There was something deliciously ironic in Twitter's (NYSE:TWTR) stock falling apart earlier this week as a result of a tweet.
The microblogging site was going to publicly release its earnings news after the markets closed, but Web-crawling, market-intelligence firm Selerity tweeted out Twitter's results an hour early. Following the release of the disappointing results, Twitter's shares plunged 20%.
While trading on its stock was briefly halted so that Twitter could hurry out its results more formally, the damage was done.
Don't kill the messenger
But don't blame Selerity, which has previously scooped ADP payroll data and Microsoft earnings releases; blame Twitter, or rather its investor relations service Shareholder.com, which is owned by Nasdaq OMX Group (NASDAQ:NDAQ). It was the one that published the release on Twitter's investor relations website, though without making it "live."
Selerity simply crawled Twitter's investor relation's page, and according to the website Mashable, found it used an easily deciphered code that only required it to try a relative handful of iterations before hitting on the correct one. Once it found the information, it made it public. As Selerity tweeted, "Today's $TWTR earnings release was sourced from Twitter's Investor Relations website https://investor.twitterinc.com. No leak. No hack."
Even though the early release may have played a part in Twitter's stock plunging, it's not Selerity's fault. And while Shareholder.com needs to better protect its customers' data, it isn't to blame for the stock's performance following the release. It was really Twitter's financial results being so much worse than expected that caused the shares to fall. That was the real cause of the stock's rout; the rest was all theater.
Easing into the turn
Twitter reported its revenues grew 74% in the first quarter to $436 million, but that was down from the near-doubling of revenues achieved in the fourth quarter of 2014 and missed management's own estimates that revenues would hit $440 million to $450 million this quarter.
Twitter blamed the shortfall on a change in its advertising platform. Previously it earned revenue based on whether someone clicked through on an ad, but last July it switched to a system based on whether a click-through also resulted in someone actually downloading a mobile app.
That's resulting in lower click-through rates and less revenue for Twitter, the the microblogging site believes it's providing a better value to its advertisers as it delivers "users further down the marketing funnel."
The hits keep on coming
The other hit to revenues was some advertisers limiting their ad spend because the bids required to win incremental auctions were higher than they were willing to pay. But even CEO Dick Costolo was forced to admit he was disappointed that Twitter "underperformed against our expectations."
Yet what the decline in revenues might really show is that advertising on Twitter really might not be as valuable as on rivals like Facebook (NASDAQ:FB). As The Atlantic just noted in an article highlighting how the social networking site is "eating the Internet," the Pew Research Center found that over the past two years Facebook has more than doubled digital ad revenue to some $5 billion, a figure accounting for 10% of all digital ad revenue.
Twitter may soon find itself hoping to get even a few morsels, a disappointing development indeed as it also has trouble attracting new users.
Not so average growth
In the fourth quarter, MAUs grew 20%, down from 23% in Q3. A year ago new MAUs grew 25%.
Worse for Twitter, CFO Anthony Noto reported MAUs are "off to a slow start in April," clouding the company's ability to see what the trend will be like going forward.
Twitter has problems it has to address and changes to its advertising platform could ultimately correct sliding revenue growth. The longer term value though will be in getting more people to try and use Twitter regularly, and that may be a bigger hurdle to get over.