) ad products.

But Twitter's challenge with MAP isn't easily remedied. While the company is working to develop more relevant ads, including MAP ads, it's unlikely to see a return to more robust growth until the second half of the year, when it laps last year's hiccup. 

Twitter may benefit from increased engagement and ad spending around certain events specific to 2020, though. The ongoing spread of coronavirus has people checking Twitter more often for updates, which increases the number of opportunities to show advertisements. The Olympics historically produce increased engagement around Twitter and bring significant ad spend. And U.S. presidential elections always spark conversations on Twitter. On the latter, however, Twitter has banned political advertisements.

But Elliott wants Twitter to win market share in digital advertising, not just accelerate revenue growth. That could be a challenge this year. First of all, U.S. political digital ad campaigns are already poised to set a new record, with huge spending by the Democratic presidential primary candidates' campaigns. That's been a boon to the two biggest competitors in the market. Second, more competitors are entering the market for digital ads, specifically in fast-growing connected-TV and ad-supported over-the-top premium video -- markets in which Twitter doesn't participate.

The goals set forth for Dorsey to keep his job are quite lofty. It'll require both strong execution and luck for Twitter to succeed in elevating mDAU growth and improving monetization and market share gains over other tech companies. Twitter's first-quarter earnings report next month may reveal how much jeopardy Dorsey's job is in.

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